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May 25, 2021

The Challenges of Cannabis Marketing: A Dispensary Survey

Matt Dell

The cannabis industry is booming, with new dispensaries opening all over the country. However, marketing these storefronts can seem like an uphill battle.

Happy Cabbage surveyed a few dispensary owners and managers to learn more about the challenges they face when promoting their businesses.

Keep reading for a selection of survey highlights and a few suggestions on how to improve your dispensary marketing strategy.

The Cannabis Industry & Advertising

a graphic on the survey results regarding challenges faced in dispensary marketing
Results from a survey Happy Cabbage conducted on dispensary marketing challenges

One of the biggest industry gripes is the frivolous nature of advertising dispensaries or products by businesses in the cannabis market onsocial media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more.

Laws that vary on a state-by-state basis paired with an algorithm prohibitive against cannabis seldom provide leeway, if any, for dispensaries to promote their products online.

Facebook and Instagram constantly delete social media posts with marijuana imagery because they violate their service terms, which usually align with federal government mandates.

For example, Instagram would notify a dispensary when it has removed their post or deactivated their account for violating policy, and then the business would have to submit an appeal.

There are some exceptions with certain digital marketing platforms that do not delete posts but instead would penalize a cannabis business by disabling visibility of social media accounts or removing sponsored advertising placements.

As you can see, these conditions make cannabis marketing very lackluster and possibly risky for businesses looking to build their web presence with conventional marketing technology.

Urban Flavours in Oakland said, “finding marketing platforms that will allow cannabis advertisement," was their number one challenge when it comes to dispensary marketing.

Given that various auxiliary marketing tactics are unavailable, cannabis brands and retailers can turn to closed channels to keep in touch with their customers.

Opt-In Only Cannabis Brand Marketing

What are the most effective dispensary marketing strategies? This is a question that stakeholders in the marijuana retail industry are trying to answer.

Many dispensaries rely heavily on opt-in-only marketing for cannabis advertising,which is built on an invite-only basis and includes customers interested in what you have to offer.

Opt-in channels like email marketing or SMS are great for cannabis because communications are closed and thereby less likely to be scrutinized by compliance teams or algorithms

The benefits also include better open rates, higher conversion rates, more significant opportunities for segmentation, personalization, and increased customer satisfaction.

In an ideal scenario, a dispensary marketing using opt-in marketing channels would not spam or send unwanted emails.

Otherwise, this could detract from customer engagement, especially if customers expect certain offers within the newsletters or from a specific cannabis business.

Furthermore, dispensary text marketing services require a bit more navigation due to recent events with carriers filtering communications from cannabis businesses.

Keep reading for how dispensaries responded to our survey and what you can do. 

Cannabis SMS & Carrier Filtering

Carrier filtering is when a carrier blocks texts from being delivered because the content is deemed inappropriate by the carrier’s terms of service.

You might be wondering, how does this apply to dispensaries and the cannabis industry? Well, as of late, cellular communications services have started flagging cannabis content and removing users that send it.

Additionally, suppose dispensaries do not abide by laws like the CAN-SPAM Act, which prevent unwarranted spamming. In that case, their actions can alert carrier compliance teams and, upon further inquiry into the content, result in account shutdown.

a graphic on data from Twilio's sendgrid on why consumers opt out of text marketing
Data from Twilio's Sendgrid on why consumers opt-out of text marketing


Enrique Macias from Dreamy Delivery elaborated, “the obstacles we deal with that non-cannabis companies are able to do with ease, like sending text messages to their customer base without the  fear of losing that ability."

Macias points to a significant challenge for cannabis marketers and cannabis software companies alike that rely on text messaging for their business.

As more and more people turn to text instead of calling or emailing, it is essential to know how to ensure the deliverability of your messages.

Using Polaris for Dispensary Text Marketing

Our team behind Polaris, a marketing platform for dispensaries, responded to the latest surge in carrier filtering with a few tips on optimizing cannabis SMS campaigns for compliance and performance based on data from our clients.

First, limiting campaign size is a necessary component to effective cannabis SMS marketing because it reduces the likelihood of a dispensary getting flagged by carriers. 

