Why Cannabis and CBD Brands Need Influencer Marketing

by | Jun 17, 2020

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

For the uninitiated, influencer marketing can appear to be tasteless and kitsch. At one point or another, we have all been subjected to a poorly executed Flat Tummy Tea placement on a mainstream channel. But when done right, influencer marketing is the way forward, and crucial to developing intimate relationships within a target audience. Influencers speak with a specific consumer community in a way traditional marketing simply cannot.

Genifer Murray recently spoke with Courtney Wu, CEO, and co-founder of AMNESIA, an influencer marketing platform powered by Compliance AI explicitly for the CBD and cannabis sectors. For anyone in the industry who has written off influencers as a marketing tactic or have so many questions they don’t know where to start, their conversation is illuminating. It highlights precisely how thoughtful and effective strategies can produce real returns and ultimately build powerful brand loyalty.

The Role of an Influencer in Cannabis and Hemp

Wu describes influencer marketing as “product placement but on steroids.” It is a powerful component, useful in addition to the traditional ad distribution approach to marketing. Influencers are thought leaders and represent the values of highly specialized communities. Often, if brands want to break into these communities, they need to work with the people who set the tempo and drive the culture.

Influencers help bridge the gap between the brand and the target audience because they often speak directly to those consumers, whether that means responding to comments, chatting in DMs, or reaching out with other connections.

As Wu describes, in the old days, marketing was a parent-child relationship whereby the brand pushed customers to buy a product because they knew what was best. These days, brands and consumers are peers. It is crucial to develop a direct and meaningful relationship with consumers. Influencers curate their communities and therefore represent a direct line into the hearts and minds of the members. Cannabis and CBD Influencer marketing is a crucial strategy to humanize and legitimize a brand in the eyes of the consumer.

It’s the Match that Makes it Perfect

In Wu’s experience, “to approach influencers as a monolith is a disservice to both influencers and as a marketing channel.” It’s essential to match the brand, the product, with the community, and the influencer. It’s not just about selling CBD online; it’s about finding the right audience to sell to.

Considering influencers receive a lot of inbound requests for marketing opportunities, they also have to pay attention to the brands they represent. Of course, there are always those who take up every offer issued, but consumers are quick to notice when the people they follow become a walking billboard. Successful influencers choose wisely and are responsible community leaders.

With over 300,000 mainstream influencers on the platform, Wu ensures brands get a selection of carefully curated influencers to collaborate with, localized to their market, with demographic and psychographic details and compliance.      

Before AMNESIA, Wu led the global Pro & Celebrity Marketing department of PokerStars, where she developed endorsement strategies within difficult and fragmented regulatory environments. Like poker, Wu finds it especially interesting to leverage the power of influencer marketing in cannabis. Mainstream influencers are starting to welcome collaborations with cannabis and CBD brands, as long as the brands are equally curated for them to match their brand values, vibes, and aesthetics. Great influencers care about how often they’re promoting products to their community and what types of products. And in cannabis, they especially care about product safety, which includes reviewing lab reports and ensuring that their promotion is compliant.

Ultimately, when working with influencers, it’s about finding a perfect match with someone who will use the product, love the product, and engage their audience about the product. It is about long-term relationships, not so much about quick, one-off product placements.

To Work in Cannabis is to Love Regulation

The regulation around influencer marketing is continuously evolving and still not always clear-cut. Influencers working with cannabis brands, especially, must follow several overlapping areas of law.

AMNESIA navigates compliance through a web of intersecting rules, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Food and Drug Administration, social media terms and conditions, the state cannabis legislation, and more. As Wu told Murray during the interview, “Luckily, we are a team that really likes it. I feel like if you are going to enter the cannabis space, you are going to have to love regulations.”

Far from stagnant, both of these industries experience a constant evolution of oversight. In both the influencer marketing and cannabis sectors, it’s challenging to understand and work within every new layer of regulation. Even mainstream influencers may not always know the delicate way to communicate a brand’s messaging within this web of rules.

For Wu, easing compliance has always been key to empowering brands to market at scale digitally and because of the success of the compliance AI with their influencer marketing platform, AMNESIA will soon be launching a standalone marketing tool to support both brands and influencers to market safely within the regulatory framework.            

Cannabis Influencer Marketing Tactics Must Go Beyond Product Placement

Ultimately, influencer marketing is a new approach to cannabis marketing, but one that can be especially effective within a broader online strategic plan. Influencers can operate as an ad placement service, but much more is possible, for much higher ROIs.

As cannabis brands leverage the voice of influencers, Wu highlights how cannabis and CBD brands must consider their influencer marketing KPIs along the sales funnel and work with influencers strategically towards specific goals (SEO, email capture, sales). Extending the relationship beyond product placement is immensely valuable; for example, influencer-hosted events, consumer engagement, retail curation, photography, and more.

As more brands become direct to consumers, influencer marketing is a compelling way to get the product in front of the target audience. Influencers are not some tacky strategy, as many seem to have labeled them. When done right, they are curators, creatives, and the key to creating an engaged community.      

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