Well-crafted content is so much more valuable than promotional content. What should cannabis brands focus on right now? When the 2019 Farm Act passed, the CBD industry widely celebrated it. But not long after, newcomers overran the CBD industry and even established brands found themselves surprised by the competitive environment. Despite the challenges, the biggest brands, the most well-known, continue to thrive. In fact, Charlotte’s Web recently became the first CBD brand to sponsor Major League Baseball.  There are a few reasons for this. The first is from the start, CW invested in branding and PR.  But there’s an even bigger reason – they immediately embraced the realities of DTC sales and their website had digital authority because they had been investing in it for years. That’s why it’s more important than ever for cannabis brands to commit to their online presence with these 3 tips to improve cannabis digital marketing with quality content that pays dividends for years to come.

When federal legalization happens – history will repeat itself. It will excite marketers in the industry that FINALLY Instagram can’t boot them. But social media sites come and go (apparently, IG is already “over”), and owning your own corner of the internet has never been more important. While it remains important to HAVE an Insta account, it isn’t a place where cannabis brands can maximize their digital marketing or their content. Once cannabis brands can sell online more directly or even advertise more freely, in a more DTC fashion, mature digital destinations will thrive.

Building an authoritative website takes time, and it takes strategy. You can not start too soon.  Make 2023 the year you invest in your cannabis digital marketing with these 3 digital marketing tips that supercharge digital PR.

Create Lifestyle, Not Medical Content

Historically, cannabis brands have built content to educate consumers. And that’s been a really important step in cannabis normalization. But between new formats that make cannabis more accessible to Google’s suppression of “fake news,” including non-authoritative sites providing anything akin to medical advice, you’re just wasting your time by creating anything that could be considered health advice, or expertise.

Unless you’re already a credible, published authority on these matters,  you’d be better off taking a page out of a publisher’s took kit and creating like “5 Games That Are Better When You’re High.”

The better you know your customer, the more dialed in you’ll be to creating content for them. Be disciplined. Be consistent. If you create 3 pieces of content a month, you are already miles ahead of 99% of cannabis brands. Not only does this help people find you today, but it will be a rich resource tomorrow. Creating content YOU own is still the most impactful marketing and PR tactic you can do.

Trigger The Seeking Hormone

A while back, I wrote about creating Instagram content that would trigger anticipation while also solving some of the Instagram violation problems by using anticipation triggers in cannabis digital marketing.

Use can use that to your advantage right now while circumventing Instagram challenges, and even advertising challenges while ALSO adding authority to your website. Use unexpected prompts, both audio and visual, to keep consumers on your site longer. And while we’re at it, if you aren’t already, you MUST incentivize people to join your email list. Again, owning your list is an actual asset, while Instagram followers are so fluid, and Instagram itself so unreliable, it’s questionable whether there is any long-term value there at all. And believe me, as one of the earliest adopters of social media for brands, it truly pains me to say that.

But there are lessons to be learned from Instagram. The scrolling feed, for example, is an outstanding example of a “seeking hormone” trigger. In the early days, it was genius. The way it scrolled felt like a slot machine, juuuust enough of the next post would appear on the phone screen. It was nearly impossible to stop scrolling. TikTok’s interface triggers that too. The latest digital website designs use a similar approach. Your cannabis digital marketing can mimic some of the most tried and true digital best practices used by today’s leading consumer brands.

QUALITY Inbound Links Still Matter

 

Your current and past coverage from respected, authoritative sites is your hedge against link inflation.

Google says it’s deprioritizing inbound links, but that’s only compared to how much they’re increasing the value of trusted content. Simply having inbound links isn’t enough. Gone are the days when thousands of low-value affiliate links could stack up to a credible website in Google’s eyes.

Today, Google wants to improve its search algorithm by presenting trusted answers. The recipe to trust is a closely guarded Google, but what we DO know is credible content = trust. And Publishers have Google’s trust. And when Google presents it, consumers trust it more too, so your site gets a super boost. Customers who trust you buy faster and stay longer, so incorporating quality inbound links is a triple home run for your cannabis brand.

