In the past two years, much has changed in the cannabis landscape. 

Companies such as Constellation Brands and Aphria have invested heavily in existing operations, mostly with a focus on Canadian companies – especially since the law in Canada now permits adult recreational use on the federal level.  This means that competition is growing more rapidly, and with better funding than was available when we originally published this post.  This also amplifies the need for a marijuana dispensary marketing plan. 

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Creating a marijuana dispensary marketing plan is more critical today than it was back then.  If you’re a company without a plan, then you’re certainly not going to be successful at the level you could be, if you even see real success any time soon.  The tax situation in states like California, for instance, mean that only the hyper-vigilant business manager will keep costs under control and margins at acceptable levels. 

Obviously if you don’t own a dispensary, you may think this article isn’t for you, but if you own a cannabis delivery business, a marijuana grow, an extracting facility, pretty much any service or product oriented segment of the industry – you really need an actual marketing plan, no matter what business type. 

Branding has not panned out for that many companies. Yet.  

I know it’s going to happen, it has to happen, but there are too many variables from too many states that make any sort of big thoughts and dreams branding that crosses state lines and operates within the rules and regs of multiple states that prohibit smaller businesses from expanding across state lines with any kind of zip and zeal… especially when we’re still in the midst of a near crisis in banking for many state legal cannabis industry businesses. 

UPDATE: Banking still isn’t sorted out, branding still can’t travel across state lines for many products, and the vape crisis has dealt a body blow to many companies in the industry, and mainstream also. 

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But your marketing plan doesn’t have to include branding.  If you’re a small shop, it should include a few things that would normally get separated into different “departments” in more traditional businesses, especially those that may have multiple locations. 

Here’s a partial list of items that I think you should include in your marijuana dispensary marketing plan:

#1 – Some sort of organized list of goals that you hope to achieve with your marketing efforts.  

If you’re a small shop, you should go ahead and include advertising and sales functions into your marketing plan – you can always split those out later on, but in the beginning, it’s a better idea to keep everything handy and in an easy format to refer to often (and please do refer to it often, otherwise it’s just a waste of time). 

#2 – Some sort of organized list of ways that you can meet those goals.  

I know this sounds super simple, almost to the point of rhetoric, but I think we can all agree that procrastination, absentmindedness, and a lot of time spent putting out fires leads to forgetting simple, common, oft-repeated ideas under pressure.  Having your marijuana dispensary marketing plan include this list – especially early on in your business life – goes back to my comment about keeping things handy. 

#3 – An accurate assessment of where you currently are with marketing, sales campaigns, advertising and other efforts that we’re including in this basket.  

If you don’t know what you don’t know, then how will you learn?  I’d love to say that every marketing effort we jumped on around here was super successful and worth its weight in gold; that’s not true, quite the opposite.  Some of the ideas we thought would get the most traction never even got a toe hold in practice.  And then we have those things we did, not knowing they were going to be great ideas…  you get my drift. 

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You’re going to need a spreadsheet, Google doc, whatever, for this part of the plan – get your rows and columns sorted out, and start keeping track of what you spent and what you got for it.  Don’t forget to keep track of your expenses attending events and trade shows – these are often overlooked when it comes time to decide what’s money well spent and a good ROI. 

How should you organize or format these documents?

Personally, I like to keep a neat set of files, that are pretty easily organized into some slides or a quick Ken Burns style video presentation with a bit of voice over.   While it’s entirely possible that you may never show your marijuana dispensary marketing plan to another soul, you could find yourself pitching an investor, making a case to a potential buyer, or even going to a financial company to get a loan to expand.  

Having your marketing plan, along with your regular business plan, demonstrates that you’re organized, you realize the business can and should be divided into segments and that each segment – marketing & sales, operations, compliance, etc all deserve to have a comprehensive (and up to date) plan that covers how you intend to run the business.  

Every savvy investor or decent businessperson knows that those plans are very rarely going to be the actual roadmap that your success follows, but it’s comforting and business-like when you have real documents that have thought behind them that you can show prospective partners, investors, etc.

What should you leave out of your marijuana dispensary marketing plan?

Again, this is my personal opinion here, but I would leave the P&L, cash flow statements, and that sort of thing out of your marijuana dispensary marketing plan.  

While those are certainly relevant documents for some conversations, it’s absolutely not something you need to show your employees, vendors, etc; these people should see your marketing plan, and you should take some time to talk it though with them – being on the same page is always a good idea. 

If you’ve got a particularly good relationship with a vendor, you could leverage your plan to discuss co-op advertising money, cross promotions, and other partnership opportunities that might benefit you both.  

Showing your budtenders and sales staff what you’re thinking is a great way to get their input, and to get them excited about helping you grow your business.  Don’t forget things like contests (for customers and employees where legal) to pump up sales and push for some local branding for your dispensary. 

Mobile campaigns and messaging should be your priority for reach and engagement on a 24/7 scale. 

I shouldn’t have to remind you that marketing, branding, sales, advertising and nearly any other forward facing facet of your plan should include, and heavily rely on, mobile as the delivery means.  Whether you’re planning a big push with Leafly, Weedmaps,, or High Times, making sure you’re at the front and center of mobile notifications and updates is a great (CHEAP!) way to stretch your marketing budget. 

With that last piece of advice, I’m wrapping it up for this week.  As always, feel free to drop us a line if you’ve got questions about how to get started with mobile, what you should be looking for in a processing bank, or any of those types of situations.  

This article was originally created in 2017, and was recently updated with new information.