Cannabiz commissioning editor Josie Tutty spoke to The Cannabis Co’s digital marketer Marika Berney about the importance of great copywriting, why word of mouth is so effective and what to do when Facebook shuts down your ad account.

Josie Tutty, Cannabiz: Joining me now is Marika Berney, digital marketer at The Cannabis Co. She has a background as both a copywriter and marketing executive, and now spends her time working on all things digital marketing for The Cannabis Co, which sells everything from hemp flour to cannabis-infused gin to dog shampoo. So welcome, Marika, thanks for joining us.

Now, that’s an incredible range of products you have there. Do you want to give me a rough outline of your digital marketing strategy and how you incorporate all those different things?

The Cannabis Co’s digital marketer Marika Berney

Marika Berney, The Cannabis Company: Based on those different products, we’ve got quite a different range of customers really. You’ve got people who are looking for some form of natural pain relief, gut health or things like that. And then you’ve got people who have a dog and their dog’s got anxiety problems or itchy skin, so we’ve got quite a range.

In terms of the general digital marketing strategy, because we’re so broad, we tend to focus on that. So the whole idea is communicating the fact that cannabis and, in our case mostly hemp and terpenes, are so widely applicable and so effective and largely quite undiscovered. So a lot of our marketing is really educational based.

Then once we’ve got people in our database as customers or leads, we tend to segment them out into the pet customers, the beverage customers and the lifestyle customers, because they are looking for quite different things. They do cross over, and anyone who’s got a pet is also a human, so they’re all applicable to everyone, but what we focus on becomes quite different in the stories we tell and the testimonials we show and stuff like that becomes quite segmented.

Cannabiz: So what’s the biggest challenge that you have found so far when it comes to marketing cannabis online?

Marika Berney: Facebook. It was a massive shock for me actually, because I’ve come from an agency background where putting up a Facebook campaign or SEM, Google AdWords and display is just natural and you don’t ever have to second guess whether you’re going to have your ads approved. And I kind of jumped into this space, super excited to get into cannabis and all of its amazing health benefits. And it was just roadblock after roadblock.

Getting stuff out to new people is the hardest thing, which means we end up having to focus on word of mouth a lot more and also on organic content. So our content strategy constitutes a lot of our digital marketing strategy, just because it’s easier to get out there.

Luckily with the cannabis space, a lot of people are searching it at the moment. So people are wanting to find out more, they’re hearing little bits of information from different places and largely from overseas as well, which is quite a different market to Australia and New Zealand.

So we’ve focused a lot of energy on the organic stuff, especially with blogs and focusing on our SEO quality just because we know we can reach people that way.

“Word of mouth has been a huge thing for us… it’s something that can’t be suppressed by an algorithm.”

Whereas, Facebook, in my first couple of weeks here, I wanted to put out an ad and I really had no idea how strict Facebook was going to be with that. And we used a tool called Octane AI, which is a Messenger marketing platform. So we had all of these contacts and we had been talking to them and I was like, ‘well, they’re in our database, no-one can penalize us for talking to people in our database’.

But they had just made an update, which meant that to send a Messenger marketing message it had to be done through the ads management in Facebook, which means it’s now an ad, which is what Facebook polices very, very strictly when it comes to cannabis.

And we’ve put out this one message, well tried to, and instantly Facebook just shut down the ad account and then our whole business manager is just completely banned. And I was like, ‘uh, sorry guys, it turns out I don’t know how to do this’.

When it comes to Google, we’re actually finding a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, our search ads seem to be working for us, but it’s a struggle. We’ll put search ads up and we have to go through and pretty much appeal or edit them a couple of times a week because they will be approved and then a week later they’ll be disapproved.

And we sell only legal things. There’s nothing we sell that is even toeing the line of illegal. It’s very much within what we’re allowed to sell, but our company name probably doesn’t help when it comes to algorithms crawling through.

Cannabiz: We found that ourselves. When we started Cannabiz, it just has a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’, but that in itself was enough. We couldn’t even send a link to the website to anyone on Facebook Messenger initially. We’ve now spoken to Facebook and got that fixed, but it was a really big challenge. Do you have any advice for cannabis companies that might be facing this issue? Is it something to do with copywriting? What do you need to adjust and what do you need to be aware of when you’re trying to get these ads through?