Preparing for federal cannabis legalization is THE business strategy for 2023 and digital marketing and PR are the levers to pull your brand along. Since our earliest days, we’ve been the best cannabis PR agency for digitally savvy brands. We know successful cannabis digital marketing and PR advice of today is the backbone of tomorrow’s most successful cannabis brands. Today, it’s more important than ever to coordinate cannabis digital marketing with cannabis digital PR.

The unfair and highly politicized stigma that once surrounded the use of cannabis is quickly dissipating as more states embrace legalized cannabis and cannabis-related products. The earliest cannabis brands hired PR firms to reduce stigmatization. With a budding industry on the rise, more companies are jumping on the cannabis bandwagon. While this hyper-growth is great for consumers, it has created competition in the cannabis marketplace. How can cannabis companies set themselves apart to capture a chunk of the profit? No doubt, hyper-growth cannabis companies absolutely have distinct PR needs.

To keep up with industry growth, the time may be right to consider hiring a cannabis PR agency. PR isn’t just for high-profile celebrities. Public relations firms can help you market yourself, your unique products, and let the public know how you stand out from the crowd. However, before you hire a PR firm to represent your business, consider how a cannabis PR firm may benefit your company and how to choose the right firm for your needs.

What is a PR Agency?

Public relations agencies are multifaceted firms that specialize in promoting and growing other businesses through editorial coverage. Editorial coverage is sometimes known as “earned” or free” media because it isn’t a paid placement in an outlet. A PR agency generally doesn’t buy or place ads on social media or through billboards or podcasts. A PR agency knows how to leverage the media for the benefit of a company. Media can include local news, national news, newspapers, magazines, and websites.

The ultimate goal of a PR agency is to promote the best interests of its client by generating favorable media coverage. When potential customers view this coverage, it builds brand recognition and trust in the company. The positive public opinion can then help translate into sales for the business.

What Does a Cannabis PR Firm Do?

A top cannabis PR firm specializes in drumming up positive media coverage for growing cannabis businesses. They generally will use their resources to pitch story ideas to various media outlets. They will then follow up with these media outlets to convince them that the story will interest their viewers or readers. In the end, the media outlet gets a piece that entices its audience. The cannabis company then gets recognition. A good agency understands how to take a company message or campaign and translate that into a positive media piece.

On the flip side, a cannabis PR agency can also help a business mitigate the fallout from a less than ideal or unfortunate situation. A good firm is always strategically thinking about how to protect a client from potentially hurtful coverage. An agency can also help formulate a response that is both appropriate and has the potential to turn a situation around.

Overall, you want a cannabis PR agency to be well-versed in the following:

  • Writing and distributing press releases
  • Following up with appropriate media outlets after the release of a press statement
  • Crafting pitches
  • Product placement
  • Writing speeches
  • Crisis management
  • Copywriting
  • Blog writing
  • Market research
  • Event planning
  • Community engagement
  • Non-profit relationship management

Some of the most successful PR firms have former journalists and news people on their staff. These individuals generally have inside knowledge of the media industry and can leverage their former contacts and skills for the benefit of cannabis clients. These professionals know what stories media outlets generally select and can help convince them that coverage of your materials is beneficial to the outlets and the community.

Picking a Cannabis PR Firm

In many areas, cannabis is a relatively new business. When looking for a PR firm to manage the image and media coverage of a cannabis business, there is an important initial question. A company should ask if the agency has previous experience working with the cannabis industry. Why is this the most important question? There are limitations on the types of material and information that can be distributed about cannabis in some jurisdictions. A business will want to make sure that the PR firm they are working with understands the intricacies of working with the media and cannabis-related businesses. Knowledge of the industry helps ensure that your coverage is positive and accurate. It will also ensure that media outlets distribute coverage with the best chance of being picked up and not tossed in the press-release trash bin.

