Brands like Warby Parker, Casper, and Cards Against Humanity have achieved great success with direct-to-consumer marketing. Though some cannabis businesses may not be able to pursue direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategies, many are finding success in the DTC arena. For this month’s “successful cannabis executives” column we spoke with Alex Milligan, chief marketing officer at Nugg, and Shannon Reed, vice president of marketing at Omura.
Unlike most “traditional” industries, cannabis businesses must navigate a multitude of restrictions when it comes to marketing. Understanding these boundaries is one of the most important steps toward launching a successful DTC campaign. If your post is immediately pulled down by social media platform administrators, it doesn’t stand a chance of getting the word out.
“For DTC campaigns, it’s really important to understand the restrictions of any platform you are working with,” Reed told mg. “Whether it’s imagery of someone using our Omura device or any specific language platforms don’t allow, it’s crucial to ensure that the marketing doesn’t trip any of the platform’s restrictions.”
Now that we are immersed in the digital age, detailed metrics on marketing campaigns are easier than ever to acquire. It is especially important, Reed said, that brands pay close attention to how their efforts are performing.
“Make sure that everything you create is trackable, whether through [urchin tracking module (UTM)] links or specific coupon codes for influencers,” she said. “It allows you to understand who is driving traffic and ultimately conversions in your marketing effort. Check your efforts weekly to make sure you optimize based on the results in real-time. We focus on digital marketing as it’s trackable for us.”
Digital marketing has made it easier to understand emerging trends.
“Cannabis and Hemp/CBD brands need to keep up with the trends in consumer behavior,” said Reed. “It’s definitely tough based on the restrictions we all deal with, but it’s what consumers expect. We use things like QR codes to share how-to videos and other educational content.”
But Reed does not let the reliance on digital marketing take away from implementing a personal touch when the opportunity presents itself.
“We also love to take the opportunity to surprise and delight anyone who buys an Omura, whether it’s a handwritten note in the package or a sample of something new to try,” she explained. “Get creative and have fun with it!”
Even though the marketing landscape has changed quite a bit in recent years, Reed holds one tried-and-true concept above all else.
“I think, most importantly, pick partners where your brand’s purpose and vision align,” Reed said. “We really enjoyed working with hivi. Their mission to educate consumers about cannabis and their female focus really overlapped with our brand ethos and our consumer. We saw fantastic follower growth as well as good sales in our partnership with their team.”
Alex Milligan believes DTC marketing offers both the potential for big rewards and considerable risk. There is pressure to be consistent for marketers utilizing this approach.
“Your customers are trusting you to deliver an end-to-end experience that meets and exceeds their needs every time,” Milligan said. “But you often have a unique opportunity to deliver the same or better quality as one might find through a traditional retailer, and at a lower price since you’ve cut out the retailer and you’re selling your own products.”
Milligan offered some simple strategies for DTC marketers to follow.
Marketers should leverage the potential of SMS, he advised, especially since the average open rates of these messages are much higher than email. If deployed effectively, Milligan sees SMS as an opportunity to develop a more personalized dialogue between marketer and consumer.
“Develop a regular cadence of using SMS to re-engage customers to purchase and provide additional information about their preferences,” Milligan said.
Research shows consumers are four to six times more likely to trust, buy, promote, and defend companies with a strong purpose compared to those with a weaker one. Milligan understands this, but like DTC marketing overall, recognizes the risk/reward dynamic at play.
“Don’t fake anything, your alignment with a cause must be authentic, but it can be a powerful way to generate additional loyalty and word of mouth,” he said.
Nugg is serious about understanding and promoting causes that are important to cannabis consumers. While a particular DTC campaign they engaged in recently would be a bit off-brand in other industries, it seems right on point for socially conscious cannabis consumers.
“We partnered with Last Prisoner Project to pick special brands and donate proceeds from the [Nugg Club box] to freeing prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses,” Milligan explained.
Nugg worked with another brand to execute a “Letter to a Prisoner” campaign where subscribers of the two companies sent letters directly to incarcerated individuals. The letters were personally written by subscribers to “wish the recipients well,” and provide a “moment of delight.”
Because Milligan understood Nugg subscribers are concerned about the war on drugs and criminal justice reform, he helped them connect to the cause in an intimate way that was far more engaging than simply raising money or awareness. In this case, participants were able to feel like they could directly make a difference.
“We created a stunning visual and emotional brand experience that they won’t soon forget,” Milligan said.