Let’s be real, it can feel daunting stepping into 2023 as cannabis companies hemorrhage employees in layoffs, are navigating new and mature markets, and facing an impending economic recession. We should all be aware of trends and best practices so we can be as intentional with our marketing spend as possible.
We already shared why email marketing is the cannabis industry’s most untapped marketing channel. What better direct line to your customers could you ask for? According to Litmus, the return on investment for marketing emails is a staggering $42 for every $1 spent. The money speaks for itself!
So if you’re looking to build sustainable growth and reliable revenue streams for your cannabis business, you know you need to be building badass email campaigns and flows that speak to your audience. Here are the email marketing trends and best practices that retail dispensaries and cannabis companies should follow in 2023.
Only The Strong (Cannabis Brands) Survive! Drive More Lifetime Value with Brand Stories
I spoke about this in my best (& the worst) of MJBizCon blog, but I will say it again: when competing in heavily saturated markets, you have to have a strong brand to win. Many markets and product categories in cannabis are saturated, which means the businesses with strong brands and communities will win out.
Your brand work must come before marketing, so that it’s all consistent from your website to your event booth and your customer relationship experience. You can boost sales and engagement with storytelling and having a clear brand strategy. But if you’re just a $50 Fiver logo, have no clear positioning, and no brand strategy, then anything you do on your website or marketing simply won’t make sense. Being clear on your brand story, values, and perfect customer will allow you to stand out of the crowd and will create more lifetime value for your business through brand loyalty.
If you differentiate your brand and genuinely care about your community, you’ll have no problem winning. It’s simple, nail these things in this order: Product > Brand > Website > Marketing and you’ll have a revenue generating machine in the cannabis industry. Most people right now are doing the first thing really well but the other three are not working together to drive momentum for the business.
More Meaningful Metrics
Ditch the vanity metrics and focus on what matters: what’s the most popular content and who is interested in specific offers or messages. Retailers and ancillary cannabis businesses know the pain of investing money into a direct mail campaign, billboard, or other marketing efforts only to find that they weren’t sure how to measure ROI or monitor important metrics such as who saw it, who read it, and who was actually interested in the message. This highlights the importance of email marketing, in which every email campaign or automation is tracked and measured. Most email service providers offer a variety of analytics, from opens and clicks to unsubscribes and bounce rate.
However, due to iOS updates and Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection impacting metrics like open rates, it’s more important than ever to measure more useful and meaningful metrics. Here are some meaningful metrics to monitor:
- Click Rate
- Click-through Rate
- Unsubscribe Rate
- Bounce Rate
- Engagement Rate
- Conversion or Placed Order Rate
- Email List Growth Rate
- Spam Rate
Having google analytics and other tracking tools in your pocket helps you look at your customer journey in a more comprehensive way. You’ll see why it’s important to leverage email in a way that’s engaging to get your customer to the next step of converting, such as downloading a free guide, reading a blog on your website, and so on. Once you have campaign and flow data, you can track your growth and optimize your email marketing and make more money.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
ChatGPT and other AI advances are changing the way we work and gaining a lot of popularity online. AI can help email marketers and business owners expedite their marketing content ideation and generation process.
I’ve seen AI used to streamline content creation processes for emails, cover letters (sorry to tell you that, recruiters!), hooks and headlines, outlines, and more. However, it doesn’t mean you’re going to 10x your business or grow your audience overnight because you use AI. And AI is not exactly able to replace your content marketers or sales reps, if that’s why you are interested in AI.
I’ve tested ChatGPT, Peppertype.ai, Jasper, Simplified, and many other AI tools and none of them come close to writing engaging blogs that will rank well on Google. Prove me if I’m wrong! Just look at the output, it’s typically very generic. Great for writing a blog conclusion you are stuck on but AI can’t replace human experiences, stories, anecdotes, and other deeply personal content that connects to their readers.
Also, when writing a technical blog about WordPress vs. Wix, AI spit out proposed copy with over half of the content containing false information so I ended up writing it all out anyway. It was spitting out a lot of misinformation which could get some people in trouble if you are not checking AI content for these types of errors.
AI is currently best used in these use cases:
- Blog ideation
- Blog headline optimization
- Blog outlines (although please check outlines and content for accuracy)
- Blog conclusions – I used Simplified to write the conclusion for this article as a reference. It’s short and generic but it got the job done
- Email copy ideation and subject line optimization
- Better “hooks” for social content
- Brainstorming and ideating
AI should not be used to replace your sales force. There are so many failures in AI sales emails and personalization. Just look at this email I got the other day written by AI. Everything about it is generic:
It lacks personalization and you can very obviously tell it’s written by a bot. Business is a human to human relationship. You buy from people you like to do business with. Why would you want to start a relationship in such an impersonal way? It tells me I am just another number on a scraped list and that I am not important enough for you to even look at my website yourself and write me a note. Then, they mention in their footnote that they comply with GDPR and CAN-SPAM laws while literally emailing me without permission in an impersonal way. Straight to the spam folder they go!
There’s also a lot of debate around ethical AI. Look at Lensa and how it ripped off artists across the internet and profited off of their hard work. That left a big question around IP. There are plenty of good ways to use AI but be careful of tools that infringe on copyright or other laws.
Competing for space in someone’s inbox is about quality over quantity. I used to work for an email deliverability company and we had some badass inbox monitoring tools that were pitched as “sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time”. If you know email, you’ve probably heard every company use that language to describe sending relevant and timely emails to your audience. But seriously – “Personalized emails strengthen customer experiences by sending the right content to the right people at the right time.” Source: Campaign Monitor
Now, what does that look like for cannabis businesses? Let’s take two retail dispensaries for example:
- Dispensary A: Sends out “email blast” to entire list
- Subject line: Earn Points with Every Purchase
- Main Message: Did you know that every time you come in you can earn points towards in-store discounts? You can view your points by clicking the button below. Come in today to earn more!
