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Best Strategies for a Compliant Dispensary Digital Marketing Campaign

Compliance is an outsized concern for cannabis dispensaries. Failing to comply with state or provincial regulations can lead to large fines or revocation of your license. Rather than jeopardizing your future to drive sales now, establish a compliant dispensary digital marketing campaign to power sustainable growth. Here’s how.

Aug 30, 2023

7 m read

Creating a cannabis digital marketing campaign can feel like crossing a minefield. Too often, issues arise that you didn’t even know existed. By focusing on compliance first, you can create a dispensary internet marketing toolkit you can turn to time and again to drive traffic to your online menu and brick-and-mortar locations.

If you’re ready to extract the overwhelm from the process, read on to uncover some of the cannabis advertising rules you should be aware of and the best dispensary digital marketing strategies for abiding by them.

Why Compliance Matters

Compliance is the thorn in the side of many marketers in the cannabis industry. But having an understanding of the most critical regulations for dispensary internet marketing can make it easier to create a campaign that increases brand awareness and sales while remaining compliant. 

There are two types of rule sets to consider: State cannabis advertising rules and Federal telecommunications laws. 

State cannabis laws differ, so you’ll want to check existing advertising regulations in every state you operate. Some states restrict all advertising, while others aim to control the messaging around cannabis. Familiarize yourself with your state regulating agency’s rules to assess which strategies will be most beneficial for your campaign. Also, check whether you need to run your advertising by regulators, which will impact your timeline.

Multistate cannabis businesses must research regulations for each state they operate in. Because of how restrictive some states are, plan to run different campaigns in more restrictive areas. 

Digital marketers must also abide by two federal laws: CAN-SPAM and TCPA.

  • CAN-SPAM: If you send emails, you must abide by the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. This means providing clear information regarding who the email is from, what it’s about, and your business location. You also need to make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your list. Follow the FTC’s guidelines to make sure your emails are compliant.
  • TCPA: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act applies to anyone using text marketing. To be compliant, your list members must opt in, you must clearly identify who you are, and you must provide an easy way for people to opt out. Some states also have their own text marketing laws. Before starting a campaign, Google your state’s name + “text marketing law.”

If you do business in California, you’ll also want to look into whether the CCPA applies to you. 

Most Common Components of Winning Digital Marketing Campaigns

When crafting a comprehensive dispensary internet marketing campaign, you’ll want to steer clear of tactics that can draw the ire of regulators. Consider the pros and cons of each strategy and implement those that will give you the biggest returns with the smallest risk.

Search Engine Optimization

Yes, I’m starting with search engine optimization (SEO) because Victorious is an SEO agency. But that’s not the only reason.

SEO is one of the most undervalued and underutilized cannabis marketing tools — which is unfortunate since it’s the only one that, when implemented properly, won’t get you into trouble with regulators. For me, that makes SEO the perfect dispensary digital marketing tactic.

SEO focuses on two things: making it easier for search engines to find your content and providing visitors with a great experience. Both of these will benefit your cannabis business.

Following SEO best practices allows you to improve your search visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs) so potential customers can easily find you. Since cannabis dispensaries focus on servicing specific areas, local SEO is crucial for connecting to individuals who are ready to make a purchase in your area.

Content Marketing

Content marketing should be a part of any dispensary internet marketing strategy. There is a shortage of trustworthy, reliable content about medical cannabis use that’s written so the average person can understand it. . Medical users and recreational aficionados aren’t doctors, yet so much of the content out there practically requires a master’s degree to decipher.

Unfortunately, there are some risks to creating cannabis content. Some state regulating agencies have placed limits on what dispensaries can say about cannabis. For example, some states don’t allow dispensaries to discuss the benefits of cannabis or require disclaimers with any discussion about cannabis use. Breaking the rules can lead to hefty fines for each infraction and may jeopardize your dispensary license.

Content marketing is a great way to educate your audience, plus it can work hand-in-hand with your SEO strategy. However, you must have clear guidelines to avoid missteps that could land you in hot water. 

Some tips to keep you in the clear: 

  • Never state that cannabis will have a particular impact. Always write “may.” 
  • Be sure to address the fact that it can affect different people differently. 
  • Steer clear of calling cannabis a treatment. Instead, focus on it as a tool for helping people manage particular conditions, and cite reliable medical literature where possible. 

If your state is like California, which doesn’t have restrictions on what you can say about cannabis, great! You can have a lot of fun with blog posts and other content. You can even work with an SEO content writing service to maximize the reach of your posts.

Email Marketing

Many dispensaries push their email lists as a way to communicate deals and special offers. For most retailers, this is a must for nurturing loyal customers.

However, there are some inherent risks when using email marketing for dispensaries.

