Hello and welcome to the first article of our new series! In these blogs I’ll be diving into the best approaches to cannabis marketing for retailers, brands, cultivators, manufacturers, and ancillary businesses. (I’ll also be doing a special segment on hemp that encompasses B2C and B2B marketing perspectives.)
As someone who just went through the annual retail application process in New Jersey for our Pinelands Apothecary project — and has been working in cannabis retail marketing for 7+ years — I thought it would be appropriate to share my insights on the best approaches that any retailer, small or large, may find helpful.
I’ll be breaking down the first part of this series, The Best Approach To Cannabis Retail Marketing, into three segments: The Application Process, The Grand Opening, and On-going Cannabis Retail Marketing.
The Current ‘Situation’ in the Legal Cannabis Industry
As more and more states gear up for legalization, the cannabis industry continues to grow at an exponential rate. According to a recent Market Analysis Report conducted by Grand View Research, the US legal cannabis market will grow from 16.7 billion USD market value in 2022 to a revenue forecast value of 102.2 billion USD by 2030.
Although this may seem like an easy money grab for cannabis retailers, what this really means is more complications, fiercer competition, and overall a more educated consumer base. (We work in about 20 different legal medical and/or recreational cannabis states and counting, so we look at a lot of data.)
In many cases, what we’re seeing is: as markets mature, competition becomes more intense for both locally owned and multi-state operator cannabis retailers – while consumer online searches also tend to become more niche – due to the increased cannabis education level of consumers in these markets.
Read on as I explain (from a marketing perspective) what you should be executing and considering while going through your dispensary application process, in order to capitalize on the rapidly growing cannabis industry and capture the attention of the educated consumer.
Navigating the Dispensary Application Process
In most states, in order to submit your application, you’ll need:
- Retail Location
- Identified Partners
- Completed Branding
Considering all of these factors, there are a lot of important decisions to make on top of all the other application requirements before your operation has made any revenue, let alone being approved for your license.
Here are some of my thoughts on the best approach to take from a cannabis retail marketing perspective as you go through your application process:
Location, Location, Location
Firstly, your location is one of the most important aspects of any cannabis retail project. In most states, you’ll need a locally approved retail location that you own or are actively renting. It also has to meet a number of security, parking, and various other additional requirements before you submit your application to the state.
Ideally, folks pick locations that are conveniently located, have great parking and heavy foot traffic, and/or are around municipalities that did not approve cannabis sales. Understanding your location, the surrounding locations, as well as your direct competition and your target customers is all critical to your overall cannabis retail marketing strategy.
Utilizing this key information — even as early as during your application process — will pay off in the long term for your branding, website traffic, social media, PR, and advertising.
Identifying Your Partners
Secondly, in most states, you’ll need to identify your partners in your application submission. This naturally puts a lot of pressure on retail owners. Because there are so many other aspects to the retail application – partnership decisions sometimes don’t get the proper emphasis they rightfully deserve.
Looking to make your efforts pay off in the long term? Here are some partnerships that you should consider (or in some cases that may be required) putting time into during your application process:
Talk to any expert and they’ll tell you: the cannabis industry is unlike any other industry in recorded history. Whether you have no marketing personnel on your team whatsoever, a marketing director who desperately needs help, or an entire in-house marketing team that just can’t seem to get it all done properly, your cannabis marketing partner is therefore a very important decision.
Your cannabis marketing partner should:
- Know your market.
- Understand the ins-and-outs of the cannabis industry, from seed-to-sale.
- Understand how compliance works – state-to-state, federally, and globally.
- Have the right partnerships in place.
- Offer all the quality and agile services you’ll require to be successful.
All of the above-mentioned can and will make all the difference for your cannabis retail operation. At PufCreativ, we’re able to set up the foundation of your entire marketing platform.
Here’s an example of an engagement with a retailer who is just starting:
- Corporate Brand and/or Marketing Strategy
- Logo Design
- Brand Book
- Brand Identity
- Packaging Design
- Interior & Exterior Design Concepts
- Custom Website Design & Development
- Custom Mobile App Design & Development
- Corporate Brand and/or Marketing Strategy Continued
- Website Hosting & Maintenance
- Social media
- Photo & video
- Graphic Design (Digital & Print)
Who you choose as your tech partners early in your process is a vital decision that many don’t put enough time into making. As a retailer you want to choose tech partners who will fit your business plan and financial model, however, they should also seamlessly align with your workflow, operations, and long-term goals.
A majority of transactions we see take place in the cannabis space happen online, first.