- Button: View Points (link to general loyalty program login page)
- Dispensary B: Sends out segmented, personalized email to anyone with points on their account to encourage repeat purchases
- Subject line: [First Name], Your Points Are Waiting
- Main Message: Hi [First Name], We noticed you have 100 points on your loyalty account with us. Thanks for being a loyal customer. Use your points towards in-store discounts by clicking the button below to order ahead. We can’t wait to see you!
- Button: Use Points (link to order ahead menu)
Dispensary B will likely win out every time; although, as an email marketer I will just have to lean on the old adage “A/B test it”! The point is, when you craft highly relevant email messages, they are more likely to be engaged with and clicked on. At the same time, personalization improves brand loyalty and lifetime value, which means you’ll earn more repeat business and make more money!
Segmentation is the act of creating smaller audiences from your main list, based on the data you have on your subscribers. This creates the ability to precisely target audience members based on their intent, interests, and behavior. Lists are static and segments are dynamic.
Segmentation goes hand in hand with personalization, mentioned above. When emails are targeted to advanced segments based on data like purchase history or other behaviors, you’ll be more likely to convert a sale.
The goal is to serve up the most relevant content to your subscribers as possible. There are many segments you can create to drive more engagement and conversions. Some segments include:
- Placed Order History
- When they subscribed
User-Generated Content (UGC)
User-generated content is important for establishing and building trust with your buyers. Who else is buying your cannabis product or service? What do they have to say about your business? What is your community like?
User-generated content such as testimonials, case studies, user photos with your product, and so on help establish your brand in a consumer’s mind. It helps someone connect with your business and feel a sense of trust.
Plus, it gives you a chance to build and engage with your community. Now, someone can become part of your brand and grow with your business. If you want to build community and brand loyalty, you should be incorporating user-generated content into your marketing efforts. This can be done via email campaigns, social media, websites, and other channels.
For example, Malek’s uses NFTs at events and I happened to get one at the Marijuana Mansion in Denver. If they wanted more user generated content, they could request this content from their community and showcase customers with their collectible NFTs. They could post on platforms like social media or their website to award loyal brand enthusiasts and influence others who want to see themselves shouted out by their favorite cannabis brand.
Interactivity in emails is a popular trend. It’s the modern way to run engaging email campaigns. Interactivity can look like GIFs, accordions, or other animations that interact with the email user’s activity. You could even add an item in your cart right from the email or show active stock levels of your popular CBD products. Just make sure you know what you are doing and compress GIF files as needed for good deliverability. I’ve seen some brands (cough cough: MJBizCon) use a TON of GIFs in their email campaigns and they tend to load slow. If used correctly, they can pull a reader’s eye to an important part of the message. If used incorrectly, they can tank your deliverability and send you to the spam folder.
According to the CDC, 26% (one in 4) of adults in the United States have some type of disability. That means more than 61 million adults suffer from permanent, temporary, and other disabilities. If you’re a medical dispensary, even more of your customer base could have chronic pain or other disabilities. Accessibility includes all kinds of disabilities from visual, auditory, learning, neurological, and so on.
A common disability is vision impairment which is massively important when considering how this impacts your digital designs. You should care about this for two reasons:
- We are human and it’s the decent thing to do. Most adults have some kind of disability so why not build with accessibility in mind so you are inclusive of your cannabis community? You’re leaving out a huge percentage of your audience if your digital content cannot be consumed by them for one reason or another.
- If you aren’t compliant and accessible, your cannabis business risks being sued like this cannabis retailer in NY. For email accessibility, you should be using alt text, ensuring proper contrast of colors used in your email, and other best practices.
You’ve probably heard of GDPR, CASL, CAN-SPAM, or other laws that govern email marketing and privacy in certain countries. With all of the new data laws popping up across the globe, cannabis businesses need to ensure they are protecting their customers and themselves. This is what we will refer to as privacy by design. A good rule of thumb when it comes to data privacy is this – Would you do to your grandma what you do to a customer?
When collecting email data, you need to ensure you understand how to protect that data and conduct a privacy impact assessment. Is your dispensary POS system susceptible to hackers? Are you storing passwords or customer data on excel sheets instead of having it protected? Are you protecting your domain from phishing attacks? Are you selling data illegally to affiliates?
All of these things can impact your bottom line if you get sued or fined, and can impact your sending reputation and other things important to your business success. Make sure you have a data privacy plan in place to protect your customer email data.
My business coach at The Lions Pride always used to say “Automate or Delegate”. That’s been one of the most important phrases to me as a business owner and I am sure you can resonate. In order to streamline more parts of your business so you can make money while you sleep, you need reliable automations for your business.
Automations simplify your business processes and run according to schedules or triggers/prompts, This allows you to automate repetitive tasks and work more efficiently. You can automate many parts of your email marketing, including:
- Welcome Emails
- Abandoned Carts Email
- Win Back Campaigns
- Post Purchase Emails
- Transactional Emails
- Onboarding Emails for team members
- Surveys to customers
When in doubt, look at Zapier where you can literally automate any parts of your business, connecting email to Slack or to your CRM, with its easy API connection.
As the cannabis industry evolves, email is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for dispensaries. By following best practices and keeping up with the latest trends, you can ensure that your email campaigns are successful and generate more revenue for your dispensary in 2023. Our team of email experts can help you develop a sustainable email strategy tailored to your business goals. To get started, reach out to us today for a free discovery call at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristin is the Founder and CEO of The Source Marketing Group. The marketing agency is focused on elevating female-, veteran-, and minority-owned businesses in the cannabis and craft beer space.