Cannabis companies are hungry for content. They’re crying out for it. On one hand, they’re mercilessly limited in what they can say by ever-evolving regulations, not to mention the ever-watchful bots on social media platforms. On the other, their own limited connections to the legacy market means the branding is built on a house of cards, designed to target an emerging market that may or may not emerge.
To say there is no good content in cannabis is not true. There are brands, platforms, writers, content creators and researchers exploring interesting questions. And the field of research is set to explode in coming years. But as we all know, creating content can be expensive, and media companies often don’t have the budget for investigative pieces or specialist writers, which is why so many in cannabis have switched to paid content models.
Meanwhile, brands are looking outside the culture, hiring branding experts based on experience in other markets. And why shouldn’t they hire professionals with a proven track record? But do those professionals have experience in cannabis? Does it matter? Is there a happy medium? A way brands can establish links with the legacy market that feel organic? Does it start with product? Or message?
WHY CONTENT MATTERS
Content is the medium that delivers a brand’s message in a way that connects to its audience. It reveals the brand’s value and creates a sense of shared value between the brand and its customer-base. But make no mistake, the battle for customer attention is one the biggest challenges each brand faces.
In the U.S. pharmaceutical companies made up 75% of the total TV ad spend in 2020, adding up to billions of dollars. The US is the only country in the world that allows Big Pharma ads on TV, which illustrates a key trait of the content environment i.e. the rules change and evolve, as do the mediums.
For example, when Canada legalised cannabis in 2018, any advertising with a modicum of personality was banned. On top, evolving technology, specifically the Internet, has upended the way we produce, consume and pay for content in the last twenty years. Each evolution impacts the ways brands connect with audiences.
At the end of this year, Apple will be launching software to block Meta advertising on its devices, ending the glory days of Facebook advertising. And in 2023, the cookie, that annoying web bot that follows your activity online, will also be binned.
But the biggest shift in content in recent years is the rise in the popularity of podcast and video content. 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. This wouldn’t happen if people didn’t want, nay expect, nay demand content. For anyone who doubts the power of content, consider for a moment the hold of Reefer Madness messaging and how hard it is to combat that narrative.
WHAT IS KING CONTENT?
In short, the content environment is a moving target, and in cannabis, even more so. First, Instagram started banning canna-accounts, and other social media platforms quickly followed suit. Despite the obstacles, cannabis companies are finding a work-around. Cannabis social media platforms have emerged such as Leafwire and Hi-Curious, sites that are tailored for the space.
On a recent MediaJel webinar, the panel pointed out that cannabis ads online reached more than 40bn impressions last year. And canna-advertising is slowly slipping into the mainstream, starting with sponsorship of sporting events such as baseball. But not all companies can afford the mega-bucks it costs to sponsor a major sporting event.
And most cannabis companies don’t have the budget to get behind a local dog show. But most of them also do not have any form of content strategy. It’s always the same generic messages about how cannabis aids sleep or the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. Nothing new. Nothing niche.
Which is a problem because the latest buzzword in cannabis advertising is context. Another word for context is culture. Culture is what binds people within a community. Contextual advertising means reaching the customer inside their culture. Getting there means knowing the customer’s lifestyle like a best friend.
Building a content strategy specific to the context of your brand and audience is much more cost effective in the long run though it does take more effort to get there. It means going back to basics and asking the right questions.
The first important question is what’s your campaign, or rather, what’s your story? What are the values that drive your brand and how do they relate to your product or service? How did your past experiences lead to the creation of this brand? What problem did it solve?
CONTEXUTAL CONTENT IN ACTION
In many ways, a brand story is always a hero story. The story begins with a fall that leads to struggle and the product or service evolved as a solution to that struggle. When a brand story reveals an element of human grit, it can connect on a deeper level because people love a good hero story.
The next important stage is research. The best way to carry out research is through surveys. But even if that’s not available to you, a small sample of 5 to 10 customers is enough to glean a wealth of information. This information will not only influence the cadence of the brand’s hero story, it identifies the relevant media channels.
One of the most effective ways to implement contextual content in cannabis is by partnering with brands that have shared values. Lauren over at Hi-Curious is a great example of this strategy in action, not only is she creating a unique space for cannabis, she’s bringing brands with shared values together, a win-win for everyone.
Another important tool is CTA or call to action. But it can’t be a call to action in service of what the brand wants (to sell, natch), it has to offer value to the customer in order to stir a response. Again, this approach demands a better understanding of the customer and their values.
Moving forward smart cannabis brands will invest in content and media that embraces cannabis culture in ways that demonstrates shared values, as defined by message and context. Does this mean that canna-companies needs to start hiring people who know something about that culture? Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?