(You can have cannabis finance content delivered directly to your inbox. Simply sign up here for our weekly MJBiz Finance newsletter.)
Research suggests the time is right for a marketing shot in the arm.
According to a June report by Forbes, 80% of cannabis companies were having problems matching the right message to the right audience.
Also, 80% reported working on shoestring marketing budgets, Forbes reported, citing data from New Frontier Data and the Cannabis Marketing Association.
Nearly half of those companies had budgets of less than $50,000, with the most popular marketing channels being newspaper advertising, email and social media.
On the other hand, cannabis acceptability continues to grow.
A survey conducted in April 2022 by Pollfish for Florida-based cannabis multistate operator Jushi Holdings found 59% of respondents believe marijuana is beneficial to society, with equal or higher support for banking reform and other measures to support the MJ industry.
Given today’s level of societal acceptance of marijuana, low marketing/advertising budgets and squeezed profits in the industry, a persuasive case can be made for incorporating community marketing as part of a comprehensive marketing plan at the retail level, where market areas are small and highly competitive.
Community marketing – sometimes called community outreach – can be an efficient, low-cost way to spread awareness of your business, connect with the community and, ultimately, attract customers.
An underlying principle of community marketing is that customers buy from businesses they know.
The goal is to help the community, increase the awareness and, in the case of cannabis, acceptance of the business, ultimately leading to more sales and profit.
In other words, to do good by doing good.
But community marketing is not simply feel-good work.
A recent study by Cone Communications found 55% of consumers would travel 10 minutes out of their way to purchase a product associated with a cause they care about.
Among other noteworthy benefits, community marketing can strengthen social media presence and messaging and foster a community-focused culture in the business and its employees
As with all effective marketing initiatives, community marketing starts with a particular goal in mind.
Typically, community-marketing goals are educational and relationship-building, aimed at creating understanding of how the company is helping the community become a better place.
It might seem counterintuitive that this marketing goal isn’t expressed in sales outcomes, but keep in mind that research bears out that customers who feel good about a business are more likely to patronize it.
Tips to launch a program
Here are a few tried-and-true ways to consider getting a community-marketing program off the ground:
While youth-centric community marketing initiatives – sports team sponsorships, direct school support, underwriting summer camps – might be off-limits to cannabis companies, sponsorship of adult sports league teams might make sense. If brew pubs and local whiskey distillers can do it, why not cannabis?
In fact, there are opportunities that can help achieve your objectives without raising eyebrows – at modest cost.
Several universities have established cannabis-related majors or certificates or are offering courses.
At the University of Colorado, the Cannabis Law League provides students at the law school with a broad variety of resources and opportunities to “help students enter one of the most exciting, diverse, and quickly evolving legal industries.”
The University of Maryland offers a master’s degree focusing on Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics.
Denver-based Clover Leaf University, approved and regulated by the Colorado Department of Higher Education, offers certification in a number of cannabis-related programs.
Community colleges are also jumping on the bandwagon. There are many other schools and courses in cannabis topics, and more are coming.
Sponsoring a scholarship for a local student to pursue a cannabis-related degree might be of interest to businesses at the local or industry level.
Financial support helps the student and their community, offers a promotional opportunity for your business and potentially the opportunity to recruit a highly qualified employee.
As the industry grows and matures, it will no doubt spawn courses in agriculture, materials management and engineering.
Taking a cue from more traditional businesses, sponsorship of concerts and other arts events and venues (theater, orchestra) can be opportunities for marijuana companies to gain visibility with a wider segment of a nontraditional audience, particularly by choosing venues and artists that are sympathetic to cannabis.
Volunteering offers a community-marketing opportunity that touches employees, the places volunteers work and their community, and they can interact directly with an important cannabis-customer population.
A Deloitte study found 28% of millennials volunteer each year: Those younger than 24 comprise 22% of all volunteers, and 60% of millennials who don’t volunteer still consider a company’s commitment to community when deciding whether to accept a job.
Sponsoring employees who volunteer on community projects can be a win-win for marijuana businesses.
Increasingly, firms offer a paid day off to employees who volunteer for a task. Their community gets a worker, the employee gets the satisfaction of volunteering, and the company can publicize its initiative on social and other media.
As an adjunct, employees might choose where they volunteer while the company keeps track of hours donated, and, of course, features that in its traditional marketing and sales materials.
Community marketing can be a powerful addition to more traditional sales and marketing efforts at relatively low cost.
It can enhance brand awareness, which, in turn, enhances the value attached to the brand.
Such brand equity can be relatively low-cost and pack a high impact – important considerations for a cannabis business in a time of intensifying competition and smaller profits.
John Stearns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.