With the regulatory and compliance hoops from state and local governments, they are difficult and complex to get off the ground. And when everyone is jumping into the green rush at the same time in a newly-legalized market, that makes the dispensary landscape even more difficult.
But we emphasize it again and again:
DO NOT IGNORE MARKETING!
Once market saturation, product commoditization and cannabis normalization all occur, marketing is often the only differentiator between cannabis companies that thrive and those that fail. [Read our analysis of this in our blog about the OKannapocalypse]
That’s why we’ve created this handy Marketing Checklist for Cannabis Dispensaries. This checklist is organized in the order each item should be executed, from the most critical, foundational elements all the way to tactics that should only be put in place once your business is launched and stable. Seen below, our Cannabis Dispensary Pyramid of Marketing helps visualize this progression.
We encourage you to download this checklist, save it to your desktop and integrate it into your business plan. Keep it handy so you can refer back to it on an on-going basis.
At the end of this explanatory guide you’ll find a basic, printable checklist. Below is an explanation of each element included.
You’ll notice that we’ve placed this “checkbox” before even choosing your business’ name. That’s because if you aren’t set on a name yet, defining your UVP first can help guide your naming process.
A Unique value proposition or unique selling proposition is marketing speak. What it refers to a descriptive, useful tagline that tells potential customers a number of things:
What your business does.
Why people should patronize your business.
What differentiates your business or products from that of your competitors.
This is a big deal, as it’s the driving theme behind your business and will appear in many, many places. Coming up with a good UVP takes time, careful reflection, and lots and lots of crumpled paper thrown in the trash can from across the room. It’s also a good time for self-reflection. If you can’t come up with a valid reason why somebody would purchase your products or services over those that are offered by your competition, then you might need to rethink your business plan. Simply growing or selling cannabis is not enough!
Here’s some examples of great cannabis-industry UVPs:
Premium bud, not premium prices.
Oklahoma’s friendliest cannabis dispensary.
The world’s largest selection of cannabis.
Oregon Owned, Oregon Grown.
The classiest joint in Alaska.
For some business owners, the naming process is easy. They already have a name in mind and are committed to it. But we recommend some flexibility, even if you’re 90% sure you’ve got the right name nailed down.
We recommend starting with a brainstorming session where you simply write down words you believe describes your business. It could be locations, feelings you want people to have when they walk into your stores, or just simply adjectives. Then you can start linking some of those words together in strings. You may even be able to combine two words into one. Here’s a few tips to help you through this process:
Say the name out loud. Sometimes something works on paper, but it doesn’t flow very well when you actually say it.
Consider a name that has a meaning to it, or can convey some type of benefit to potential customers.
Don’t be generic! Pick a name that is unique. You want it to be memorable, not forgettable. It should stand out when listed amongst the names of your competitors.
Choose a name that appeals not just to you, but the ideal customers you would like to attract to your dispensary.
Think on it. When you’ve narrowed your name to 4-5 contenders, let them marinate for a while.
Google your top contenders. You want to make sure nobody else is using the name, the domain name is available, and the social media profiles are available.
Make sure to register your key domain (dispensary name.com) but any other domain names that might be close. For example thedispensaryname.com, or any of the .net, .shop, or more obscure extensions.
For social media, we typically only recommend Facebook and Instagram for dispensaries. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t register profiles elsewhere. Twitter, Pinterest, and whatever other social media platforms are currently a la mode, just register all of them. You don’t have to use them, but you need to at least reserve the option, and prevent anyone else from using them.
A powerful logo is your most important brand element. We strongly discourage you from having your nephew design your logo or paying somebody $20 off a random website. You should use a thoughtful, introspective process. Because this is such an important key piece of your brand, we recommend using professionals, (we always advocate for ourselves, of course!) When choosing a logo or at least a logo concept, consider what would be attractive to your ideal customer. What would speak to their values? What does your logo say to those that see it? Keep in mind it doesn’t need to feel perfect to you, it needs to feel perfect to your ideal customer. If that means you need to reach out to folks that are in that category, then absolutely do it. A re-brand is a timely, expensive activity, and may come with a hit to your brand’s recognition and perceived value. Avoid doing that by starting with an excellent brand from the beginning.
When we’re talking about the nuts and bolts of a brand, ie your brand assets, we aren’t just talking about the logo. We’re talking about any and all variations of the logo (you will have some that are one color, some that include an icon without a name, etc), typography connected with your brand (which fonts should be used and where they should be used), brand color palette, and iconography (icons or buttons that will be associated with your brand in digital and printed materials.)
All of this information should be defined and clearly stated in your BRAND GUIDELINES. It’s a rule book for your brand assets. Any professional graphic or web designer you may work with will ask for your brand guidelines before starting a project.
Forget about a simple splash page with an address and phone number. Your dispensary’s website is not only the hub of your business’ digital presence, it should be a primary revenue driver. It’s also a reflection of your dispensary, and in most cases, it’s the first impression potential customers will have of your business. A sloppy, ugly, unprofessional website tells them that your dispensary is sloppy and unprofessional.
