9 Affordable Marketing Strategies for Dispensaries Struggling With Their Budget

The cannabis industry is booming.


It’s pretty unlikely that demand is going to die out anytime soon, especially as more states and countries legalize the use of both recreational and medical marijuana. As a dispensary owner, you know that the competition can be pretty damn steep.


While the laws can put some strain on the industry, the biggest issue is having access to paid search and Facebook ads for cannabis and cannabis-related products.


So, how are you supposed to go about growing your dispensary if you aren’t allowed to advertise like other types of businesses?


That’s how I can help. Here’s a list of (super affordable) alternatives to paid searches that get results and generate plenty of leads for the cannabis industry in particular. Did I mention they’re SUPER affordable?


Affordable Marketing for Dispensaries || Alexia P. Bullard || Tacoma Business Writer 



1. Organic Search 


Organic search tends to get pushed to the back burner with all the paid search results and ads that are out there.


With the ban on paid social media advertising for the cannabis industry, you’d do better focusing on heavily optimizing your website for organic search sessions.


There are plenty of dispensaries out there switching up their keywords in hopes of covering every possible search someone could do.


Sure, that MAY work, but you don’t want to  go around stuffing your content with keywords, same with your categories or tags. This just hurts the customer experience, and can make your content seem jumbled and busy.


As a content strategist for the cannabis industry, I rely on trends in both online and offline behavior to best help keep my content relevant to my clients’ audience. One thing I noticed is how the behaviors for searches conducted by cannabis consumers is changing. And so is the way they refer to the product.


Here’s how Washington cannabis consumers search for Cannabis, Pot, Weed, and Marijuana on Google right now:


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There is a definite preference for “pot”, with “weed” coming in as a close second. But, you can’t just rely on search volume to tell you how to discuss a certain topic.


Search volumes just give you a little peek into their behavior. It’s better to also take a look at how the data has changed over time, so you can get a feel for the long-term trends.


After all, you want your content to remain relevant long after you’ve published it on your website.


For example, take a look at the Google search trends for “Cannabis” (blue), “Marijuana” (red), and “Weed” (orange) over the last five years (2012 to 2017):


Alexia P. Bullard || Tacoma Business Writer ||


For a time, “marijuana” was the most popular search term being used (look at that big spike!), but then “weed” ended up coming forward as the winner.

“Cannabis” has remained pretty steady over the past five years, not changing as much as the other two terms. But, as you can see, it’s starting to (slowly) rise up in popularity.  

"Cannabis” is the more accurate term for the product, and writers within the industry are starting to recognize that more and more. When striving to further create a sense of legitimacy with the industry, then the use of the word “cannabis” is going to take your shop in the right direction - even if, in terms of search volumes, it has yet to catch up with the other two terms.

However, while the search volumes for “cannabis” and related topics are growing in popularity, you shouldn’t just ignore the fact that searches for “weed” or “marijuana” tend to be far more popular.


The Takeaway


So, what can a dispensary owner learn from all of this data?

  • The industry is changing quickly, and so is search term preference. What is mainstream at one time can quickly become dated. “Cannabis” is one term that has stayed consistently popular, while “marijuana” and “weed” have fluctuated far more often.
  • Write specifically for YOUR audience. Tons of people are still searching for “weed” and “marijuana”. If your target audience tends to lean more toward the use of slang, then you’d be better off using those terms. If they are more correct and serious, then “cannabis” would be the better choice.
  • If you want to stay updated on the latest trends - and keep ahead of the times - it’s important to frequently review your use of keywords in both online and offline searches and marketing collateral. This includes things like websites, conversations with customers that come into your shop, menus, signage, business cards, and your cannabis dispensary page over on Leafly, if you have one.


2. Facebook Company Pages


Alexia P. Bullard || Tacoma Business Writer || 


Even though you may not be able to get paid ads on Facebook, don’t forget that you can still have a company page for your dispensary on Facebook. You can still gain an active following on there through posts, About descriptions, valuable content, and social engagement.


Facebook users tend to spend an average of 35 minutes each day scrolling through content, which comes to about 1 years and 7 months per lifetime. (Source)


But, this varies through target audience. Younger audience members (like my friends - I’m 27) spend HOURS on Facebook per day.


(Really, 35 minutes is pretty low for my age group.)


Make sure each section of your company Facebook page is completely filled out, especially when it comes to adding in location, hours, and contact information. Include a link back to your website.


Keep your page engaging by adding fresh, relevant content each day. Share announcements about new products you’re getting in, or when your vendor days are. Increase engagement by adding polls, photo contests, games, and even giveaways.

(People like free things, even if it’s a small gift.)


