How Cannabis Brands Can Lead Content Marketing

03/20/2017 09:22 am ET

By Dario Meli

As more and more cannabis brands pop up on the market, each one encounters the same problem: advertising.

Under federal U.S. law, it’s illegal for cannabis brands to place ads in "any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publications." According to the U.S. Postal Service, it’s also illegal for newspapers to mail publications containing ads for cannabis products, even in states that have legalized marijuana. But marijuana marketing faces more scrutiny in the states that have legalized recreational marijuana — Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia. For example, Colorado does not allow for any outdoor advertising and requires that any spots that advertise marijuana are shown only to a demographic where 70 percent of viewers/attendees are 21 years of age or older. Online tech giants like Google and Facebook enforce strict policies that prohibit marijuana ads.

Because of these legal restrictions, the cannabis industry needs to be savvy with how they advertise its brand. To do so, it should consider the benefits content marketing. Here are three places for cannabis brands to start to help them claim their share of the market space.

1. Deep-Dive Into Marijuana Data

Data is a marketer's best tool to understand what your audience is searching for and, in turn, what they may be looking to purchase. Since laws prohibit marijuana advertisements, people are still searching for cannabis-related terms. The average monthly search volume for the top searched cannabis-related terms over the last two years are “marijuana” (301,000), “weed” (246,000), “vape/vape pen” (135,000) and “cannabis” (110,000), according to our own in-house research.

Those are some broad numbers to work with, but your job is to conduct a deep-dive by analyzing search term data more closely. You'll be able to take key phrases from data that doesn't include prohibited words/imagery but still bare relevance to the marijuana industry (e.g. "the munchies"). You can use demographic, location, age and gender data to learn more about who's searching for what.

In addition, you'll want to pay close attention to how the data changes over periods of time. This will be your first indicator to pinpoint any spikes in search term volumes and search trends to discover why this is happening at that moment. This can help you craft insights. For example, if you are looking more closely at the search term for "vape/vape pen," you will notice that its rise in popularity began in 2013.

There are hundreds of great observations to be made about data, but only some of it may be relevant to your marketing. That's why you'll need to craft insights and actions from it.

2. Use Data Insights to Create Marketing Actions

Now that you have all of this data at your fingertips, it's time to put that data into action so you can see real results. The best way for marijuana brands to do so is to create content. As previously noted, marijuana advertisements are illegal online and off; however, marijuana content is not. It is perfectly legal for brands and bloggers to write about marijuana, and the search term volume data above shows how many people are actively searching for marijuana. Since Google search algorithms love content, marijuana brands have to create content to be found; they might as well use data to be found more easily. By creating data-driven content that emphasizes searchable keywords, your brand can divert search user's attention to your website and products.

To borrow my "vape/vape pen" example, its popularity rose in 2013 and has since become the third biggest marijuana-related search term on a monthly average (see above). How can we use this information in our content marketing? One possible answer is to create an article detailing the history of vape pens and why it exploded in popularity. Whatever the observation or insight, you need to specifically act on it. That action could be specific to strategy, creation or distribution, but it should always come from data. Without it, you are marketing blindly.

3. Add More Data and Keep Tinkering

Now, once you've created content, you will have a larger, more exclusive pool of data to work with. You will need to add that data to the research you're already conducting about search term volumes, for example. From there, you should look to isolate what content is performing well — based on whatever metrics you decided on — and try to answer why it is performing well.

For example, if you see "good" numbers from content about Hollywood’s depiction of stoners, ask why that is. Is it because you published it after the release of a new stoner movie? Is it because pop culture pieces generally perform better than medical marijuana pieces? Is it because of where it ranks in Google or when you shared it on Facebook? These are all important questions to consider, ask and answer. The answers from this will affect your future content strategy. 

Some may look at marijuana marketing as a glass half-empty scenario, but those people are looking to the past instead of the future. The future (and the present, for that matter) is data-driven content marketing. And the realities of present-day marijuana marketing have forced cannabis brands to adopt innovative approaches for the better.

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Dario Meli is the CEO of Quietly, a strategic data-driven content marketing agency, and the co-founder of Hootsuite, Invoke, Brightkit, and Foodee.

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