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Cannabis Influencers: 6 Tips for Brands to Reach New Audiences 

By Dave Kushner

At a recent event hosted by NY Cannabis Insider, a panel of some the most respected figures in New York’s fledgling cannabis industry discussed the challenges of reaching potential new customers through traditional paid advertising methods.  The restrictions of this highly regulated market, the limited access to social media advertising, combined with the uncertainties resulting from a barrage of legal battles and court rulings where it can seem like the rules change from day to day, have created advertising and marketing hurdles not faced by any other industries, including alcohol and gambling.  

So how can independent New York small business owners broaden their funnel and reach new potential customers without the benefits of traditional and social media advertising? 

I wanted to shout, “with influencer creator partnerships!” 

While influencer partnerships seem ubiquitous, in the nascent cannabis industry they are under-utilized and often misused. 

Influencers are an often-misunderstood source of promotion, and for entrepreneurs running complex retail and consumer goods start-ups, many dispensary owners and product manufacturers are admittedly new to the influencer space. 

Influencers have a trusting, engaged audience that they accumulated from zero. Their followers tend to listen to their recommendations, which is all the reason influencer marketing works.  

Here are 6 factors to keep in mind when planning influencer partnerships and engagements to help your cannabis brand reach new audiences: 

  1. Identify your goals: Is it general buzz and awareness? Promoting an event? Driving traffic to your location or website? These are just a few examples of the many goals for a potential influencer engagement. It’s imperative to identify your goals and their relevant KPIs to zero in on your strategy. 
  2. Data is Key: Once you’ve identified your goals, data will be the driving force to achieving them. Who are the customers you want to reach, and who are the voices that speak to them? Are their followers geographically located in the relevant market?  
    The right data about an influencer’s audience can allow brands to target new specific demos without the benefit of a social platform’s advertising capabilities.  
  3. Authentic Alignment: Along with data, authenticity is integral to any influencer partnership. The right creator should effectively demonstrate a brand’s products and messaging in addition to providing third-party validation from a trusted source to their dedicated audiences.  
    You wouldn’t want a vegan promoting bacon cheeseburgers, and you don’t want someone with no real connection to cannabis trying to convince their audience that they do. You’re partnering with an influencer with a dedicated audience of fans- they can sniff out inauthentic content from their favorite creators. 
  4. Let Them Do What They Do Best: Influencers are content creators who have personally built their audiences. We can trust that they know what they’re doing. They know what kind of content works, how messages should be presented, and other best practices such as optimal posting times, best hashtags, current trending sounds, engaging templates, and all the other ways to navigate the social channels’ ever-shifting algorithms. Discuss ideas, set agreed-upon messaging notes, but let them the creators handle what they do best: creating. 
  5. Be Creative: Many cannabis brands fall into a trap of limiting their influencer partnerships to creators whose content focuses on cannabis. Authenticity is crucial, but focusing on the most obvious cannabis-centered accounts can leave you talking to the wrong audience. NY and NJ-based cannabis brands often need to reach a hyper-local audience consisting of a variety of demos. Partnering with a cannabis-focused influencer may seem like a logical move, but if their audience isn’t local to your space, and doesn’t contain the relevant demos then you risk preaching to the choir and getting lost in the shuffle. 
    Instead, think about cannabis-friendly, but not focused, local creators from a variety of spaces, like fitness, wellness, food, parenting, fashion, general lifestyle, and other topics relevant in your market. 
    For a suburban dispensary needing to de-mystify cannabis consumption and make their businesses less intimidating for mothers and older populations, a local fitness or wellness influencer who happens to enjoy cannabis could prove to be much more impactful partnership for your business than even the largest “cannabis celebrity”. 
  6. Follow the Regulations: According to the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, an influencer brand representative would be considered advertising and any content promoting your brand would be subject to marketing and advertising restrictions.  
    Brands partnering with influencers need to consider many factors, like their ability to obtain data verifying that a creator’s audience is at least 90% aged twenty-one or older, that creators don’t make any health claims about products, making the necessary disclosures and litany of other regulations.  
    Brands need to make sure the creators are compliant not just with state regulations, but also with each social media platform’s community standards. Failure to comply could lead to a post being pulled down and its performance taking a serious algorithmic hit when re-posted, or a creator having their account banned, and even fines for your company. 

The cannabis industry is rapidly developing, especially in New York. Influencer partnerships and engagements are a new promotional vehicle to many entering the industry. Remembering best practices and complying with regulations can seem like an intimidating challenge, but with knowledge, preparation and creativity this venue presents a real opportunity for a brand to separate themselves from the crowd and reach a wide new audience of customers.  

Get in touch and let’s discuss how influencer marketing can help you! 

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