Here’s a list of some crucial tech decisions you’ll need to make initially, along with some corresponding thoughts, and our suggested partners.
Dispensary POS Software Systems
Your point of sale (POS) system is a huge part of your retail business and something you’ll need to have figured out for your application process in most states. It keeps track of your inventory in real time, integrates with your online ordering and stat tracking system, and accepts different forms of payments.
Here are some of our favorite POS systems we work with:
We love the team over at BLAZE and their POS software because it integrates with some great online ordering partners, makes multi-location management easy, includes an app to enhance both operations and inventory tracking, offers great data insights, and has a unique debit payment processing integration.
The folks over at Treez are passionate and offer a great POS software solution for cannabis retailers. Their data is proven to help their clients succeed and they integrate with a long list of tech companies to enhance retailers’ efforts all around.
The team over at FlowHub has been around since 2015 and some of the largest retailers in the country use their POS software. They integrate with almost every major tech player in the industry and offer everything a retailer needs to keep inventory aligned with sales, online orders, and day-to-day operations.
Ecommerce & Online Ordering Partners
We see a majority of purchases at cannabis retailers and dispensaries take place online these days. Not only is this a critical decision that needs to align with your POS system, marketing support, operations, business model and financial model, but you’ll also need to include your e-commerce partner on your application in most states.
Here are some of our favorite online ordering partners we work with:
Our friends over at Dispense offer customizable software that integrates directly with all of the industry’s key technology companies, while also integrating with the google analytics of dispensaries in order to track intimate data.
Their native menus give organic traffic a huge boost. We’re excited about their recent integration with our mutual client, Fire Island, located in Alma, Michigan.
The legends over at Tymber have been in the game since the beginning, offering native SEO-friendly online ordering menus and amazing integrations to boost your dispensary’s marketing platform. We’re stoked on their recent integration with our client, Gram’s Five and Dime, located in Detroit, Maine.
The team over at Dutchie is one of the largest and leading tech companies in the space. They offer e-commerce, payment solutions, POS systems, and many other tech solutions. A lot of clients like having all of those solutions under one roof.
Our client, The Fire Station (located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) have mainly been working out of iframes for their online ordering, but this month we’ll be launching a custom cannabis mobile application for them as well as a new wordpress site that integrates with their Dutchie + native e-commerce solution!
The cool cats over at I <3 Jane have been around for a while and offer a wonderful online ordering integration. They often pair their online ordering contracts with an advertising package to give clients a boost.
They have also been working with iframes, but are pushing towards flipping their clients to their native menu solution. We’re stoked on their integration with the new custom website we’re about to launch for our client, Connected, which has locations throughout California.
CRM and Customer Loyalty Partners
While you’re dialing in your POS and online ordering partner, it would also be smart to identify which cannabis customer relationship management and loyalty partner is right for you. It’d be great to choose someone who integrates with your POS, online ordering, and other areas of your tech stack so you can align all of your data to make informed marketing, advertising, and business decisions.
Getting your customers through the door is one thing, but retaining your customers, creating loyalty/trust, and capturing attention is a whole other story.
Here are some of our favorite CRM and customer loyalty partners we work with:
We love working with the Alpine team on projects. They offer an amazing CRM, customer loyalty program that includes SMS, email marketing and data tracking all in one dashboard. They easily allow you to segment your audiences so the right message goes to the right audience, while constantly improving on their technology.
The team at Springbig has been around for a while, offering quality CRM, customer loyalty and data collection, and a unique referral program technology. We have a variety of clients who like working with this great tech company.
Data & Analytics Partners
What’s the best way to align your entire tech stack and make sense of all of the data you’re collecting? The answer is finding a partner that integrates with your tech stack and fits your business plan. We love using data and analytics when we consult our clients on branding, strategy and key business decisions.
Here are some of our favorite data partners we work with:
The wonderful humans over at Headset have been around for a while, providing amazing real time consumer data and market intelligence. They integrate with a majority of the leading cannabis tech companies, and are constantly innovating to improve their offerings.
Our friends over at New Frontier are recognized as a global leader in cannabis data authority. Their insights can predict market shifts to help make key informed decisions for your cannabis retail operation as a whole.
The awesome team over at Happy Cabbage is taking cannabis data and analytics by storm, offering a revenue growth toolkit for cannabis retailers that combines data, analytics and SMS marketing all under a user-friendly dashboard.
Properly Executing Your Initial Marketing Efforts
Next, although you haven’t opened your doors or generated any revenue yet, you’ll still need to execute some initial marketing initiatives for your application. This is also important in order to ensure the success of your grand opening and future marketing efforts.