Marika Berney: Obviously the company name is kind of the starting point and you could say we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit with our company name. But basically with Facebook guidelines, they’re going to penalize anything that has imagery of cannabis use, that has mentions of cannabis or CBD. They’re actually okay with anything that’s topical, so won’t be ingested. So anything like face creams or anything that’s got hemp in it should be fine.

It may be a case like yours where you just need to contact someone. For us, the damage is done in a way, but something that people can really focus on is making sure the content on their website is as clean as possible. And when I say that it’s things like not mentioning CBD anywhere, we’ve got quite a bit of content on our site that’s about CBD because we’ve focused our content strategy on the education piece a lot, which spans outside of our product.

“Cannabis doesn’t need to be this kind of hippie, off-to-the-side alternative thing. It really does have a place in everyone’s everyday health.”

But unfortunately that means that when algorithms crawl our site, they see CBD everywhere and they’re just like, absolutely not. So definitely that. And word of mouth has been a huge thing for us, which is not so much digital, but it’s something that can’t be suppressed by an algorithm.

And so finding ways to encourage that word of mouth, whether it’s through a referral program or through encouraging that kind of social proof, rewarding people for sharing photos and experiences. All that kind of stuff with our products on social mean we get that little bit further out there because we can’t reach that wider audience through socials, which is most eCommerce companies’ goldmine.

Cannabiz: Have you found PR to be helpful at all? Cannabis-infused gin, that in itself to me is a headline. So is that part of that word of mouth piece?

Marika Berney: I’ve actually not been at the company that long. I moved from Auckland to Melbourne about a week before Covid happened. So quite the rollercoaster. It was definitely a big piece before I started. And when the company was launching, like you said, the cannabis-infused gin was huge. They sold out, it was just in time for Christmas, it was this perfect story.

We’ve used this period where everything’s been a little bit upside down you could say to focus more on product development and brand development. But I think that in the coming months, the PR piece will come back into play and definitely be huge because the media publications and the online publications, they control their own output.

We’re swinging back, especially this industry, is swinging back towards PR and word of mouth as a whole, rather than relying solely on digital advertising because it’s just not there for us. So PR is definitely huge.

Cannabiz: You mentioned education and that’s obviously a hugely important thing for the industry. How do you go about working that into your digital marketing? You mentioned some issues there with CBD, so how do you get around those things while still providing some great education?

Marika Berney: It’s just a really cool pillar to any of our content. We pretty much expect that anyone who comes across our site or socials or our products, somehow we have to assume that they know nothing because there’s so much confusion.

Even when you look at the US versus Australia. In the US you could say hemp oil and they’re talking about CBD. And then here, we’re talking about a super, super low CBD and THC nutritional oil. It’s a very different thing. And so it’s so easy for people to get confused. So on socials we’re educating about anything cannabis.

“A couple of bad, not so effective products or anything icky – you really don’t need that when you’re a cannabis company because you’ve got enough stacked against you.”

And then also for our customers, once we’ve got a lead somehow, whether it’s from browse abandonment or through one of our e-books, we do a lot of work on education through email marketing.

So instead of just trying to push products in front of people immediately, it’s all about feeding them the information they need to make a decision they feel safe with. Because there’s been so much shadiness, I guess, surrounding the whole topic that almost over educating people is really important. So we do that a lot through email marketing and socials and also the blogs.

Cannabiz: Your copywriting really highlights that as well. I just want to read something that I found on your website, which I think is great, when you’re explaining about THC. I don’t know if you wrote this, but anyway, it says: “THC though, look, she’s a bit of a party animal. She loves to hang out and have fun, but she also loves taking care of people. She will definitely get you high. She’ll also fix you up since there’s medicine in there too. She’s a nurse, but one of those party animal nurses.” And I just thought that was perfect. I love that because it’s being honest, but it’s also explaining the medical benefits at the same time. Copywriting and branding is such an important thing.