Beyond looking for an agency that understands the unique challenges of working with cannabis-related businesses, you will want to sit down and outline your marketing goals. What are you hoping to achieve? What is your budget? What are you expecting a firm to deliver? Establishing your objectives and goals early will help in selecting the best firm for your company. Once you determine these objectives, find a PR firm that aligns with your goals. Consider the following:

  • What is your budget?
  • Do they specialize in a specific industry?
  • How do they measure success?
  • What is their communication style?
  • How often will they be in contact?
  • Does their team have experience in PR and marketing?
  • How do they generate coverage?
  • Do they have experience handling crisis situations?

Hold meetings before you settle on a PR firm. In these meetings, you can ask plenty of predetermined questions pertaining to your concerns and goals. Consider these meetings an interview process. You want the best candidate for the job. Effective coverage doesn’t happen passively. It is a process that needs to be actively pursued and nurtured. The PR team you choose should be aggressive, responsive, and communicate with you throughout the PR process.

PR as an Investment

Making investments in your business is essential to growth. You know how to cultivate relationships with growers, suppliers, paraphernalia manufacturers, consumers, and sometimes even local artisans and craftsmen. Securing the help of a PR firm is another form of investment in your business. A solid relationship with a cannabis PR firm can help increase recognition, brand loyalty, and visibility in the community.

Eventually, these attributes can start translating into new customers, repeat business, and profit growth. The relationship between the cannabis industry and the media is always evolving. If you’re ready to experience growth and visibility for your business, hiring an experienced cannabis PR agency is the next step to developing your product’s brand.

There’s a secret hidden in ALL our brains that you can use for cannabis content marketing.

Did you know that we’re all ruled by a super powerful hormone? It’s true. This hormone dominates decision-making, especially split-second choices like the ones digital users are making every day. Decisions like “click,” “like,” “retweet,” and “buy” and “subscribe” are all significantly impacted by this hormone. Savvy marketing strategists have been triggering this hormone for years, some knowingly, some stumbling upon it.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of this hormone. You’ve heard about in the context of drugs, sex, and even food. But what does this hormone do for cannabis marketers? I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, a little more about this hormone: dopamine. See? I told you you’ve heard of it. Dopamine is best known as the “pleasure hormone.” It’s the hormone that creates the surge of euphoria that we feel after a satisfying cannabis session. But, the surge of satisfaction is not actually the most powerful tool in a marketer’s arsenal.

The most powerful tool for the marketer is anticipation.

And it turns out that dopamine is actually more aptly described as the “wanting and seeking” hormone.
Ah. Now you get it right?
It turns out that the “wanting and seeking” trigger is MORE powerful than the “satisfaction.” Which means, we’re hardwired to keep looking, keep seeking until we satisfy our wanting and seeking. And then, we’re hard-wired to do it all again.

Think for just a moment about the advantage to your content and overall cannabis marketing strategy if you can trigger this motivation. Images can trigger our wanting and seeking. Ever seen a really great close-up shot of your favorite food and found yourself searching for how to have it delivered at lunch that.very.day? Images of just about anything we want can trigger our “wanting and seeking” hormone. This means you really need to think about the images you’re using in marketing and advertising, because images are incredibly key to the top of the funnel.
While we see food and sex all the time in marketing, maybe those images aren’t appropriate for your brand. Although this knowledge is particularly useful for the cannabis industry – imagine using a cupcake instead of a joint in everyone one of your Instagram posts. Not only would this spark some word-of-mouth PR, but it solves many of the problems cannabis brands have with their own Instagram presence. Imagine how much harder it would be for Instagram to punish a pro-cupcake brand. Not only does this stike at the consumers’ anticipation in two different ways, it also creates another type of seeking.

Guess what else fuels our anticipation?