One of the most common SMS marketing practices that can result incompliance-related issues is mass text blasting. Not only does limiting campaign size help prevent the likelihood of mass-texting, but it can also increase marketing performance.

Additionally, establishing segments of target customers is another helpful practice that works in tandem with limiting campaign volume to remain compliant amidst carrier filtering crackdowns.

Segmentation enables cannabis businesses to send smaller campaigns with personal messaging, which keeps existing customers engaged and potentially interested in making another purchase.

Weedmaps & Reaching Your Target Audience

Weedmaps is one of the most well-known brands in the marijuana industry, providing an app for potential customers to find dispensaries and read reviews on different.

At this point, it is safe to say that Weedmaps is a household name among dispensary marketing teams.

However, it can be expensive to use, especially for dispensaries in major American cities that have to pay exorbitant rates for the service.

Multiple dispensaries included thoughts on Weedmaps in particular. “Reaching new customers that are outside of Weedmaps Ecosystem,” Urban Flavors listed as their second most prominent cannabis marketing challenge.

Shannon Bitzer at Canex considers Weedmaps a potentially unfavorable alternative to other advertising platforms. “[Google ads restrictions]forces us to rely on websites like Weedmaps, which can get expensive and saturated with competition.”

Weedmaps’ competitive and varied pricing model makes it difficult for dispensaries to qualify for return on investment.

Although it’s one of the few marketing platforms for the cannabis industry, our survey indicates that may not justify its expense.

Google & Dispensary Marketing

Dispensaries cannot deploy digital advertising via Google because the company does not allow ads for cannabis.

All dispensary advertising is limited to Google’s AdWords terms of service, which means a dispensary must have existing visibility and be able to promote it through organic search traffic.

Google AdWords policy states that "Ads for substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation or otherwise induce 'highs'" are not allowed."

This can be problematic for cannabis companies that rely on digital advertising to bring potential customers into the store or spread the word about new cannabis-related promotions.

Some dispensary marketing teams have found creative ways around these restrictions by using third-party sites to advertise their services and products.

Many cannabis businesses are unable to deploy advertisements via Google or invest extra budget into web design for a workaround solution.

Bitzer explains:

“One of the biggest challenges that we face is the ability to advertise on popular advertising platforms like Google. The only way that we can advertise on Google is by using loopholes such as off-site landing pages.These are less effective, because it requires the potential customer to make extra clicks to get to our website. The less clicks, the better conversion.”


However, there are still ways for dispensaries to execute effective digital marketing campaigns without running afoul of Google's or other comparable platforms’ rules.

Try Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Local SEO is a way to execute dispensary advertising that does not violate the terms of use on Google.

It's a method of gaining visibility on the local results page for queries in search engines.

This type of SEO can help your business grow a target audience that is in close proximity to your shop and looking for cannabis products near them.

If foot traffic is important to your business, local SEO is something you should definitely consider!

It is important, when executing this digital marketing strategy, to find cannabis-related keywords that potential customers search for in their local area and optimize your site content accordingly.

A cannabis retailer can also enhance local SEO marketing through their Googly My Business profile, which is free to activate.

a graphic on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs Searn Engine Marketing (SEM) in the cannabis industry
Comparing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to Searn Engine Marketing (SEM) in the cannabis industry


Optimizing your Google My Business can result in more web visitors that are also qualified cannabis customers than using any of Google’s comparable platforms.

The reason this is true is because Google My Business works with maps and the local 3-pack,which display listings for nearby businesses and aim to guide foot traffic in the area.

The best cannabis marketing strategy includes maintaining an active Google My Business page that compliments SEO long-tail or local keywords.

Get Tactical with Cannabis Marketing

In this blog, we recapped a few challenges that dispensary marketing teams in their marketing efforts, particularly on social media, search engines, and text marketing channels.

The best way to execute dispensary marketing is by investing in text or building your email list, using a data-driven approach to helps ensure deliverability.

Did you know we have a tool that does that?

Polaris is a machine-learning cannabis marketing platform that lets you identify critical opportunities for promotions and send out advertising to customers.

Spend less time figuring out the right kind of marketing that works in this industry or gets people to buy – Polaris takes care of that.

Take that first step and schedule a demo with us today.

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