3. Cannabis Magazines and Review Websites


While social media restrictions for the cannabis industry have forced dispensary shop owners to rely far more heavily on organic reach, industry magazines still hold a large influence. Some of these have print versions, and some are exclusively online.


Some of the most popular include:


4. Cannabis Review Sites


Many cannabis review sites exist (and so do individual reviewers, like me!) and, when you really think about it, so many cannabis products - such as bud, oils, glass, etc. - provide enough review material to last an entire lifetime.


Hell, maybe even two or three lifetimes.


There are plenty of ways to get your products on review sites, usually by sending them for review and even sometimes providing affiliate options.


There are sites like Leafly, All Bud, The Cannabist, Pot Guide, and Cannabis Reports.


These cannabis review sites and others tend to be open to user reviews, and anyone can write about your products. This is a great way to gain traction and website traffic with the help of those you’ve contracted with, your employees, or just friends you know.


5. Steemit Reviewers


Believe it or not, people LOVE to watch videos of people reviewing different cannabis strains and products, and Steemit offers a great platform for this.


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There are numerous people who regularly post videos of them trying out new strains and accessories, and each upvote gives them money in the form of cryptocurrency. Those who review regularly tend to amass a large following, which you can use to your advantage.


Affordable Dispensary Marketing Strategies || Alexia P. Bullard || Tacoma Business Writer ||


Many reviewers will include a link to the website of the dispensary from where they purchased the product, which is a great way to boost your website traffic, expand your audience reach, and create brand awareness.


6. Cannabis Promoters on Instagram


Affordable dispensary marketing || Alexia P. Bullard || Tacoma Business Writer || 


There are tons of cannabis promoters over on Instagram, despite the social media platform’s efforts to shut down accounts related to marijuana. Hell, they even remove images that show anything related to cannabis!


But, these cannabis ambassadors have managed to keep building a following.


Instagram is pretty big, though, so how do you find them?


Using cannabis-related hashtags is a great start, but the following list should give you plenty of individuals to work with. Not only can you contact many of them for brand promos, but you can also take inspiration from them for when it comes to promoting your own brand and shop.



7. The Medical Marijuana Niche


This one’s smart. While there is still stigma surrounding the use of recreational cannabis, people are starting to become more accepting (and in favor of) the use of medical marijuana to treat a variety of ailments and disorders.


You can promote your shop by joining in on the conversations taking place on various channels, such as YouTube, Reddit, Quora, Facebook, and Twitter.


The discussion of the benefits of medical marijuana, especially for mental health issues, would help because it gives a more positive angle on the use of cannabis. If you feel like it, you could also get featured on health media outlets, participate in panel discussions, or have articles published in various health magazines both online and offline.


Just remember to write for your target audience.


8. Email Marketing


When you really stop and think about it, email is one platform that is completely YOURS. If you follow the best email marketing practices, you’ll generate more website traffic and create the conversions you want to see.


The tricky part is getting people to subscribe to your email list.


Exclusive content, giveaways, discounts, and other subscriber-only perks are all strong incentives to offer in exchange for members of your target audience giving you their email addresses.


Let your subscribers know that, by signing up for your newsletters, they will receive content that is completely separate from the posts on your website’s blog or on your social media accounts.


Consumers like the feeling of being part of something exclusive. Create that experience for them, and you’ll get the conversions you want.


9. Cannabis Events, Expos, and Seminars  


Affordable dispensary marketing tips || Alexia P. Bullard || Tacoma business writer ||


For those who are not professionals or incredibly active within the cannabis industry, it can be pretty mind-blowing how many cannabis expos there are in the state of Washington.


These provide great opportunities to present your product and create awareness of your dispensary, check out what the competition is up to, connect with growers, and network with other industry professionals.


Most of the expos tend to have a B2B aspect to them, which is pretty useful when it comes to expanding beyond just your own shop.


Here are some of the upcoming events in Washington for 2017:


Final Thoughts


Will the cannabis industry become overcrowded soon? Possibly. There is a lot of money to be had - especially in the state of Washington.


In order to stand apart from the competition, you need to establish yourself as a cannabis industry authority. Create a lasting, positive customer experience that is completely unique to your dispensary. Give them something they can’t find anywhere else, rather than just throwing some pictures of weed and pipes together on a one-page website and asking customers to keep coming back.


Offer quality content on your website, including a regularly updated blog and menu. Connect and engage with your target audience on social media. Include industry keywords throughout all of your content. Keep your branding consistent and unique.


The channels you choose for your content marketing should bring you closer to your audience and further establish your dispensary’s industry authority.


Offer quality content. Engage. Demonstrate value. Connect. Wash, rinse, and repeat.


Looking for someone to help with all that? Let’s chat.