By on February 26th, 2020

How to Build a Digital Marketing Plan for Cannabis or CBD

Creating a Digital Marketing Plan for Cannabis & CBD Businesses in 2020 (PrograMetrix)

Cannabis and CBD marketers face a unique set of marketing challenges—perhaps more so than in any other industry.

There are myriad state and local regulations to keep up with, many of which ban certain forms of advertising outright. There’s the digital roadblock of Facebook and Google, which have policies of rejecting cannabis, CBD, and ancillary business ads (though these policies are enforced with maddening irregularity). You also can’t write off marketing expenses, as every other business owner can—because there’s still the fact that cannabis is technically a Schedule I drug, even as legal cannabis is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S.

Building a smart digital marketing plan is tricky enough in any industry—throw in all the above, and the task gets tougher. Remember this: At its core, a digital marketing strategy is simply a plan of action designed to help you achieve your business goals. Our step-by-step guide to digital marketing for cannabis and CBD breaks down the process of creating a digital marketing plan in nine straightforward steps.

Step 1: Do Your Market Research

Start with your ideal customer: Who are they? What do they do, need, and care about? Next, consider your unique value proposition—whatever it is that makes your brand, rather than your competitors’ brands, irreplaceable in the life of that customer. Now, consider the best way to communicate said value: Where and how does your customer spend their time? What do they need to hear in order to be convinced?

Your first step should rely on research over theory. This is particularly important for cannabis and CBD businesses—both industries have an immense array of potential customers, but also an array of historical stereotypes to combat. To avoid pigeonholing your business or your customers, find as much hard data as possible about your target demographic. Consult your Google Analytics, and if you’ve already established your customer base (whether B2B or B2C), ask your real customers for input throughout the research process. You can also explore trends in the cannabis and CBD industries using tools like BuzzSumo, Google Trends, or SEMRush.

Finally, know your local cannabis and CBD advertising rules. You’ll need to understand not only what’s permitted in your location, but also what’s permitted on digital platforms. As of 2020, even CBD brands can’t always rely on their advertisements getting approved by Facebook and Google. Regardless of whether yours slip by the algorithms at first, don’t depend on these sources for ongoing traffic: There’s no guarantee that your ads won’t get taken down in the future.

See also: The State of Cannabis & CBD Marketing in 2020

Step 2: Set Your Marketing Goals

With a firm base of data to build on, start formulating your goals. These should align directly with your current company goals, as well as with the goals of other departments across your team.

For best results, your goals should be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. The measurability element should mean you’re establishing KPIs for each goal as you go. Be sure to keep any limitations of your local cannabis regulations in mind: For instance, if you’d like to become the best-known cannabis brand in the U.S., but your state doesn’t allow you to market to out-of-state consumers, you’ll need to think carefully about how exactly you’re going to get there.How to set goals for cannabis and CBD digital marketing (Conductor)

Step 3: Weigh Digital vs. Traditional Methods

According to eMarketer, more than half of all advertising is now conducted digitally: In 2020, an estimated $151 billion will be spent on digital marketing, as compared with $107 billion to be spent on traditional.

For most companies—cannabis, CBD, and hemp businesses included—more than half of your advertising should also be conducted digitally. There are over 300 million internet users in the US, and Americans on average spend six hours and 31 minutes per day online. Digital marketing also allows for smarter audience targeting, better data collection, and more accurate measurement of campaign ROI. Particularly for cannabis business owners unable to write off marketing expenses, it’s important for every ad buy you make to be measurable against KPI benchmarks.

All the above is not to say that traditional marketing strategies have no place in a comprehensive marketing plan for CBD or cannabis: The ideal strategy includes a data-informed mix of traditional and digital tactics employed together to hit your marketing goals. While we don’t recommend leveraging every avenue at once, techniques like billboard advertising, print ads, event sponsorships, and in-store pop-ups should all be considered as potential inclusions in your overall marketing plan. That said, since this article focuses on digital, we’ll concentrate on that from here on out.

See also: The Ultimate Guide to Programmatic Advertising for CBD & Cannabis Brands

Step 4: Audit Your Digital Assets

List out every channel you have available for digital marketing, from Facebook to your website to any platform that accepts cannabis ad buys. Cross off any that won’t be seen, read, or heard by your target customer. Channels will generally fall under three umbrellas: paid media, owned media, and earned media.

  • Paid media includes advertisements of all kinds, including digital banner ads, connected TV ads, digital audio spots, videos, mobile, native advertising, paid search listings, paid social posts, and so on. These are the easiest campaigns to get up and running in a short amount of time, but they require some budget put behind them.
  • Owned media includes digital channels whose content you control, including your website, blog posts, emails, and social media accounts. These channels are similar to paid media in that you control the messaging, but they’ll use less of your budget and require more time to manage.
  • Earned media includes digital channels whose content is controlled by influencers and the press, including news sites, blogs, podcasts, and so on. Like owned media, earned media requires minimal budget but takes time and effort—and unlike paid and owned media, you won’t control what gets published.

You’ll also want to consider your marketing budget and how much time you have to hit your marketing goals. The balance between these two elements will inform which channels will best suit your marketing needs.

Owned, Earned, and Paid Media for Cannabis Digital Marketing (The UK Domain)

Step 5: Plan Campaigns by Channel

Return to your goals, and consider where they fall in the modern digital marketing funnel. Are you looking to increase brand awareness, engage potential customers, convince people to buy your product, or convert the ones you’ve convinced? Maybe you’re looking to do all the above. If so, that’s fine, but you’ll likely want to pick one or two things to focus on at a time via specific campaigns.

