By on April 15th, 2020

Owned, Earned, & Paid Media for Cannabis: Which Are Worth Your Time?

Owned Media versus Earned Media versus Paid Media for CBD and Marijuana Marketing

Marketing is built on three pillars: owned media, earned media, and paid media. In traditional marketing, there are general assumptions about the benefits and drawbacks of each media type. But when you bring in the rules, regulations, and challenges unique to cannabis and CBD, those traditional assumptions fly out the window.

Below, we reconsider each pillar’s benefits and drawbacks as they apply to cannabis and CBD brands, and share recommendations for how CBD and cannabis marketers can make the most of each type of media in their marketing strategy.

Owned Media for Cannabis & CBD

Pros and Cons of Owned Media Marketing for CBD and Cannabis (Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash)

Owned media is typically mentioned first because it’s the media group you have the most control over. Owned media refers to channels where you own and control the messaging, including:

  • Your brand’s website
  • Your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social channels
  • Your email newsletter
  • Your blog

In general, owned media marketing strategies pertain to your branding in some way, whether through the look and feel of your website or through your brand voice on social media.

One thing that’s different about owned media for cannabis and CBD is that in some places (primarily on social media), you have less ownership over your messaging than brands in other industries. Though the outlook has improved slowly as policy and public opinion have shifted in favor of cannabis, some cannabis and even CBD companies have had their whole accounts shut down in the past for posting cannabis-related photos or mentioning product promotions in a post.

That said, owned media is still the first place to start in building out your marketing strategy, because your earned and paid media efforts will build off your success here. 

Benefits of Owned Media for Cannabis Marketing

  • It’s free (excepting costs like web design and development, email marketing software, and social media management tools)
  • You’re in charge of your messaging (for the most part)
  • Owned media marketing tactics like blogging often benefit your SEO

Drawbacks of Owned Media for Cannabis Marketing

  • Social media channels enforce anti-cannabis moderation policies, even where cannabis is legal; these often impact CBD businesses as well
  • Visibility and ROI are limited without use of paid and/or earned media
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Paid Media for Cannabis & CBD

Pros and Cons of Owned, Earned, and Paid Media for Cannabis and CBD Ads (Photo by Eleni Afiontzi on Unsplash)

Unlike owned media, paid media is (by definition) not free, but in terms of visibility and reach, you get what you pay for. Paid media includes any form of advertising:

  • Traditional advertisements such as TV commercials, radio spots, and print ads
  • Paid search listings and promoted social posts
  • Digital advertisements including display and native ads across mobile and desktop
  • Emerging ad formats including digital audio, video, voice, and connected TV/OTT
  • Out-of-home (OOH) and digital out-of-home (DOOH), such as billboards or bus ads
  • Sponsored or partner content
  • A (paid) influencer featuring your brand
  • Geotargeted and geofenced ads
  • Retargeting

Any experienced cannabis marketer will recognize that of the above, a few paid media formats are off-limits to cannabis businesses—and sometimes to CBD businesses as well. That said, most cannabis marketers today underestimate the paid media options that are available to them.

Benefits of Paid Media for Cannabis Marketers

  • Many cannabis and CBD brands underutilize paid media, so those that do advertise stand out
  • More ad inventory is steadily opening up for cannabis and CBD ad buys
  • Digital ad tech allows for data-based audience targeting and tracking of ROI/ROAS
  • CBD brands can use mainstream ad buying platforms, and cannabis brands can use platforms built specifically for the cannabis industry

Drawbacks of Paid Media for Cannabis Marketers

  • Ads aren’t free
  • Modern advertising mainstays Google (for paid search) and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (paid social) are closed to cannabis brands and difficult to navigate (at best) for CBD brands
  • It can be hard to make sense of cannabis advertising rules and regulations

Earned Media for Cannabis & CBD

Benefits and Drawbacks of Earned Media for a Cannabis or CBD Marketing Strategy (Photo by Vanilla Bear Films on Unsplash)

Earned media is, as the name suggests, neither free nor controlled by your brand. It constitutes publicity and press coverage earned from news outlets and other influencers through public relations (PR) outreach. Types of earned media:

  • News articles covering your brand
  • Blog posts featuring your products
  • TV, radio, or podcast interviews with your company’s founder
  • Customer reviews
  • An (unpaid) influencer or celebrity recommending your services
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Earned media can be a great avenue for cannabis and CBD brands able and willing to invest a good deal of time in earning it, because there are fewer industry-specific regulations in the earned media realm. However, brands should be aware that many other companies are pursuing the same small subset of journalists currently covering the cannabis and CBD markets, which makes earning this media even tougher than it might be in other industries.

Benefits of Earned Media for Cannabis Marketing

  • Journalists can (generally) write freely about cannabis and CBD topics
  • It’s free, apart from the time spent on getting it
  • Consumers choose to engage with earned media through their favorite outlets and influencers, which increases receptiveness to brands and products featured there

Drawbacks of Earned Media for Cannabis Marketing

  • Difficulty of earning coverage
  • Not all outlets will cover cannabis or CBD, and when they do, many journalists are new to the beat, meaning articles may be low-quality or cliché
  • Numerous brands are competing for earned media in this industry, particularly for CBD

Which Type of Media Is Best for Cannabis & CBD?

Best is always subjective, and the best cannabis or CBD marketing strategy will vary from brand to brand. That said, each form of media is best for certain things in this industry. We recommend balancing owned, earned, and paid media for cannabis and CBD as follows:

Use owned media to build a foundation for other forms of marketing. With a strong owned media presence, your paid media campaigns are more likely to convert, and journalists will be more receptive to covering your brand. Through these efforts, you will also be in a position to grow your owned media channels further in turn. Start with the channels over which you have the most control: a) your website; b) your blog; c) your email list and other direct forms of communication (text messaging, etc.); and d) your social media channels.

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Use newly available paid media options to fill cannabis-specific marketing gaps. Early on, cannabis and CBD brands faced many industry-specific obstacles in owned, earned, and paid media. Today, there are fewer obstacles in all three realms. But where savvy brands have evolved their owned and earned media strategies to take advantage of new opportunities, far fewer cannabis marketers have evolved their paid media strategies. This is due in part to a few large platforms’ anti-cannabis advertising policies.

While brands in most industries allocate most of their ad spend to paid search and social, cannabis brands should focus on other mainstream digital ad inventory options through industry-friendly platforms.

CBD brands, meanwhile, should first attempt to gain approval for paid search and social ad campaigns using certain steps to increase their likelihood of approval: These may include building gated landing pages or running ads through an ad agency’s account. Ultimately, though, approval on these platforms remains a matter of luck, and even ads approved initially cannot be relied upon long-term. CBD paid media campaigns should also rely heavily (and when necessary, fully) on non-search and non-social digital inventory, using programmatic platforms to run ads across all digital formats.

With a solid foundation built, add earned media to your strategy. Earned media takes a lot of time, both to earn and to pay off, but it still belongs in your marketing plan. Use owned and paid media first to build a solid foundation for your brand and lay the groundwork for successful PR outreach.

Then, when the time becomes available, incorporate PR (in-house or through an agency), and leverage your owned and paid media channels to increase the reach and impact of earned media coverage as you receive it. Over time, these three branches of marketing will start working together symbiotically as you leverage the unique benefits of each to grow your cannabis business.

 

Want a free professional opinion on the owned, earned, and paid media in your marketing strategy? Easy—get in touch here.

Brett Konen is PrograMetrix's marketing manager. She is generally based in Seattle.

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