Strict dispensary marketing regulations start you out with one hand tied behind your back. Combine the power of online inbound marketing, on-site incentives, and cannabis-friendly advertising opportunities to break free and grow your business.
To succeed in dispensary marketing, you’ve gotta roll with the punches.
On the one hand, cannabis is legal in the state where your business is set up. On the other, the U.S. Government still treats the plant as a “Schedule 1 Drug” on par with heroin (as of January 2020). Yes — even in legal markets, federal regulations are stacked against the marketing, advertising, and sale of cannabis. This might make you feel like you’re marketing with one hand.
Enter the lesson of all-time tough guy Götz von Berlichingen, AKA “Götz of the Iron Hand” (1480-1562). When life takes away your hand, you make a new one:
Yeah, baby! Götz was an infamous German knight who lost his right hand to a cannonball at age 23, then quickly replaced it with a mechanical iron hand. He kept fighting in the military for more than 40 years, retired, and died at the ripe old age of 82, a decorated war hero. Now that’s how you play the hand you’re dealt. Cannabis marketers take note!
Get Creative With Dispensary Marketing Ideas
The traditional mass media channels are out (network TV, national radio, etc.), and many of the ones that are left — like social media and e-commerce — are under heavy regulation. This doesn’t mean cannabis marketing can’t be done. It just takes some creativity and an understanding of where the best opportunities remain.
Try 5 Strategies That Work:
1. A Dynamite Web Presence
The grass is greenest on your dispensary’s private website, where you can control the conversation and legally engage in business with your audience. But you’ve got to get people in the digital front door, then keep them there. Here are a few pointers for getting the most out of your website traffic:
- SEO, SEO, SEO: Target cannabis keywords on your home page, product pages, and blogs with monthly search volumes between about 500 and 1,000 for high-value, achievable first-page search rankings. Dispensary SEO is possibly the best way to increase your exposure.
- Maintain an Active Blog: Google rewards freshness. It also crawls every indexed page on your web domain in search of relevant content. In other words, the more blogs you post (or FAQ pages, or news updates), the better you’ll perform in organic search. Blog about your products, your store, your team, the industry at large, and to fulfill the search intent on valuable cannabis-related keywords.
- Optimize For Mobile: As of 2019, US consumers now spend more time on mobile devices than watching TV. The majority of web traffic has also been mobile since 2015. Don’t sleep on responsive web design — this is how your audience will want to engage with you.
- Streamline Your Nav: Stick to only a few options in your page navigation, so that you don’t overwhelm visitors. Limit how many clicks it takes to find what they need, so they don’t give up halfway. Vague or generic navigation labels also confuse and frustrate web traffic — and push you down in search engines. So make sure the labels in homepage nav are clear and specific. What’s the difference between Products, Services, and Resources? You’re better off with labels like Edibles, Growing Supplies, and Workshops.
- Help People Find Your Dispensary: Link to your Google Maps listing and include a picture of your storefront right on the “location” page (or whatever you name it), so you’re as easy as possible to find. It’s pretty easy to set up, too.
- Collect Contact Info: Lead capture is a huge responsibility of your digital marketing strategy. The best dispensary websites have plenty of opportunities for customers to provide contact information — on newsletter sign-ups, in exchange for content offers, and during checkout.
- Link to Social Media: Your relationship with web visitors might start with a skim of your website, but active social accounts are a great place to continue engaging them and building your community. Include prominent links to any and all social platforms you use on the homepage.
Speaking of social media, social accounts are another fantastic channel for online dispensary marketing. Strict community policies and federal regulations will prevent you from posting any content that promotes the sale or consumption of cannabis, but that’s not the end of the world.
Many dispensaries have a thriving social community built on content that educates and informs the public about cannabis, or shares attractive imagery around the cannabis lifestyle. Share recent blogs from your website, or encourage folks to sign up for your newsletter (then nurture the leads through private email).