Just guess.
This is super important because not all businesses and campaigns are suitable for triggering the food, sex and drug urges.
Curiosity.
The brain experiences dopamine rushes when we’re curious for more information.
Think about the last Google search you did. Ever been sucked down the rabbit hole of Google and found yourself coming out of the other side 45 minutes later? That’s your insatiable, hormone-driven seeking and wanting trigger. That’s your brain on the anticipation train.

Our quest for information is basically never-ending. We’re hard-wired that way, and from an evolutionary perspective, this is a very, very good thing. Now, WHAT information triggers this is the key. This is where we circle back around to audience identification and personalization.
We’re inundated with information, so we have to be very clear on our audience so we understand WHAT kind of information or curiosity triggers our target audience. Motivational triggers work on all people, but what triggers the motivation is where your marketing research and strategy come in.

Unexpected prompts, audio and visual also trigger our wanting and seeking hormone. You know what does this exceptionally well?
Your phone.

It beeps or vibrates or a message pops up and you almost ALWAYS stop what you are doing to look at it don’t you? This is why SMS messaging is so powerful.  If you do manage to ignore your phone’s notifications, it takes an active and conscious effort on your part.
This is why my most hated and dreaded marketing tactic, pop-up messaging, is so powerful. I drop right out of a page when I get a pop-up because I feel like it’s insensitive to the reader, but the truth is, it works on the vast majority of people because the surprise triggers the wanting and seeking. Novelty and unpredictability also trigger our seeking behavior. Therefore, “New and Improved” works. It’s also why the above cupcake example works.

The Counter-Intuitive Path

You’ve probably heard over and over again to simplify. The message is too long. The funnel is too long.
Overall, this is good advice.
However, once you really understand the “seeking and wanting” hormone, your path can actually be quite long, so long as it keeps triggering curiosity and gives information in small bits and pieces if it gives anything until it offers the solution. Cannabis marketers can use this hunting and seeking trigger on their own websites too. And this is really important, because as federal legalization looms, cannabis brands will need to have a digital presence that is in control of them.

As cannabis education to a larger base becomes more important, you may find this technique particularly relevant in your cannabis marketing.

Have you ever found yourself reading a really ugly landing page with all text? Really awesome copywriters understand how to use this tactic in writing to move you through the process. Interestingly enough, the more time you spend on something, the more committed you are. So long copy, long funnels, they have a purpose and in the right situation, the right circumstance, the right audience, they work. You can use this strategy in your digital cannabis marketing to your benefit, particularly for product launches and blogs.

In A Nutshell:

Here it is in a nutshell, for fast and motivational results: trigger the wanting and seeking hormone.
Make your audience curious.
Lead them down a path that satisfies in bits and pieces.
Experiment with what triggers curiosity in your audience, experiment with the strength of their curiosity with funnel length.
Triggering the “wanting and seeking” hormone is the very premise behind free information in content cannabis marketing and the internet in general.

This article has been slightly edited from the original version on poodlemafia.com

About the Captivation Motivations:

The Captivation Motivations are all built around what I call our “other 90%” of our brain. The part of our brain that is the oldest and most developed part of our brain.

I didn’t make up the Captivation Motivations, I’ve simply been studying them and their effects for the last four years. I’ve been testing them in my strategies and tactics, reading and writing about them.
Simply put, these motivations are not some flash-in-the-pan-do-whats-trendy-now strategy, these are strategies which trigger reactions from the oldest part of our brain.  More and more is now understood about these motivations. But one thing is clear: despite the fact that these motivations developed in the earliest days of humanity’s survival of the fittest experiences, these motivations are very much alive and well today. What triggers them in the modern world is just different than what triggered them in our earliest evolutionary days.

What types of PR do you need, and when do you need then? The type of PR you choose, mostly has to do with your larger strategic initiatives and your desired PR outcomes. When hiring a top PR firm, prioritizing initiatives and timelines is usually incredibly important to companies in emerging industries or companies with big ambitions, but not huge PR budgets. So when SHOULD you use the most important types of PR for fast-growing and ambitious companies?