Many email providers have rules around using their platforms to sell “illegal” substances. Cannabis remains in a gray area, and rather than focus on laws at the state level, it’s easy for email marketing platforms to focus on the federal status of cannabis when creating their terms of service.

Generally, you can’t mention the sale of cannabis or include prices. And even if you follow those guidelines, some platforms may shut you down out of an abundance of caution.

One of my teammates who previously ran email marketing campaigns for dispensaries had accounts shut down at MailChimp, Active Campaign, and Constant Contact. Klaviyo has been touted as a cannabis-friendly option, but there’s no guarantee.

Social Media Marketing

Thanks to the proliferation of social media channels, ensuring your company can use its desired name across platforms has become part of cannabis brand creation. However, I caution cannabis dispensaries against investing too much into social media.

Social media is not owned media. You don’t own your profile, you don’t own your follower lists, and social media platforms can rip both from your grasp at any time. Too many dispensaries have found this out the hard way. Because social media terms of service are pretty nebulous, users sometimes find that, one day, a platform has suspended their accounts, and they can no longer reach their audience.

To keep their accounts from being shut down, dispensaries and cannabis brands should have strict posting guidelines. Never show consumption or share deals and prices. Rather than focusing on selling to new and existing customers, cannabis brands should use social media solely for brand awareness. Also, because it’s still possible to be arbitrarily shut down while following the rules, be sure to maximize your following by getting them to sign up for your email or text marketing lists. 

Unfortunately, if you’re thinking of using paid ads on social media, you’re out of luck. None of the major platforms allow for social media advertising from cannabis companies. While some marketing agencies claim to have ways around this, attempting to sidestep the rules could lead to your account being shut down. After investing in building your following, this is pretty risky. 

SMS/MMS Marketing

SMS marketing or text marketing has been increasingly popular for dispensaries, with at least two companies specializing in cannabis text marketing. Text marketing has been hailed as a way to subvert regulations and get messaging right into customers’ hands. It can also be used as part of a loyalty program. 

However, over the past couple of years cell phone carriers have restricted SMS marketing to help ensure their networks are compliant with TCPA. If you want to use SMS marketing, carefully read the terms of service for your chosen delivery partner. Understand what you can and can’t say and pace your messages, so they don’t come across as spammy.

PPC & Display Ads

I saved pay-per-click (PPC) and display ads for last. Not because I don’t like them — SEO and PPC can work great together — but because these two digital advertising tools are the hardest to use while remaining compliant with state cannabis regulations.

Google Ads

Since Google Ads are the most popular type of PPC ad, I want to speak directly about them.

Google Ads does not allow for cannabis advertising, regardless of whether a particular state has legalized or decriminalized medical or adult-use cannabis sales. Some digital marketers say they’ll help you skirt these rules, but that can land you in hot water with Google and regulators. Google may suspend your Google Ads account, making it so you can’t create another account with the same email, address, or payment method. Even cannabis-related brands find it difficult to use Google Ads safely.

If you live in a state that regulates dispensary advertising and choose to run Google Ads, you may also be penalized for not submitting your ads through the appropriate channels. 

To recap: there’s no legitimate way to use Google Ads for dispensaries. Yes, there are workarounds, but they involve deceiving Google. If your goal is to get to the top of SERPs, SEO provides a safe, legitimate way to do so.

Display Ads

Display ads, geo-ads, geo-targeted ads, and programmatic advertising — I’m going to throw them all together since they face the same risks.

Most medical and rec states have rules around who can be exposed to cannabis advertising. This is generally centered on a percentage of the audience being over 21. That makes ensuring age compliance crucial for running compliant display ads.

One of the benefits touted most often about display ads is the ability to geographically target when someone sees a particular mobile ad. However, Canada and some states don’t allow this type of targeting.

That targeting is the main selling point of display ads. Supposedly, they’re more effective than some other ad types because you can target who you’re reaching, when you’re reaching them, and where your ads appear. But Apple has made this type of targeting much less effective thanks to their App Tracking Transparency. Even for customers who aren’t using iOS 14.5 or newer, the “death of the third-party cookie” has impacted the reach of display ad networks. With more privacy-focused features on the horizon, this type of interruptive advertising may fail to bring you the return on your investment you want.

Maximize Your Investment & Stay Compliant

Get the most from your marketing budget: focus on SEO and content.

Search engine optimization can increase your website’s online visibility and make it easier for people to find you right when they want to make a purchase. Combining it with SEO content will not just help you rank for more keywords but will allow you to connect with possible customers at different points of their buying journey.

At Victorious, we help dispensaries and cannabis-related businesses increase their search visibility through compliant, data-driven cannabis SEO. Our link building, keyword research, audit, and content writing services work together to maximize your investment and support your business’s goals. Schedule a free SEO consultation to learn more.

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