Cannabidiol—more commonly referred to as CBD—is the second most prevalent active ingredient of marijuana. CBD comes directly from the hemp plant, and is used to treat conditions like epilepsy syndromes, anxiety, and insomnia. Though it doesn’t cause a high by itself, it’s linked closely enough to CBD that both advertising agencies and the general public have some questions surrounding it.
CBD brands have to comply with FDA and FTC regulations, which limits their ability to run advertising on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Diseases or illnesses can’t be referenced, common buzzwords are usually taboo, and any claims have to be substantiated.
Not helping matters: CBD is legal in all 50 states, but there are varying degrees of restrictions on a state-by-state basis. In a booming industry with sales expected to surpass $20 billion in the next five years, CBD advertising seems to be at an impasse.
“No one wants to take your money. And if they do want to take your money you can’t say what your product does,” says Austin Smith, one of the owners of Green Acres Manufacturing. “So how do you promote a product you can’t describe the benefits of to people who don’t know they need it?”
That conundrum provides a unique challenge for CBD businesses. But their marketing strategies map out a blueprint other companies can follow, no matter their industry.
Be Aware of Your Brand Awareness
When you’re buying, say, a shirt or ice cream from a brand, you generally know what you’re getting since you’ve had the experience of buying it before. But a lot of people haven’t had that same experience with CBD, and may not have the inherent knowledge of how it can benefit them.
“The primary challenge CBD companies face that many other industries don’t experience is education,” says Amber Reyes, marketing strategist. “CBD consumption and use carry a negative stigma that stems from a general lack of knowledge by the wider population.”
That educational challenge carries over into most industries, simply by the nature of the way customers shop in the modern age. Many brands are in verticals that are rapidly changing, whether that’s smart home, automotive, cooking, or something else. Even in traditionally monolithic areas like the financial industry, there are companies looking to change the status quo.
Brands must be able to succinctly introduce what they’re all about. There’s an educational component to building awareness. Customers should know what your company does, but they should also be able to see what problem you’re solving—and how you’ll make their lives easier.
“Most people will tell you marijuana and CBD are the same thing, and using it will equate to some sort of fine or jail sentence,” Reyes says. “CBD has to unravel the stigma while introducing multiple ways to consume a product that’s been shown to alleviate pain and discomfort in a variety of patients. That’s 50 years of history to correct on top of introductory branding—no small feat for any company.”
Turn Influencers Into an Extension of Your Brand
Beyond the awareness issue, not all advertisers will allow CBD content, and some publications will prevent display ads featuring certain content to run on their sites. In those instances, CBD brands are turning to influencers.
“Have a social media expert engaging with influencers, geotags, and other CBD friendly companies and brands,” says email marketing manager Grace Evelyn Morales. “In essence, run your CBD social like it’s a local coffee shop.”
That “coffee shop” mentality works for a lot of brands (yes, including coffee shops). Coffee shops have historically been places people rely on, where they can go to unwind or pick up something to make them more productive. It’s providing a sense of comfort, which is always welcome.
Coffee shops are favorites of influencers, too, because they’re great for building a community. They offer fun trends like the #latteart hashtag and allow like-minded people to share their stories and passions.
Brands can take that same energy and apply it to their own business, collaborating with influencers to foster an online community. As that community grows, so will the brand’s sales.
Rather than reaching out to massive influencers right away, start with nano and micro influencers, defined as influencers with between 2,000 and 10,000 followers and 10,000 and 100,000 followers, respectively. Though their overall follower numbers may be lower, these influencers tend to have stronger voices within their fanbase, and their posts will come across more genuine.
Morales notes your influencer outreach should include the main audience personas you’re trying to reach, but also include a couple of outside the box ideas, too. And if you have someone on your team that uses a similar product, tap into them to get their thoughts on additional targets.
“In terms of influencer types, as a CBD user myself, athletes, pet owners (if it’s safe for pets), plus some unique offsets like big astrology-themed accounts,” says Morales. “The spiritual crowd likes a natural product.”