Strategic Public Relations

Research is the forgotten science behind PR. From surveys and studies that impact consumer or stakeholder opinion, to consumer, product, or media trends, strategic PR puts emotional intelligence in context.

Many startups skip this part because they perceive it as expensive. But that’s why Avaans Media offers a strategic analysis as part of its bespoke PR services. We think it’s important to inform strategies with data. Even startups without a reputational history can benefit from analysis of media trends. The strategic analysis can also save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted advertising or brand expenses because of bad timing or a lack of insight into a buyer’s state of mind.

Media Relations

Media relations is the most visible part of PR.  It’s so visible in fact, that many people think media relations IS PR. It’s usually media relations that secure proactive press and work directly with the media to improve their impression of your company. Most ambitious companies use media relations when the goal is to increase visibility and improve their reputation for stakeholders. Stakeholders could be current or potential investors, current or potential customers or clients, government decision-makers, and even the media itself. A solid media relations strategy keeps you in good graces with the media and improves your reputation with positive press. Media relations can be product PR, like with a new product launch, or during a particular product sales cycle, or it can be part of the thought leadership and strategic relations campaigns.

Media relations PR tactics for fast-growing companies include active outreach to journalists and maintaining an eye on news that impacts the brand, its competitors, or its customers. Media relations PR professionals never forget the “relations” part of their job and ensure that content such as press releases, pitches, and products are delivered in a media-centric way. Your media relations team has two important stakeholders: the media and you, and it’s often a delicate balance.

Community Relations

For emerging industries like cannabis and drones, community relations is a primary PR tent pole. Community relations are the proactive steps a company or brand takes within a particular community to improve its reputation or ease concerns about its product or operations. Community relations can be within a geographic area, a demographic group, or an industry. Tactically, this might include partnering with nonprofits, purpose-driven initiatives, or education campaigns.

Crisis Communications

No one likes to think about it, but from product recalls to cyber attacks to executive missteps, having a solid plan in place for a crisis is an important part of building, and maintaining a hard-earned reputation. Tactically, this should be a plan that’s in place for a variety of crises that could impact your business. You will consider your risks, your stakeholders, and key people who need to be involved, and how they need to be involved. Crisis communications can be one of the most expensive forms of PR if you wait until there is a crisis to engage a PR agency.

Digital/Online Communications

Most modern PR firms, especially those that serve companies with ambitious goals,  will incorporate some level of digital PR in a comprehensive PR strategy. This could incorporate content, social media, and at the very least, how the latest Google changes impact your PR. You simply can’t ignore that your reputation lives and breathes online. Make sure your digital PR collaborates with your SEO and your social media.

 

Thought Leadership

From public speaking opportunities to content contributions to commenting on important news and leading important conversations, thought leadership for executives improves brand reputations and community relations. What would Apple be without Steve Jobs? What would Spanx be without Sara Blakely? Both CEOs built an incredible brand and added value to it with their own personal branding. Entrepreneurs of fast-growing or ambitious companies with their eye on an IPO or fundraising should invest in thought leadership because it’s one of the most valuable forms of PR.

For startups and ambitious companies, PR is an investment in your company’s future. Knowing when to use important types of PR for ambitious companies will help you prioritize your PR investment.

As uncertainty rises, funding falls. At least that’s what the news would have you believe. But according to Inc. magazine, seed and angel deals are still trending upward, and early-stage companies with proven product are still getting most of the deals. In fact, 64% of venture funding is early stage, and seed deals through Q2 of 2022 were on par with the entirety of 2019 (Q2 NVCA/PitchBook). That means for hyper-growth or ambitious companies and challenger brands, there is still an opportunity for you. So what should you do when VC funding is down and inflation is still driving uncertainty? I’ve been through every recession since 9/11 and I’ve been working with ambitious brands and companies since then as well. So I’ve seen what successful businesses do during recessions to position themselves for competitive advantage, survival and growth, despite the economic hurdles. Over the years I’ve noticed, startups who focus on looking ahead while being laser-focused, and tend to survive tumultuous times.