Instagram has become a super popular platform for cannabis marketing, in large part due to its focus on stunning lifestyle visuals and influencer content. The link in your Instagram bio can route social traffic back to your website, where you can engage more openly and encourage purchases.
2. Customer Loyalty/Reward Programs
Dispensaries face a lot of limitations on how they can engage potential new customers. This makes it even more essential to retain and upsell the ones you’ve already got. A loyalty or rewards program can foster long-term relationships with your dispensary, increasing the LTV of every customer.
This could take a lot of forms:
- Give customers points with every purchase that they can put towards free products
- Create a discount card with incentives that kick in after a set number of purchases
- Offer memberships with access to special promotions or sales (and freebies on their birthday)
- Check out these 10 examples from Shopify for more inspiration
On-site lead capture is critical to your success at nurturing an ongoing relationship with your customers. Ask for an email address in the checkout line for an e-receipt, and allow them to opt-in for promotional emails, newsletters, product updates, and tips. A great, low-friction strategy is to install tablets that let customers complete orders and fill in information themselves, right at the register.
3. Referral Campaigns
You may not be able to directly promote your dispensary’s products everywhere you go, but you know someone who can: your customers. Word-of-mouth is one of the strongest dispensary marketing channels available. Satisfied customers can become brand advocates who will do your marketing for you.
Nielsen surveyed more than 28,000 internet respondents and found that 92% of consumers trust the recommendations of friends and family over all other forms of brand information and messaging.
Take advantage of the power of personal referrals by incentivizing them. Offer customers a discount or a bit of free product in exchange for referring their friends and family. Not only will this give you more opportunities to nurture new relationships with people who are predisposed to trust you — it can also create some positive buzz in your community that will encourage even more people to come in and give your products a try.
4. Cannabis Directories, Apps, and Ad Platforms
Not all roads to the public are dead ends. There are plenty of cannabis-friendly platforms, publications, and directories through which your target audience are actively looking for legal cannabis products. Help them find you.
You might start by making sure your dispensary is listed on popular cannabis apps and directory listings, like:
“Dispensary near me” gets more than 44,000 searches on Google per month. You’ll want yours to show up in the top three — Google’s “Three-Pack” that gets shown in the search before other local businesses. The best way to do that is to add as much information as possible to your Google My Business listing and earning plenty of 5-star ratings. Ask your regulars to do you a solid and put up a positive review (again, easier with those tablets right at the register!).
Once you’re listed in all the major directories, you can also devote some of your dispensary marketing budget to focused ad spend on digital publications or ad networks that allow cannabis advertising. Here are a few of the more popular ad networks:
5. Event Marketing
In-person dispensary marketing gives you the opportunity to make a personal connection and engage people on your own terms. This could mean going out with merch, handouts, swag, and freebies to spread the word at a cannabis convention like MJBizCon or a trade show in your local market.
It could also mean a hyped-up in-house event, like a cannabis-themed workshop or educational seminar, right at your dispensary. You could spearhead something interesting and practical that’s sure to draw a crowd, like:
- “Craft Your Own Pipe”
- “How to Build a Hydroponic System”
- “Indica vs. Sativa in Edibles” (perhaps with free samples)
Try setting it up through Eventbrite or Facebook Events, as well as spreading the word to customers when they come through the store. “Bring your friends!”
Live events are a critical strategy for raising awareness and interest in a local business. After all, your most loyal customers will live right in the community. An EventTrack study showed that events and experiences give a more positive impression of your brand to 74% of attendees, and that 87% of consumers will eventually buy a brand’s product after they’ve attended an event.
Dispensary marketing just has to get folks in the door, where you can show them all of the great things your dispensary stands for. And that’s really what it all comes down to—exposure. Federal regulations can make dispensary advertising and marketing a challenge on traditional channels. But an online presence, loyalty incentives, glowing referrals, cannabis-friendly ad networks, and on-site marketing can give your growing dispensary the hand it needs to succeed.