What happens when you’re overseeing two—or three, or six—dispensaries, and it’s on you to develop marketing plans for each of them? Many managers in this position find themselves squeezed between two seemingly contradictory mandates:
Support the brand identity with a consistent voice and messaging
Optimize each location’s marketing based on specific demographics, needs, and goals
If you’re in this pinch, we want to offer you some relief.
Yes, these two goals are both important, but they’re not actually opposed to each other. In fact, they’re essential to each other. By keeping your brand top of mind when you begin your dispensary-specific marketing plans, you’ll be able to identify the demographics you need to reach for each and every location, and you’ll be practicing one of the most important lessons of good marketing: Instead of throwing out the broadest net, you’ll reach out with targeted and specific appeals to the consumers most likely to connect with your brand.
Want to know how? Let’s begin.
Creating a Local Dispensary Marketing Plan: Branding
We’ve written a good deal about dispensary business plans before, about how they’re the formative documents that help guide all business decisions relating to the enterprise.
Similarly, a business’s brand identity is the formational document that guides all its consumer-facing operations and actions. It’s what tells the public—and your employees—who you are, what you stand for, and why you’re doing what you do.
Branding is a vast topic in and of itself. But as it relates to developing your marketing plan, it’s admirably simple. Among many other things, your brand identity tells the world:
- What kinds of products you sell and what role they play in consumers’ lives
- Which of your consumers’ qualities they see reflected back to them by your business entity
- What tone of voice you take when communicating with consumers
Let’s focus on the last one because it has the greatest effect on how you formulate your marketing.
When we’re talking about communicating with others, there’s content and then there’s tone. Put another way, there’s what we say, and then there’s how we express it. Both are essential, and nowhere more so than when we’re entering the realm of multi-location dispensaries.
Why? Because even though the content of your marketing will probably change based on specific locations, neighborhoods, and populations, the tone—the “brand voice”—shouldn’t. The tone, after all, is the voice that tells consumers you’re a consistent and well-structured entity that can be trusted. This will be the same in your display ads, on Google ads, and your website content.
But…what if two of your dispensaries are selling completely different product lines? How do you maintain a consistent voice when the two locations’ customer bases appear to have nothing to do with each other?
We’ll stick a pin in that question for the moment. Instead, let’s pivot to the nuts-and-bolts practicalities of gathering market research so that we understand the landscape with a clear-eyed perspective.
Creating a Local Dispensary Marketing Plan: Market Research
Let’s return to the topic of the business plan and how it relates to marketing. While a business plan often doesn’t refer specifically to branding—the “ground floor” of marketing, as we put it earlier—it still has an effect on it. By answering important questions about your physical and regulatory environment, how you plan to become profitable, and the demographics of the neighborhood you plan to operate in, the business plan will by nature help shape and inform your brand.
1. The Industry
How do you begin to piece together an understanding of a specific retail location? Start at the top: With an up-to-date and objective overview of the cannabis industry landscape. Do you need to be familiar with every single aspect of the vast and fast-growing cannabis industry? You do not. But everything you can do to understand the landscape will contribute to your overall comprehension. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the major cannabis media outlets and—more importantly—what areas of the industry they cover.
2. The Local Landscape
The next step is researching all applicable state and local regulations on marketing your dispensary. Even within a specific municipality, neighborhoods may have specific charters or other legal restrictions on cannabis advertising. And as we’ve pointed out previously, many municipalities in cannabis-legal states prohibit dispensaries outright.
Where to begin? Start with our state-by-state guide, then research in your specific location. Every state maintains a regulatory office dedicated to spelling out the restrictions on cannabis advertising.
3. The People
At the end of the day, understanding the human landscape around your business is probably the single most important contributor to your marketing success. Welcome to the world of old-fashioned market research!
Where to begin? Governmental offices such as the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics can provide a bird’s-eye-view of the landscape; then drilling down through county and municipal databases provide ever-more granular levels of magnification. Get to be friends with your local library, where the staff are trained to help people just like you comprehend large amounts of data.
In addition to gaining an understanding of the population around each dispensary, you’re trying to identify trends. Are there any published surveys about cannabis use in your area? Are there civic groups or neighborhood organizations you can talk to? Reaching out to these groups can have a twofold impact: It will help guide your market research, and also underline the notion that you’re the upstanding representative of a business interested in being of service to the community.
Last—but far from least—get comfortable with talking to the people in your neighborhood. While no one individual will provide you with a complete picture of the neighborhood’s demographics, if you engage in enough of these connections, pretty soon you’ll get to be an expert on the area. You’ll understand what consumers are looking for, what needs of theirs are—and aren’t—being met, and you’ll learn how to speak to those needs in the most natural and direct fashion.
4. The Competition
A large part of your research will focus on competing dispensaries in your area. There are a number of ways to go about this, some of the most effective being:
- Local business directories
- Your local Chamber of Commerce
- Advertising, both online and off
- Cannabis exhibitions and trade fairs
- Flyers and marketing literature you’ve received (be sure to sign up for competitors’ marketing materials)
- Checking your local government’s planning office for pending applications and building works-in-progress
Whenever possible, make time to actually visit dispensaries and get a feel for their brand and their messaging. Can you identify their strengths and weaknesses, or opportunities for you to do better?
Creating a Local Dispensary Marketing Plan: Honing Your Voice
You’ll recall how we introduced the concept of content vs. tone a few minutes back. Now that we’ve introduced the basic mechanisms of market research, it’s time to revisit that distinction and explore how you can—and should!—use it to craft different messages based on specific demographics.
Because you’ve already put intense focus (and countless hours) into crafting your brand, you’ve got a good understanding of your brand voice. You know if you’re playful, authoritative, coy, or reassuring; you know if your offers are direct—based on simple dollars-and-cents calculations—or if your value proposition lies more in the appeal of your brand’s design, an association with an active and aspirational lifestyle, or any of the other gambits businesses use to speak to their target audiences.
But regardless of the specifics, your brand voice—again, your tone—tells you how to reach every demographic around every dispensary location. It’s important to remember that your tone has nothing to do with the actual information you’re conveying. Let’s use a concrete example, like a sale on topicals designed to offer relief from chronic conditions with minimal psychoactivity.
If you believe that Generation Z’ers wouldn’t possibly care about managing stubborn symptoms like chronic pain or anxiety, or that Baby Boomers would never use cannabis to foster sexual intimacy, you haven’t really done your market research.
More to the point, your tone doesn’t change between the two audiences. If your tone is playful and aspirational, you might appeal to both consumer groups’ desire to get up and get moving, to refuse to let life just pass them by. If your brand voice is more institutional and authoritative in tone, you might craft your appeal based on the safety, non-psychoactivity, and clinical nature of the tinctures in question, pointing to their track record in reducing inflammation and taming anxiety in clinical studies.
The tone doesn’t change when you’re addressing these two populations, although you would probably use slightly different language to appeal to each. What changes the tone is the brand; in our examples, it’s either friendly and familiar, or authoritative and slightly formal.
Either way, learning to leverage this power begins with understanding your specific demographics, and then devising a marketing plan that speaks to their unmet needs, their goals, and their aspirations.
What’s more, it doesn’t matter if it’s a single dispensary or a dozen: It’s all about working to gain an understanding of the regulatory, physical and human landscape, and then speaking in a clear and consistent voice to the consumers you’re most likely to connect with.