Focus Your Energies and Budget

“Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it.”

Look at everything you’re doing and cut out the things you aren’t doing well. For example, let’s say your internal biz development team is excellent, but your event marketing isn’t producing the results you’d hoped for, take that event marketing budget and focus it on one thing your biz dev team says they need to get to the next level.

Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it. Outsourcing is just more nimble. What you outsource, be exceptionally clear about your goals, so you can maximize your reduced budget. Focusing your time and budget has the additional advantage of clearing out the cobwebs and giving you new insight into operational efficiencies too. Who knows? You might decide that outsourcing certain strategies, like PR, simply works better than doing it in-house, anyway.

Startups should also focus on the long term. Think about ways you can increase efficiencies with agency partners, and where you can maximize the partners you have on board.

 

Bullish on the Future

“Deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam, no matter what happens to the economy,”

What should a startup focus on when thinking about funding? No matter what happens to the economy, innovation rolls forward, and VCs know this. The money isn’t on solving today’s problems, it’s on solving tomorrow’s problems. According to Pitchbook, in Q1 of 2022, VC’s raised more money than in the entirety of 2019. So are coming down? Oh, absolutely, but VC’s know – the future is now.

Even when funding is down, deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam. So do your homework on where your product fits into the biggest challenges or opportunities in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Look at all the challenges the pandemic brought to light – those challenges are still top of mind, and the companies solving those problems will have a head start. Your corporate storytelling should also lean into the future and purpose driven initiatives. These two aspects will allow you to lead against your peers.

FinTech is another area where the gloom and doom may be over-reported – through Q2, FinTech funding was still more than in 2019, but it’s definitely not as frothy as 2021. FinTech founders may wish to focus on thought leadership and tie it into purpose-driven points of view in order to tap into future trends.

And although the cannabis industry has been experiencing its share of disruptions as of late, no one thinks that industry is disappearing, the growth is only projected to increase as more states move to legalize cannabis, and states create interstate sales as California has, and many expect the east coast to do. Experts predict the cannabis industry will be $100 billion by the end of the decade. You can learn a lot about the future of cannabis by reviewing the pitch decks from startups that recently secured funding.

Plan For Success

“Companies that survive this time focus… on problem-solving,”

Now is the time to think out loud and do your due diligence for tomorrow. Companies that survive this time focus their operations team on problem-solving. For example, if  VC funding doesn’t seem likely for you right now, turn your attention to policy initiatives at the federal and local levels. For example, the last infrastructure project had a lot of opportunities for climate-related startups. And the 2021 infrastructure package held lots of tidbits for infrastructure tech programs, that emerging industries like drones and UOV could take advantage of.

Consumer tech VC funding really has taken a sharp nose-dive. Storytelling PR campaigns may not be as attractive as they once were for consumer tech. Now is the time to look at product-based programs which increase awareness but not the budget.

Direct to Consumer (DTC) funding has radically pulled back, because simply having a DTC company isn’t in itself enough to attract investment – today, a DTC strategy is an expectation. But startups can take this time to develop something that can’t easily be replicated, like technology. Or, as investor Caitlin Strandberg said, don’t even ask for investment unless you have an Amazon strategy, because social media isn’t where they see buyers, “if you’re going to be where people buy—people are buying more and more on Amazon—you can expect they’ll search your brand name on Amazon, and you want to be on that search page,” so be looking your sales channels along with SEO and digital PR so your startup is poised for growth.

You should take this opportunity to do some scenario planning as well. Now is a great time to plan for a crisis, and create plans for things like cyber breaches ,which will help you secure your future.

 

Tomorrow’s greatest companies and emerging industries aren’t going to allow this uncertainty to derail them. This is where the rubber meets the road, and strategy makes a difference.