Your dispensary’s website must:
- Include your UVP, prominently displayed. We recommend above-the-fold (at the top, before scrolling)
- Be consistent with your brand, including not only colors and typography but messaging.
- Tell the story of your business, including your WHY (your purpose, beyond profit).
- Be professionally written. If you’re not a writer by nature, DO NOT attempt to write the content on your website yourself.
- Facilitate and encourage online ordering (if you’re in a state where its permitted).
- Be populated by professional photography of your store and your products.
- Include a blog, the VOICE of your business, with consistent and high-quality content.
- Be designed to be mobile-first.
- Provide regularly-updated information and education on cannabis.
- Include strong calls-to-action to encourage customers to convert in several ways (sign up for loyalty, order online, etc)
Because SEO of any kind takes time to have an impact, we strongly recommend that your website is up and running for at least 3 months before you open your doors.
Email marketing is a tried-and-true tactic used across virtually every business that employs digital marketing of some kind. For cannabis dispensaries, it’s extremely important. That’s because your contact list is one of the few things you actually own. For example, if your business is solely dependent on Instagram or Facebook for driving traffic, you will face the consequences if/when your profiles on those platforms are shut down.
Not only do you need an email marketing platform in place as soon as you launch your website, but you need tools on the site that encourage visitors to turn over their email. That usually includes a pop-up, banners, and forms. No need to overcomplicate things from the outset, so starting with a prompt to sign up and get notified of sales and specials will work great.
We recommend Mailchimp to our dispensary partners. It’s very low-cost to start, easy to use, includes a variety of helpful features, and offers more power and ability to scale than you’ll probably ever need. (We do NOT receive any compensation from Mailchimp.)
Local SEO and traditional SEO are both about optimizing your website and making it rank better in search results for those that are searching for relevant terms. But they both require different tactics and strategy.
Traditional SEO primarily deals with making your site as google-friendly as possible, updating and adding content, and continually making tweaks to give your site more “points” in the eyes of Google so that it will rank better in search results.
Local SEO deals with searches like “dispensary near me” and the Google Map Pack that appears to the right in search results and often includes relevant info about your business like hours, reviews, location, and photos. If you don’t have good local SEO in place, somebody could search “dispensary near me” while standing 100 feet from your store, and you might not appear in the search results at all.
Both types of SEO are critical to the visibility of your website, and by extension, your business. Most potential customers will search for a dispensary before they actually decide which one to visit. If you don’t have good SEO in place, you won’t even be part of that game.
There are many, many people who have dedicated their entire careers specifically to SEO. In fact, we have one such mad scientist here on staff at Hybrid. While the basics of SEO aren’t as complicated as you might think, the things that need to be done to really pull away from the competition do require substantial expertise. We highly recommend turning to the pros for SEO help. If you’re a web-savvy type, that might mean a consultative approach rather than turning over the entirety of the work to a 3rd party. Either way, we encourage dispensary owners and managers to focus on their dispensary business rather than tying up substantial amounts of their time on SEO. Some things can work just fine with a DIY approach, but unfortunately SEO is not one of those things.
Still not convinced, and would prefer to try and tackle some of this yourself? Here’s a few of the tools and platforms we use:
Cannabis business advertising restrictions vary from state to state, but regardless of where your business is located, you can be sure you’ll face significant compliance issues. And of course, many traditional digital channels like social media advertising or Google Ads are simply not available to cannabis businesses. That’s why we advocate an inbound marketing approach. Inbound marketing is all about creating interesting, valuable content to bring people in to your site, (organic attraction) rather than putting ads in front of them and trying to convince them to visit your site.
The lifeblood of an inbound marketing strategy for a dispensary is a steady stream of high-quality, interesting, and valuable content.
Relevant blog posts, images, social posts, long-form content and videos should all be part of the mix. Whether you plan on building an internal marketing team or going with an agency (like us), having the source of your content determined before you really need it is a must. And while some topics are timely and organic, as much of your content calendar as possible should be planned out well in advance. So this checkmark doesn’t represent the content itself, it represents having the team in place that can manage your content calendar, create the content, and deliver it on time to your various marketing channels.
Keep in mind that your dispensaries content needs to be tailored to the type of customers you are trying to attract (you’ll hear marketers refer to target personas.) For example, if you’re trying to target middle-aged professional women, you need to be creating content that is interesting and valuable to them. Not only that, but the content needs to be written and positioned so it’s not a turn-off to your other ideal customer personas, as most dispensaries have more than one.
To make the content arm of your dispensary marketing even more complicated, it’s also really important from an SEO perspective. Each new piece of content that goes up on your website is an SEO opportunity, so it needs to be written and optimized to contribute to your SEO efforts as well. Sometimes that even means writing certain pieces, like blog posts for example, that aren’t likely to get very much initial traffic, but can contribute to your SEO goals.
Text message marketing is another important avenue for cannabis dispensaries to connect with consumers. For some customers, text messages are too intrusive, but others prefer to communicate that way. We typically recommend limiting your text messages to include only large promotions or sales, and deploy a maximum of one send per week. Keep them to-the-point and clever, when appropriate.
