Five ways cannabis companies can reach their target market

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Navigating regulatory constraints, here are some smart digital strategies for cannabis companies to engage with the right person.

The “green rush” has seen an influx of cannabis brands, along with fringe products and services such as accessories, beverages and branded merchandise, all vying for a piece of the estimated $31 billion market. With mergers and acquisitions abundant (48 in Canada during the first half of 2018 alone), cannabis corporations are eager to gain market share through first-mover advantages.

There’s been a lot of debate on the Cannabis Act, particularly the advertising restrictions imposed by Health Canada and whether or not these will support an emerging market and, ultimately, help eradicate the black market. The federal rules state cannabis, cannabis accessories and services related to cannabis cannot be promoted.

  • by communicating price and distribution information;
  • if there are reasonable grounds to believe the promotion appeals to young people;
  • by testimonial or endorsement; and by depicting a person, character or animal (real or fictional) or be presenting the aforementioned “in a manner that associates it or the brand element with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.

Beyond the rules, however, demographics are a conundrum. The stereotypical stoner is turning out to be only one segment of the potential market. Brands seem to be spending time and resources on newer, more mature users, putting the focus on health and wellness categories (oils, extracts, topical creams, edibles, etc.).

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Data from Statistics Canada’s recent National Cannabis Survey shows that “intenders”, those who currently do not use cannabis, but are likely to try a cannabis product once it becomes legal, are also an important segment, with an estimated 1.4 million split almost evenly between men and women. The real challenge for marketers will be to develop “hyper-targeted” consumer profiles, and brands with personalities that are attractive to those identified groups.

So, how are organizations building awareness? The answer seems to be mainly through educational campaigns and getting creative, using subtle, ambiguous messages that side-step the strict rules. Smart digital strategies have prevailed as the go-to marketing effort, and the best way to engage the right person, while navigating regulatory constraints.

Here are five ways cannabis companies will find you (by helping you find them):

  • Social media—Despite rigid policies by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, cannabis companies will still use social media to profile their target customers, and engage with those groups in ways other than advertisements. The companies have set up pages to build online communities, sell branded merchandise (not cannabis), give advice, provide customer service and share news. Awareness will grow as you, and people you know, find and follow them. They will use data from these platforms to analyze and zero in on interests (including movies, food, music, etc.) and demographics such as age and gender. Interesting content like images and infographics can then be used to extend reach and share organically.
  • Hashtags—Clever cannabis marketers are expected to use popular, attractive hashtags that appeal to consumers, but do not directly reference cannabis use or cannabis products. By raising your curiosity, this may draw you to their online channels (such as their Twitter feed) from outside sources, like billboards or print ads that abide by the rules.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—Embedding well-researched keywords and phrases within their websites, cannabis companies will ensure their sites appear on the first page of your search and display the content you find most interesting (for example, pain management, relaxation, sleep deprivation, etc.), making their brand more visible.
  • Digital and print billboards—It is anticipated organizations will place unique slogans or sayings on digital and print billboards that vaguely link to cannabis to pique interest. Combined with a well-thought-out SEO strategy, this will ensure the companies pop up in your search. As a result of the ambiguous guidelines set by Health Canada, digital billboards can be used to reach audiences by manoeuvring through its loopholes using connotative imagery and indirect hints. Expect as well to see many educational ads. A branded digital billboard that educates about safe cannabis use is also incepting the use of recreational cannabis to onlookers.
  • Email—Once a cannabis company gets you to its website and verifies your age, you will be asked to sign up for its newsletter to stay up to date on products, promotions and news. From here, the company will set up highly personalized and time-oriented emails, reminding you to stock up when you’re likely to be running low, based on your consumption habits.
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