Digital branding and marketing can pose countless challenges for cannabis companies—especially in Canada where restrictions on advertising are particularly strict—but there are ways to succeed in the digital space, according to Jenn Larry, president of CBDStrategy Group, a Canadian marketing and communications firm.
“You’re limited, but you’re not locked out,” she says.
Mobile has become a large part of the digital space, and with it comes the idea that your communications are more immediate and more accessible than ever. This instant connection with patients and consumers means you need to share information responsibly, use apps to your advantage and approach social media with caution. Here, in the third installment of a three-part series, Larry shares insights on how to accomplish this to successfully weave digital components into your branding and marketing strategy.
1. Share information responsibly.
When you launch branding and marketing efforts in the digital space, you must ensure you are sharing the information responsibly, Larry advises. First and foremost, it is important to verify the age of users before connecting with them on the web. Pop-up boxes that ask for age confirmation will be insufficient, she says. The goal is to ensure your messaging is only received by verified users who are old enough to legally consume your products.
“Today, many alcohol companies have websites that have a pop-up box that asks you to [use] a dropdown menu to confirm you’re 21, and then you’re allowed to go in and browse all the stuff around alcohol,” Larry says. “This will not be enough for cannabis.”
Cannabis companies can get the most out of the web by incorporating online portals or intranets into their web presence, so users can willingly log in to a space on their website to access certain information, she says. This ensures that your audience is of legal age to consume cannabis and understands the complexity of the category. Understanding how to segment your brand data will help you understand how to use it best across multiple channels.
Although it may seem that a more extensive log-in process can take away from user experience, Larry says two or three clicks to access information on the web is permissible and potentially necessary to ensure your information is being disseminated in a responsible way.
2. Establish digital relationships through apps.
The use of mobile applications is continuing to evolve as the industry develops, Larry says, and apps may become critical in establishing digital relationships with your patients and consumers.
“Once people onboard themselves with licensed producers—whether it be for their medical profiles or their usage … —I think applications will be an interesting way to ensure privacy, database compliance, information sharing, storage and distribution,” she says.
Sharing data and content with your audience should be part of a larger branding and marketing strategy, she adds, and factual information that supports this larger strategy should be readily available to your audience within the closed environment of the app. The content you share will vary based on whether the company is business-to-business or direct to consumer, and regulations may dictate what you are and are not allowed to share based on your business type, Larry says.
“[Companies should be] thinking about setting up those relationships in the digital space and what they could mean from a contract standpoint and the law,” she says.
3. Use social media with caution.
Social media audiences are much broader than a company’s target market, so brands should be cautious about which channels they use to promote themselves. For example, the minimum age for Facebook users is 13, meaning that any information you share on that particular platform can be viewed by minors.
“I’m not allowed to walk into any marketplace or any venue and promote adult products and/or illegal drugs to anyone who is a minor,” Larry says.
However, there are many ways your brand can still socialize on social media, and this is where your business strategy helps immensely. On some platforms, you can operate within groups that allow you to vet users and verify their age before they join. Private groups are a great way to deliver important information.
“It is possible that moving forward, things like Instagram—which, anybody can follow you—will become challenging,” she says.
Companies need to approach social media with a defined strategy and a clear target audience, she adds.
“I think we want to be very responsible with social footprints. This goes back to content marketing, communication architecture, having a real strong position and strategy on what your voice intends to do. We want to inspire teams and users to become ambassadors for both brand products and purpose, it’s not just about sharing or doing anything in social, because that could backfire,” Larry says. “Especially if you become a public company, those liabilities are not something you can afford.”
And it can be difficult to recover from irresponsible posts on social media, she adds. “Once it’s out there, it’s hard to take back. Right now, in the nascent industry, a lot of things are said, and people don’t always realize the implication.”
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