A basic merchandise line is a no-brainer for any cannabis related business, but especially for dispensaries. A merch line is important because:
It doesn’t have to be extensive, a t-shirt, hoodie, and hat are a great start. And while it’s always nice to have an extra set of revenue for your dispensary, that’s not really the goal. That’s why we advise dispensary clients that as long as they aren’t losing money on their apparel, they’re golden. (And actually, sometimes even losing money on a merchandise line is okay!)
From employee volunteering to charitable donations to an ethically-sourced supply chain, a Corporate Social Responsibility program can come in many forms. And while doing good can be its own reward, it can also have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. Research across many studies have shown that when given the opportunity, consumers are much more likely to purchase from a company that provides some sort of societal benefit. They’re even willing to pay higher prices if a business supports a cause they believe in. And if you want to attract the millennial demographic (which you should, of course), consider that millennials are 90% more likely to buy a product with a social and/or environmental benefit when given the opportunity.
Despite the stereotype of the lazy millennial, young people care, and more importantly to your bottom line, they put their money where it benefits the world around them.
We strongly recommend choosing a cause you and your employees believe in and building it into your business and marketing operations. It doesn’t have to be complex. Perhaps your employees donate X amount of hours per quarter to volunteer. Or you attach a donation to the revenue of a specific product line.
Another reason for creating a CSR program (if you still need more), is that it can be an important differentiator between your dispensary and your competitors. In some extremely saturated markets, it might be one of your only differentiators!
If you’d like help setting up a CSR program for your dispensary, get in touch with Aaron, he’s our in house CSR pro.
We partner with an organization called Cannabis Doing Good to help develop CSR programs for our partners. It’s all they do, so they are definitely pros. Want a deeper dive into why you need a CSR program? Check out this guest post we wrote for Cannabis Doing Good’s website.
Want your digital advertising to show up on cnn.com, people.com, dailymotion.com, or any other major traffic sites on the internet? Programmatic advertising is how you do it. It’s one of the few digital ad channels available to cannabis dispensaries. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it works similar to social media advertising, except your ads are placed on websites all across the internet, and targeted towards the demographics you’re interested in reaching.
While we’ve found success using display ads in programmatic advertising, what works much better is combining programmatic advertising with educational, long-form content.
For example, we recently ran a campaign for Lightshade dispensaries specifically targeting canna-curious women. The ads in the campaign were for a guide we created called the Women’s Complete Introductory Guide to Cannabis. Women that clicked through on our ads in this campaign averaged over four minutes on the Lightshade website. In the world of digital advertising, that’s a big win! The more time somebody spends on your website, the more likely they are to decide to visit the store, or click to place an online order. Even if they don’t take an immediate action on the website, it builds goodwill and trust between you and the site visitor, making them more likely to choose your business when it’s time for them to visit a dispensary.
Marketers often speak about tactics, channels and strategy in terms of a funnel. If the top of the funnel is awareness and the bottom of the funnel is the desired action (usually a purchase), programmatic advertising would sit at the very top. Meaning, it’s definitely considered an awareness tactic, with the goal being to simply inform consumers that your dispensary exists, and educate them about your business and its products. Programmatic advertising sits at the very top of our dispensary marketing tools and tactics pyramid because it doesn’t make sense to invest money in this tactic unless everything underneath it is in-order. If you spend thousands of dollars on a programmatic campaign only to send people to a poorly-designed website that lacks useful content, then you’re more likely to drive them away from your business than towards it, (remember- websites are generally a consumer’s first impression of your business!)
Here’s a quote from Conan the Barbarian:
“Conan, what is best in life?”
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”
While that might be a bit of an extreme example, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from beating the competition. And, depending on your market (we’re looking at you, Oregon and Oklahoma), you might have a lot of it. In a general sense, geoconquesting refers to the use of tools that don’t just target your ideal customers, but in fact directly attempt to steal them away from your competition.
There’s a variety of tools on the market that when used correctly can help you do this. Most of them have to do with geo-fencing (hence the term geoconquesting). You can digitally fence off your competitors store locations, and serve ads to customers that are either at those locations or have been at those locations in the past (using what’s called a “lookback window.”) These would be digital ads served on mobile devices. Display ads are most common but video ads are surfacing now too.
To make the ads even more compelling, you can try and make them timely. Let’s say a consumer visits your competition XYZ dispensary for a purchase. Then a week later, that dispensary undergoes a recall for contaminated product of some kind, maybe mold was found in their flower. You can serve ads to that consumer that speak to the purity of your products or your growing processes, or educate them on your testing processes, for example.
Geoconquesting is a new tactic, especially in the cannabis dispensary world, but when done right it has the ability to be very effective. Like programmatic advertising, it only makes sense to invest in geoconquesting when the rest of your marketing “house” is in order, and that’s why we position it at the top of the pyramid.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for dispensary marketing success. Every cannabis dispensary is unique, and every cannabis business requires a specialized approach with custom-tailored tactics and techniques. So please remember that this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of all recommended marketing tools and tactics, but rather a helpful checklist to make sure your “house” is in order as you progress through the development of your business.
Whether you are searching for an agency partner to help you grow your business or you have questions about information on this checklist, please don’t hesitate to connect with us by filling out the form below.