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Marketers Are Overcoming Unique Challenges to Build Campaigns for the Nascent Cannabis Industry

There is no other industry in the world transitioning from illegal to legal and none that faces a denser web of regulations.

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People are always comparing the cannabis space to the dot-com boom, and for good reason. Exponential growth, scientific innovation, and volatility are all part and parcel of working in the industry. The truth is that the cannabis space is bigger than -- and just as complex as -- the tech world.

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Everywhere you look in cannabis, there is a story to be found. The newfound transparency in this once-illicit business creates instant appeal, as well as consumer security. For the first time, people finally know where their cannabis comes from and how it’s being grown, extracted or infused. That’s why more people than ever are trying cannabis for the first time.

It’s a good time to be marketing this space. However, while the industry flourishes, mainstream business is scrambling to understand new information, a new lexicon and endlessly changing cannabis laws, policies and restrictions.

Though the concept of “marijuana marketing” still intimidates, building marketing campaigns for cannabis brands, retailers, products and services requires no new methodology. Learning a little bit about the plant always helps, but any skilled marketer can analyze and solve problems in this industry.

Related: 'Microdosing Moms' and 'Divorced Dads' Emerge Among Cannabis Consumers

What tactics are cannabis marketers using?

Using tactics from other industries has, and will continue to, serve marketers well, as more states transition to an open, legalized framework for medical and adult-use cannabis.

In the cannabis industry, these tactics very often include events and experiences. After all, cannabis is best experienced firsthand. Whether to activate a new product launch, or just bring the community together, small and large events continue to dominate the cannabis marketing scene. These experiences can give both consumers and members of the media an inside look at where their product really comes from, playing to the mystery and curiosity inspired by cannabis.

There is a rapidly growing Big Data industry focused on cannabis. It is shedding light on how businesses operate and helping marketers to understand their audiences. This brand-new industry is just starting to build a vast store of data on consumer demographics, product preferences and, most interestingly, pricing data as more legal industries get settled in. Headset and other retail data collectors are starting to show serious storytelling potential with their regular industry reports.

Though some cannabis brands do get lucky and go viral, the same social media tools are not available to them because of federal restrictions. Facebook, Instagram and now YouTube are all infamous for their censorship of cannabis-related channels, content and paid advertisements.

Related: Facebook Has 'Shadow Banned' Marijuana Businesses

It is not at all uncommon for companies to have their social media accounts seized and permanently deleted. So, more grassroots social media tactics, especially content marketing, are gaining ground. Having data helps connect cannabis to real-world problems that can be solved in unexpected ways. Not everyone is interested in cannabis (yet). Still, when brands piggyback on hot button issues and big business stories, it puts cannabis in terms that the outside world can understand.

There’s a reason we keep seeing headlines like “The Uber For Weed” and “Cannabis on the Blockchain” -- they’re trending topics that bring the cannabis industry to light. A company like Headset can put out a report that sheds light on the “senior consumer” narrative to highlight their data while telling a story about the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis buyers and their interests.

Before creating content, think: how are you helping someone learn about cannabis?

How to model cannabis campaigns

The technology and healthcare industries tend to serve as inspirational models for cannabis marketers. Cannabis brands often choose their signature colors and packaging to mimic high-end pharmaceuticals and cosmetics - part of the larger effort to legitimize and normalize cannabis use.

There’s another factor that is important to consider in this nascent industry, and that is where you will prioritize your efforts. The cannabis space is hyper-regional. Due to differing policies from state to state, and even on a municipal level, your campaigns should be carefully targeted.

It’s important for marketers to be cognizant of special rules and regulations that apply to cannabis advertising. Navigating a market with federal restrictions has its challenges -- like when editors want product shipped to them over state lines. Informing clients of the extra lengths and budget it will take to pull off their campaigns is a vital part of managing expectations and success as a cannabis marketer.

Besides companies that grow and manufacture cannabis products, there are ancillary services to market and also use to your advantage. There is no shortage of marketing dilemmas to solve. Remember that marketers are the “picks and shovels” of the industry -- cultivating from the ground up.