A robust cannabis digital marketing plan will include a healthy mix of campaigns falling under each of the owned, earned, and paid media umbrellas. Marketing campaign ideas for cannabis or CBD might include:

  • Retargeting customers who visited your website with ads on other websites
  • A geofenced ad campaign to reach adults who live near local dispensaries
  • A PR campaign surrounding an upcoming product launch
  • Social media influencer marketing campaigns for brand awareness
  • An SMS campaign aimed at your dispensary’s loyalty members
  • Retargeting customers who abandoned their shopping cart with ads offering a discount for completing the purchase
  • A series of webinars for B2B businesses
  • Seasonal banner ad campaigns directing viewers to promotional landing pages
  • An SEO-focused content marketing campaign through your blog
  • An email campaign encouraging repeat purchases from past customers

One of the best (and toughest) things about modern marketing is that there are hundreds of channels and potential campaigns to choose from. Brainstorm as many as you want to begin with; the next step will be choosing which to focus on.

See also: Cannabis & CBD Marketing Takeaways from MJBizCon

Step 6: Prioritize Your Marketing Efforts

Prioritize your digital marketing campaigns based on what will help you make the most progress toward your goals in the least amount of time using the resources you currently have. Speaking very generally:

  • If you have plenty of time but very little money, prioritize owned and earned media campaigns. Content marketing, social media management, and PR take time to pay off, but they’re relatively inexpensive to get started.
  • If you have some money but very little time, prioritize paid media campaigns. Digital ad campaigns for CBD and cannabis may take a few weeks to optimize, but they’ll move the needle faster than owned or earned media efforts.

When you’ve picked your top few campaign priorities, map these out across your marketing timeline. Break each campaign down into bite-sized chunks, and schedule them week by week and quarter by quarter.

One final element of the prioritization process: Make your digital marketing plan, as a whole, a priority. One of the biggest mistakes CBD and cannabis business owners make is developing an incredible marketing plan, then leaving it in a “Marketing Strategy” folder and never looking at it again. We recommend printing out your plan as soon as you’ve drafted it (even if it might change later on) and posting it somewhere your team can see it every day.

Step 7: Get a Professional Opinion

Another common mistake marketers in all industries make is not getting someone outside of their company to review their strategy before implementing it. As someone who already believes in your own product, it’s also easy to believe that all your target customers are going to come running to buy everything you sell as soon as you upload your first blog post. To avoid spending months on a plan that won’t work in the long run, it’s always worth seeking a reality check.

This is exactly why agencies exist: They’re your friend who wants to see you succeed, has the time available to help you out, and just so happens to be a marketing pro. Note that based on their industries’ unique challenges, cannabis, CBD, and hemp brands should find an agency that specializes in these industries. Most agencies, including PrograMetrix, offer a free consultation to discuss your cannabis digital marketing ideas.U.S. internet usage for digital CBD marketing (Statista)

Step 8: Incorporate Digital Technology

From social media management tools to demand-side ad buying platforms, modern digital marketing technology is an incredible thing. For instance, in 2020, there are services that can import and anonymize customer data from your website or POS, then match those data points with data from third-party providers to build custom audiences for ad targeting. These services can also build lookalike audiences that mirror the characteristics of your existing customers, allowing your brand to rapidly establish a larger audience of your most likely potential customers. These services can be particularly instrumental for cannabis and CBD marketers, because these industries are currently underserved by the largest data companies.

For our CBD clients, we recommend combining data onboarding tools like LiveRamp with mainstream ad buying platforms like The Trade Desk; together these services allow the building and targeting of custom audiences featuring known CBD consumers on thousands of mainstream websites.

For cannabis clients, whose options are currently more limited, we still recommend running on mainstream websites—you’ll simply want to do so through a cannabis-specific digital platform like Safe-Reach, which has the added benefit of double-checking your digital ad creative for full compliance with local advertising regulations on your behalf. A few more digital tools to consider:

  • For owned media campaigns, a content management system like WordPress; a social media management platform like Hootsuite or Buffer; and a dashboard tracking your site’s KPIs built out in Google Analytics.
  • For earned media campaigns, we recommend posting press releases through PRWeb, which automatically filters those releases into LinkedIn. To research journalists’ contact information, check out tools like Hunter as well as LinkedIn, Twitter, and journalists’ own websites. Depending on the scope and scale of your PR efforts, you may also want to use a CRM like Salesforce to track who you’ve contacted.

See also: Interview: Adam Schlett on Building Safe-Reach for Compliant Cannabis Advertising

Step 9: Measure Against Your KPIs—and Use the Data

If you’re not making data-based decisions in real time, you won’t be able to keep up with your competitors who are. Every marketing expense you undertake needs to prove, through data, that it can pay for itself. We recommend keeping all your digital campaign data in one place, like a customized dashboard, and checking it daily to see how your campaigns are performing against your marketing goals.

Then—unless the measurements are exactly what you were going for—update your marketing plan. Though you may be thoroughly excited about the plan as you initially crafted it, don’t skip this step: It’s important to stay agile as you gain new data insights, experience changes in budget, and learn about the latest in digital marketing technology. At the end of the day, your digital marketing plan is entirely about achieving your goals, and as long as you learn from your successes and failures along the way, you’ll be able to do so.


This blog post is part of a series on digital advertising for cannabis and CBD businesses. Additional installments include THE STATE OF CANNABIS & CBD ADVERTISING IN 2020HOW TO BUILD A DIGITAL MARKETING PLAN FOR CANNABIS OR CBD, and THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PROGRAMMATIC ADVERTISING FOR CANNABIS & CBD. For more on the latest in programmatic advertising, bookmark OUR BLOG HOMEPAGE and check back soon. Want to learn more before anyone else? Get in touch HERE.

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Brett Konen is the senior marketing manager at PrograMetrix.

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