October 19, 2021
Written by Highlyte
As a young, tightly regulated industry, cannabis has to play by way different rules than many other commercial products and services. With regulations shifting on a daily basis, it can be difficult to keep up with what’s legit, what isn’t, and what tomorrow will bring. Fortunately, cannabis isn’t the first business to face these challenges, and savvy marketers can find insights in an industry that underwent a similar transformation: online gambling.
Online gambling companies initially existed in an unchecked gray marketplace, as regulators were completely ignorant to the industry’s existence. The amount of money changing hands quickly drew the attention of governments and financial institutions, which led popular gambling sites into tighter, regionally regulated markets. Overnight, practices considered acceptable--or merely tolerated--were subject to crackdowns. This highly-regulated-yet-decentralized environment sounds familiar right? Similarly, cannabis is also subject to different risks and tons of change.
Young cannabis companies looking to make a name for themselves are hoping to take advantage of loopholes until the regulatory storm settles. Such an attitude is not only risky in the short term, but a poor long-term investment. Compliance isn’t going away, and will only become more stringent and complex over time. Brands that adapt quickly will be better equipped to handle changes to the industry, avoid controversy, and protect their investments. Take it from the gambling industry.
The supposed benefit of “gray area” advertising is the belief that your promotional content can be more compelling if it isn’t subject to restrictions. But compliance is not a sentence to produce dry content. Compliance regulations are challenges that can actually elevate creativity and help establish and express a unique brand identity in a competitive marketplace.
There is a common misconception that content cannot drive traffic unless it is provocative, or transgressive. In reality, the actual content in content marketing is usually missing the mark. The stories advertisers are presenting are not only failing to resonate with their desired audience, but actively alienating them. Rather than focusing on how to get around regulatory obstacles, like depicting the active use of cannabis or presenting cannabis in party settings, advertisers can get ahead in the field by devoting their energy to demographic research. Producing content that speaks directly to a brand’s desired consumer base will yield greater dividends in both the short and long term.
One strategy for producing content that resonates is taking a holistic view of their consumers’ desired lifestyle. How old are they? How affluent? What interests do they typically share in common? And finally, how does cannabis fit into that equation? Once marketers identify those intersections, it becomes much easier to conceptualize the sort of advertising content that will stick. Once this branding target has been developed, reach out to influencers who share those values, and have their finger on the pulse of a community. High follower numbers are always helpful, but finding artists who truly capture the brand’s intended vibe is even more valuable. Lesser known artists who are dialed into the desired values, aesthetic, and interests are more likely to be effective collaborators. Cultivating relationships with the right content creator will help focus a brand identity in a competitive marketplace. When it comes to brand development, content cannot be disposable, arbitrary, or baselessly provocative.
Lastly, avoiding compliance typically speaks of a lack of confidence in the narrative being presented. It can come across as trying too hard, or lazily pandering to outdated stereotypes. It will also scare away would-be collaborators. Nothing sours a relationship or earns a bad reputation like promotions that result in account shutdowns. Being ready for rapid changes while staying compliant is a lesson the cannabis industry should learn, and fast.
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