Marika Berney: Definitely. And I did not write that unfortunately, that was from the marketer before me. But it’s a really nice platform to grasp and grow because you’re right, it’s really fun to write about this stuff. Once you start to learn about it, the whole idea of cannabis as medicine and as health just makes so much sense.

It’s one of those things that you learn about it and you’re like, ‘wow, why have people been – I mean, there’s lots of political reasons and we won’t even go into that – but you go, ‘why have people been so scared of this thing for so long and so confused?’ and it’s really quite simple and amazing. So it’s great to be able to have a little bit of fun with it in the copywriting.

The other thing is that, for some people, their experience with cannabis now is very medical. It’s the people that are going through the special access scheme because they’re very sick.

There’s less talked about in that general health and wellness space when it’s not your last resort and it’s not through doctors, but it’s something you incorporate into your everyday life. It’s a simple concept really, so having fun with it is great.

Cannabiz: I want to talk a bit about branding because the industry is starting to move away from that kind of hippie, alternative-style branding towards sleeker and more modern designs. And you guys definitely are a great example of that. Your website, your branding. So do you think this is the way forward and would you advise the industry to start thinking in those terms? How can they start to move away from that old-school style branding?

Marika Berney: Yeah, 100%. One of our key focuses for this whole company is the branding because we want to be anything but the hessian, beige, hippy, grass [image] that’s characterized the plant itself for so long. That’s been huge for us, just to bring all these cannabis products into that space where all of the other consumer products are playing, the beauty products, the health and wellness products. We’re not trying to look like everyone else, but the idea is that we’re making cannabis look like something that people already consume, like the other things they’re used to.

“A lot of brands and companies rely so much on the socials and paid digital marketing, and it just doesn’t happen for cannabis products.”

So cannabis doesn’t need to be this kind of hippie, off-to-the-side alternative thing. It really does have a place in everyone’s everyday health. And so the modern branding is super important to us because somehow it subconsciously gives that level of credibility as well. People seeing that we take the effort to make it look so good and so uncannabis like actually really helps. That’s something we’ve been doing a bit of work on with some new branding and new products to come, which is all super exciting. I can’t really say anything, but it’s really exciting.

Cannabiz: Are there other markets you look to for inspiration when it comes to branding?

Marika Berney: It’s hard because, like you say, we’ve got such a broad range of products that we draw on different categories for our different categories. But as a whole, with the more therapeutic products like our terpenes, the oils and the patches, we draw a lot from the beauty and skincare industry. Just in the way that they’re also going through a phase where people are demanding more, they’re demanding transparency and real efficacy and those brands are having to lead with their ingredients and be quite scientific, but in a really consumer friendly way.

And that’s very similar for cannabis. We’re wanting to present real, true information in a very attractive way, because that’s what people are asking for. So we definitely draw a lot from the brands in that beauty space at the moment.

Cannabiz: If there’s a small cannabis business listening to this, someone who’s maybe thinking of getting their start in the industry, is there any advice you would give them from a digital marketing perspective? Is there anything that you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to them?

Marika Berney: It’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge, especially from a marketing point of view. You go into it thinking you know a lot of stuff and day one, you realize that you don’t. You’ve just got to try everything. A lot of brands and companies rely so much on the socials and the paid digital marketing, and it just doesn’t happen for cannabis products.

And so you’ve just got to be aware of it and keep trying, I guess, and not get too heartbroken. We had our Google account suspended the other day and I was like, ‘this is the end, this is it’. But we managed to sort it out and we’re back up and running, thank goodness, but that kind of stuff happens all the time.

And being wary of how you name your company and your products so that it’s friendly to those algorithms as much as possible. Because you need to give yourself the best chance you can. And quality is really important because again, going back to consumers demanding more from companies these days, especially in the cannabis space, it’s important that people that may be skeptical of the whole cannabis idea can feel safe purchasing from a company, knowing that they know what they’re getting.

And it’s better for the industry as a whole that people have a really good experience with those products. A couple of bad, not so effective products or anything icky – you really don’t need that when you’re a cannabis company because you’ve got enough stacked against you.

This interview first appeared on the Cannabiz podcast. Click here to listen.

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