With social distancing still largely in effect, influencers are turning to even more creative ways to collaborate with brands. They understand their responsibility to communicate effectively and can boost your messaging on multiple levels, from awareness to driving action.
The Power of Brand Partnerships
Morales touches on another interesting point; your influencers don’t necessarily have to be individuals. You can find customers and supporters through geotags, or partner with other companies and brands that are targeting similar audiences.
You’ll both benefit from promoting to a new set of eyes, and there can be some cool crossover efforts. For example, a fitness brand could team up with a gym to offer virtual courses to help their customers safely exercise in the comfort of home.
When the partnership makes sense for both sides and offers value for both customer bases, the results are impactful. Even without a sizable budget to put on a large-scale event, brands are still finding ways to team up through podcasts, newsletters, and webinars, the quantity of which increased by 330% after social distancing mandates were put in place.
If your company reaches out to a brand to discuss a potential collaboration, do your homework and come with an idea or two in mind. A partnership should be beneficial for both parties, so show them the value they’ll receive and why you’re the perfect company to partner with.
Recalibrate Your Organic Outreach
On top of influencer outreach, now’s a good time to revisit your organic social tactics. When was the last time you did a social audit? If you can’t remember the answer, it might be time to check out your company channels to see what types of followers you have, and where they might be hanging out on other platforms.
“I can attest to the power of organic social media tactics, especially in a trending industry like CBD,” says social media manager LaNell Angerstein. “It’s all about getting your product in front of the right people. Harness the power of Facebook groups as a starting point and work on your brand awareness on Instagram. There is so much power in social media’s ability to generate large-scale word of mouth sales once people trust and know your brand.”
Getting to that step doesn’t happen overnight, but there are a few tools that can help along the way. AI can boost your close rates by 59%, whether it’s suggesting the perfect product based on a potential customer’s interests or sending follow-up messages to abandoned checkouts.
Google is another organic platform that can pay big dividends. Other search engines can drive traffic, so they shouldn’t be ignored entirely, but Google still accounts for more than 70% of all desktop traffic. It also won’t hide results for products that aren’t as widely accepted, like those infused with CBD.
“I can still search for CBD on Google, and I like reading websites that compare and review different products,” says Morales.
Keyword research and tools like Google Search Console can help ensure your SEO game is strong. Don’t forget about smart speakers, either. As they become a more prevalent part of households, more potential customers will be using them to learn about and purchase products.
Make Every Word Count in Social Ads
Hopefully, you’re taking the time to be thoughtful with your paid content, both in the copy and image, as well as ensuring all pixels and conversions are set up correctly and being tracked in the proper way.
Even with all that preparation, CBD companies may run into problems with advertisers. Smith says his CBD product advertising is routinely rejected by Facebook, and recalled one time when Facebook banned his entire Ads account.
“The product is legal, it’s on every street corner, and I can buy a TV ad for it,” says Smith. “But somehow, that’s not good enough for PPC.”
Does that scenario sound familiar? Chances are you’ve run into Facebook advertising issues, too. And that means revisiting your copy, word by word. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of tweaking a phrase or cropping an image to remove one element from a social graphic.
How can you find out the right phrasing to use? See how your customers are phrasing their questions and pain points. Keyword research helps for this, or you can check out the comments while researching potential influencers.
If your brand uses chatbots, that’s great intel, too. You can see what customers are most curious about and mirror their language.
Finally, don’t be afraid to borrow language from competitors. Don’t plagiarize their content, of course, but see how they’re wording their organic content or their paid content, if you’re served the ads. Are they leaving out a critical word that’s featured in your ads? Or maybe their imagery follows a similar pattern every time. Competitive research should always be a part of a brand’s strategy, and this is no different.
The CBD industry has barely scratched the surface of its potential, but it’s still offered plenty that marketers can learn to apply to other verticals. And those lessons can lead to some terrific results.