We made it through 2020! Whether you’re a cannabis license holder or you operate an ancillary cannabis business, January marks the time to focus on improvements, and after the year we just went through, business resolutions are a must for 2021 – particularly branding and marketing resolutions.
Why? Because 2020 taught us a lot!
In comparison to many other industries, cannabis businesses fared well during a global pandemic and economic and political instability during 2020. According to data analyzed by Leafly, sales of recreational and medical marijuana jumped by 67% in 2020 from $10.7 billion in 2019 to more than $17.9 billion in 2020.
In fact, consumers’ average monthly cannabis spends increased by 25% to 40% in 2020, and nine states more than doubled cannabis sales in 2020 over 2019: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
With a new year in mind, an end to the COVID-19 pandemic possibly in sight, and valuable lessons learned during 2020, following are five of the most important cannabis business resolutions for 2021 that both license holders and ancillary businesses should prioritize in their branding and marketing plans.
1. Make Content Your Digital Marketing Priority
Content is the foundation of your brand’s online footprint, and it has the power to drive long-term, sustainable, organic growth to your business – not just in terms of website traffic and leads but also in conversions and sales.
It’s been proven again and again – companies that publish useful, meaningful, relevant content on their websites and share that content with the right audiences through social media, email marketing, and so on not only get more organic search engine traffic but also convert more website visitors into buying customers (both online and offline).
The reason is simple – publishing and sharing useful, non-promotional content builds brand trust. It’s a long-term strategy that should be the backbone of every cannabis company’s marketing investments in 2021.
2. Focus on Knowledge Translation for Brand Building and Industry Normalization
Knowledge translation is a term introduced by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in 2000. In simplest terms, it’s a process of getting complex information learned through research into the hands of people who will use it in practical applications and everyday life to make important decisions. It goes beyond simply educating people to ensuring the information is actually useable, iterative, and impactful in the real world.
For the cannabis industry, knowledge translation is essential to ensure medical patients and retail consumers understand what they’re buying and the products they’re using, but it goes beyond the consumer transaction. Knowledge translation needs to happen across the supply chain – from seed to sale – and it needs to happen between businesses as well as from cannabis businesses to federal, state, and local regulators.
As the United States moves closer to federal decriminalization of cannabis in 2021 and more states legalize adult-use cannabis, knowledge translation will be essential to ensuring the normalization of cannabis and the continued growth – particularly the responsible growth – of the industry.
3. Crisis-Proof Your Business’ Online Presence
Whether your business primarily operates online or in-person, 2020 taught us that every business must prioritize establishing a powerful and flexible online presence. Never before have so many companies pivoted their business models from brick-and-mortar to digital-first as were forced to do so when COVID-19 brought economic shutdowns across the country.
Virtual ordering, curbside pickup, and more became the new norm amid the coronavirus crisis. Even businesses that could keep their doors open were required to reduce staffing and/or shift to remote work. In short, no business was immune to the effects of COVID-19, and the world is unlikely to go back to the way it was pre-pandemic in the near future.
The lesson learned is simple. Your business must crisis-proof its online presence just like it does its offline presence so you can continue to operate no matter what surprises pop up in 2021 and beyond. Flexible businesses that can pivot quickly will win.
4. Get to Know Your Customers Better
How well do you know your customers? Do you have documented buyer personas created for each of your target audiences? Do you know what matters to each target audience? Both business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies need to get to know their customers better in 2021.
The days of sending generic email messages or ads to thousands, tens of thousands, or more people are over. Not only will bulk emailing with no customization for target audiences yield abysmal results, but it will also cause email service providers to associate your messages with spam. That means fewer (if any) of your messages will make it to people’s inboxes, so all of your efforts and investments will be wasted.
Today, customer experience (CX) is the hot topic. Customers don’t just want you to send relevant, personalized messages and ads to them. They expect it, and if you don’t meet their expectations (i.e., you send irrelevant content, messages, and ads to them), they’ll take their business elsewhere.
In 2021, you must invest time and money into getting to know your customers better. Use market research, customer feedback, and social listening, and create buyer personas so you effectively communicate with each of your target audiences.
5. Be a Business Purpose and Responsibility Leader
Are you an industry leader or follower? There is a significant opportunity in the cannabis industry for brands to establish key leadership positions, and one of those positions is to be a leader in business purpose and responsibility. These companies prioritize social, economic, environmental, and business responsibility in everything they do – from their values to their actions.
In August 2020, hemp CBD company Charlotte’s Web became a business purpose and responsibility leader in its niche when it earned B Corporation certification, which is a designation for companies that use the power of their businesses to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy while considering the impacts of their decisions on all stakeholders, including workers, customers, communities, and environments.
The key to resolving to be a business purpose and responsibility leader in the cannabis industry and use it as a powerful brand positioning differentiator is to understand that it’s a commitment. You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk when it comes to owning this competitive advantage.
Ready to Make Your Cannabis Business Resolutions for 2021?
2020 is officially behind us, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the lessons the past 12 months taught us. Make branding and marketing resolutions today that focus on content marketing, knowledge translation, brand building, crisis-proofing, getting to know your customers, and being a leader in business purpose and responsibility throughout 2021, and your business should end the year in a much better place.
Susan Gunelius, Director of Email Marketing Strategy for Cannabiz Media, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her nearly 30-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Business, Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.