January 2, 2013

Micah Johnson: 5 Highly Effective Cannabis Advertising Strategies for MMJ Dispensaries

Photo of Micah Johnson of Cannapages.com
By Micah Johnson

One of the most frustrating challenges facing new dispensary owners is how to advertise effectively. After all, many traditional newspapers and radio stations still refuse to work with the industry. Then there’s the question of how to catch a potential client’s attention, especially given the controversial subject matter.

But with a growing patient population and the rise of MMJ-focused media outlets, it is now more imperative than ever to stand out and make a lasting impression. Here are five key advertising strategies that will help differentiate your dispensary from the competition, attract more customers and avoid the gimmicks that sink other medical cannabis businesses:

#1. Take Sales to the Next Level

In light of America’s annual holiday madness, it’s clear that customers habitually look for special deals. But the key word is “specials,” not just “deals.” Specials take sale items to a new level: “Get 2 Pre-rolls with 1/8th oz.,” or “Buy One, Get One FREE on Edibles every Wednesday!” Such moxie helps build value for products – which is much more effective than simply offering the lowest price in town. Just make sure you research the nearest competitors to make sure your specials are not far above, or below, the norm.

It’s important to avoid the race to the bottom in terms of price. Discounts alone can become tacky, much like used-car dealerships. And when dispensaries cater only to thrift-seekers, market prices fall to stunning lows, often at the expense of those who cannot afford to stay competitive. You don’t have to mark down the entire store, but make sure to highlight at least one item – with “limited supply” posted as necessary – and have another “in-store special” ready when you run out. Never let customers think the advertising is false by restricting their purchase with fine print. Most of all, don’t blow your entire harvest at the lowest price unless you have more supply on the way.

#2. Use Thematic Artwork

Unlike TV and radio, print and online ads compete for eyeballs. Medicine sells best if the publication allows its depiction. Pictures should preferably capture the entire cannabis bud in-frame, as zoom photos of gigantic trichomes yield limited response. It helps to add images of rare novelties and edibles (or their vendors’ logos). Only use professional photos, especially when showcasing the store itself. It can be worth the extra money to hire a graphic designer or photographer; the more imagery you can use to thematically reinforce the brand, the better.

Branding is important, but be careful of over-used symbols and playing to stereotypes. Once the green cross icon has been taken in your vicinity, find something new. Tie-die, “gangsta” motifs and red-eyed mascots are out. Sex – think nurses in skimpy uniforms – can be detrimental to your reputation in the long run. “Weed” or colloquial Cheech-and-Chong lingo can disorient an emerging body of clientele also trying to redefine the plant.

#3. Embrace the Basics

Despite the many demographics and differences in ad styles and mediums, there are still essential basics to every ad. Verbiage should stem from your brand and theme but utilize strategic phrasing (i.e. “Limited Time Only!”) and provide a call to action (“Visit Us Today!”). If your location is difficult to find, draw a simple map or use an identifying intersection under the store name. List your phone number in the largest font – with email & address below- as well as hours, slogan, cannabinoid testing results, testimonials and strain descriptions when space provides. Delivery and parking options should be mentioned if available.

Above all else, make your ad work for you. Throw in your website address and Facebook and Twitter icons to ensure cohesive follow-up interaction. Getting people to visit you through these other mediums will allow you to connect for free over the long term, with online coupons, email lists and mobile apps.

#4. Follow Through!

It’s not enough to simply ask where your clients heard about you; you must measure what specials, colors, coupons, themes and verbiage work best. These become part of your identity, i.e., “Home of Deal X,” or “World-Renowned Product Y!” Whether strains, deals, service or other signature offerings, reinforcing your identity around these central items will prolong the lifespan of your advertising. Soon, just the semblance of these components will conjure thoughts of your brand, guaranteeing that a connection will be made even during the brief moments as a patient flips through the radio dial or waiting-room magazine.

#5. Plan for the Long Term

Finally, successful advertising is part evolution, part endurance. Customers may have to hear a store name or see a logo several times before making the connection, meaning you shouldn’t begin advertising unless you’re ready to go the long-haul. There are those who start small and free, through email lists, Craigslist and social media, while others will feature their strains in magazines centerfolds. Every option presents unique costs, reach, and potential, but they may all produce results if presented strategically.

Micah Johnson is president and co-founder of Cannapages.com, a Colorado-based medical marijuana directory and tech agency.


  1. I agree with your assessment on advertising.
    I started my career in outdoor advertising in 1978.
    In 1980 publication followed by radio, broadcast TV, cable TV with internet sales.
    Keep it simple, run advertising at least a 12 weeks so that you will be able to measure against your revenue
    from the year before.r

  2. Certainly branding is of upmost importance, particularly with the advent of the recreational cannabis marketplace. From our perspective it is very important to differentiate the medical and recreational offerings,as the market expectations and demographics are so different. We are currently working on a project to help cannapreneurs with their branding initiatives by showcasing cannabis brands and products,in both categories at: http://www.cannabishighbrands.com Also, notice our push for the use of the ”cannabis” term Vs. the more socially controversial ”Marijuana” in order to help improve public perception.

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