What Is Influencer Marketing and How Can It Help Cannabis Businesses?

Leafly is the first ever cannabis company to sponsor SXSW, and as we gear up for this year’s festival, we decided to take a look at one of the most crucial pieces of any successful brand: influencer marketing. With cannabis restricted by the federal government, many standard marketing platforms are off-limits. Because traditional marketing efforts off the table, cannabis brands have to be incredibly creative to ensure their campaigns are successful.

We spoke with Dominick Damico, the founder of Adspire, the world’s fastest growing influencer marketing agency dedicated to cannabis, to see how cannabis businesses can make the most of their brand by using outside influencers to boost their audience and maximize their marketing impact.

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Leafly: What is influencer marketing?

Dominick Damico: Influencer marketing is the usage of people and platforms to drive a brand’s message to a target market. The influencer can be a person, a website, or a social media page. Essentially, any person or platform that has influence over an audience can be considered an influencer.

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What are some examples of different types of influencers?

  • Niched: These influencers are typically devoted to a specific market or subject (ex. Cannabis / beauty / sports / etc.)
  • Celebrity: These influencers are traditional celebrity types (artists, athletes, entertainers)
  • Social: These influencers found their fame through social media platforms
  • Micro: These influencers have a small amount of influence, but they can be useful when brands are looking to activate many niches at once
  • Localized: These influencers and their content are typically localized (ex. “Seattle Stoners”)

Influencers can fall under more than one of the categories above. For example, there are localized-micro influencers, and there are social-niched influencers.

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What are some of the challenges of achieving impact through influencer marketing?

The number of followers does not necessarily equal impact. Bigger is not always better. Many brands make the mistake of judging the value of an influencer based on how much influence they possess. Engagement rate is the holy grail of measuring influencer value. This is because a 100k influencer with a 50% engagement rate gets five times more action than a 1 million influencer with a 1% engagement rate. I’ve seen pages with millions of followers that get less engagement than pages 1/10th their size.

Your content and ads will not do well just because they’re going out to a lot of people. There is a misconception that influencers have the magical allure of getting their fans to do what they want. Just because you post your products, content, and ads on influencer platforms in the same industry, doesn’t mean you will get results. They need to be aligned with your content style, focused on value-add, and consist of a well thought out advertisement or post. It’s no different than any other advertising methods. Bad ads and content will always perform badly.

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When do you think paid digital marketing channels may be available to cannabis brands? What about print/traditional marketing?

Hard to say. I’d imagine even if Google, Facebook, etc. does want to get on board, their legal team will give them the thumbs down due to the current federal standing of cannabis. I would guess 3-6 years for USA advertising only, or whenever cannabis is no longer a federally illicit substance in America. As for the rest of the world, I have no clue.

I do believe that print advertising at a local level is easier to access. This is because local print works within the jurisdiction of state lines, where cannabis is legal. It’s different for these digital companies that have an international presence and have much more pressure to abide by federal law compared to the local print companies complying within their jurisdictions.

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Do you have any tips to run a successful influencer marketing campaign?

  • Keep up with social rules and algorithms: Social media platforms are always changing the rules of the game. Companies that don’t stay nimble and up to date on the latest rules can miss out on changes required to maximize success.
  • Keep up with the latest marketing trends: Take some time out of each day to go through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and platforms of interest. This will help you recognize what is working well for other pages and companies. It helps you to identify successful and unsuccessful marketing strategies without having to spend your own money to find out.
  • Follow page patterns: If an account only does direct photo posts, try to format your marketing campaign so that specific influencer drives your goal with a direct photo post.
  • Be good to the influencers you work with: At the end of the day this is a relationships game. Everyone knows everyone and if you screw over an influencer, other influencers will find out about it and won’t want to work with your company. These influencers get plenty of opportunity. At the end of the day, they are going to want to work with people they like who treat them fairly.
  • If you aren’t sure how to do all of this, outsource it to Adspire: I’ve watched new companies waste thousands of dollars on influencers and campaigns that absolutely bombed due to their lack of expertise. We’ve got the knowledge and experience to make your influencer marketing campaign a success.

You can hear more about influencer marketing at the SXSW Conference. Leafly will be sponsoring a three-part track of cannabis programming, including one keynote speaker and two panels, on March 14, 2017.

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