Here are some marketing initiatives we suggest putting time and resources into during your application process:
Your logo design and branding are the first thing people see when they come across your business in person or online. It defines who you are, tells your story, and can give you a competitive edge. Here’s an approach we suggest to consider when branding your cannabis retail or dispensary location:
Now that you understand your location, it would be smart to identify your target demographics. The name you choose for your business, the logo design, packaging messaging, etc. should all resonate and align with your target demographics.
Brand Identity & Messaging
Now that you understand your location and target demographic, it’s time to tell your story. It’s smart to have a tagline, mission statement, vision statement, as well as an introduction to the brand and brand vibe. This can help you come up with your name, logo, investor decks, website and other marketing essentials.
We encourage all of our clients to infuse community, sustainability, and social justice into their brand ethos.
Name Selection, Trademark & Digital Assets Security
Once you identify your target demographic, it’d be great to choose a name that resonates with them and your story. Identifying that the name you chose also isn’t trademarked, and has a domain and social media handles available is always great to handle early on (to avoid the long-term risk/frustration associated with having to rebrand).
Your logo is the first thing people see. It should resonate with your location, target demographic, story, name and brand identity. We always suggest clean, simple logos that don’t scream, “cannabis.” This helps retailers to easily integrate into communities, especially communities that still suffer from the stigma of marijuana (in addition to avoiding the long term issues of having to rebrand).
The logo, colors, and fonts you choose can be used for all of the marketing assets you’ll need for your application, letterheads, business cards, website, and investor decks.
Retail, Packaging & Swag Concepts
Although you may not need these concepts, they do bring value to your efforts for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:
- Investor Deck – The more your investors can see your vision through renders of your retail space, packaging and swag concepts, the more likely they’ll invest.
We love to run all of our retail design plans, tech stack and consulting by our client and partner, The Peak Beyond. Their smart stores have changed the game for our cannabis retail clients such as Lazy River Products.
Now that you’ve dialed in your target demo, mission, vision, messaging, logo, colors, fonts, etc., it’s smart to bring it all together into a singular brand book. That way, anyone who touches your marketing, design, website, PR, ads, etc. knows exactly what the rules and ethos behind your brand are because they’re all in one place.
Plus, this asset is great to share with investors, partners, consumers, etc.
Although a website isn’t something you think you might need to apply for your cannabis retail license, we actually were required to have a website url in order to submit for our Class 5 Cannabis Retail License. (I don’t think all states require this though.)
Although we currently just have a landing page, the sooner you have a full website with content for search engines to index, the better off you are in the long run. Our clients who launched their sites and SEO program very early before opening have all had successful retail launches and continue to see great results!
That being said, the mentality is: as soon as you can realistically start those lifecycles for your business model, the better. Not everyone is in the same situation.
If you’re going to have a landing page or website url, you might as well have a social media profile. Your website and social media are the first place folks go to learn more about your brand. The sooner you have these up, the sooner you can start collecting followers and data, popping up in searches, etc.
Social media is a great free tool to start with. You can see our minimal approach to our Pinelands Apothecary social media here.
Finally, I realize that PR may be the last thing on your mind at this point, but it’s definitely something worth putting some time into. Identifying a PR partner and becoming friendly with local, state, and national media outlets will help your business gain credibility and trust.
PR is also a great way to build backlinks from high domain authority sites which improve your SEO. For example, every site I backlink to in this article is benefiting from PufCreativ’s “26” domain authority. We do PR for certain clients who are a perfect fit, such as Gentlemen Smugglers, or we utilize our PR partner The 9th Block.
What should you do after you submit your cannabis retail application?
Now you sit and wait for the real fun to start! Our motto is, “high vibes, low expectations,” when it comes to everything in the cannabis space, but also with our dispensary. No one has any clue how long it will take for us to get approved, but because we submitted such a quality application, we’re certainly hoping for the best. (Hopefully we get approved during this blog series!)
Stay tuned for my next blog, The Best Approach To Cannabis Retail Marketing: The Grand Opening, as I dive into everything you’ll need to do in order to prepare for and properly execute the grand opening of your cannabis retail location.
PufCreativ: Always Helping to Guide You in the Right Direction
Obviously everyone is in a different situation with their brand/intentions, every state has a different application process and there are a number of partners you can choose from in the exponentially expanding (now global) cannabis industry.
I hope the above information helps guide you in the right direction — it’s based on our cannabis retail marketing experience in 20 different states — as well as my personal experience with one of the hardest states to apply in, New Jersey.