Digital Goes IRL: How Retail Design and Internet Marketing Unite to Elevate Dispensaries

by | Nov 17, 2023

As your dispensary barrels into the next busy season, digital marketing alone can’t do all the heavy lifting. Connecting your efforts to the retail experience is paramount to winning over new happy customers who intend to return time and again. How are you leveraging all the tools at your disposal before major shopping events like Green Wednesday, Black Friday, and 4/20?

Budder Creative Co-Founder and Principal Creative Michael Marra joined CannaContent Founder and Content Strategist Stella Morrison for an in-depth conversation about the many ways digital marketing goes IRL.

The retail experience in cannabis: What lessons can we learn from other industries? 

Marra, who has prior experience working with brands like DKNY and Estee Lauder, walked viewers through the essential components of the retail experience and what marketers consider as they design a space.

“All these [interactions with customers] happen in different places and it’s important to have a plan for the path to purchase to ensure that the customer journey is meaningful and intentional,” Marra said. “This allows for a more robust and memorable retail experience.”

Some of the areas Marra highlighted include:

Promoting hero products

Where are your best-sellers, top products, or seasonal products located in the dispensary? Where and how they’re displayed is key to giving shoppers what they want, steering them to what you want them to buy, or guiding them to walk a certain path through the store.

“The first thing that we would consider in traditional retail would be an opportunity for promoting new and notable,” Marra said. “And this shouldn’t just be new things — often, there are seasonal promotions and cross-merchandising opportunities to highlight, too.”

What these opportunities look like depends on what you want to accomplish. A marketing campaign to promote vaporizers alongside flower has different aims than showcasing gingerbread-flavored edibles for the winter holidays.

Educating shoppers

The more information you can provide about a product, the more likely customers are to understand its purpose and use — and they’re more likely to be satisfied with it when they buy. Signage accompanying a product display can offer supporting information that doesn’t fit on a product package. You may want to consider leveraging QR codes for this as well.

“Not only does it give you a better opportunity to sell that product and present it in a meaningful way, but it creates a cohesive experience that helps build trust with customers,” Marra shared.

Marketing opportunities

The many touchpoints between shoppers and products throughout the dispensary creates opportunities to involve brand partners, something quite common in traditional retail. Marketing and brand activation initiatives often found in traditional retail can and should make their way into a dispensary’s marketing plans.

“There are opportunities for supporting your brand partners to consider,” Marra said.

Signage and flyers are two common examples you’ll see in dispensaries. You’ll find some other examples throughout this blog. Notably, Marra said, window displays common in retail are off-limits or quite restricted for most dispensaries. 

How do digital marketing and the retail experience converge?

The lines between online and brick-and-mortar experiences are blurring, both in the literal sense like the Metaverse and figurative, yet still equally real, ways.

“When we approach retail, we think… that your first point of contact is probably one of those streams of social or web,” Marra said. “How do we continue that conversation in a meaningful way?”

The shopping experience starts before customers step through the door

The internet has profoundly changed how consumers shop. With a wealth of information at their fingertips, the overwhelming majority of customers Google your dispensary, a particular strain, or a brand before they step foot in the store. (And once they’re in the store, there’s a chance they’re looking up brands or strains while standing in front of the products, too!)

With so many folks interacting with your dispensary before their visit, it opens an opportunity to meaningfully engage with customers before that first visit to your shop. This sort of reputation-building can lay the foundation for repeat visitors well before consumers come to the store. 

Digital marketing helps shape in-person shopper expectations

In many ways, a dispensary’s digital marketing primes customers for the retail experience. Shoppers see pictures and videos of the store on social media, in emails, on your website, and on your Google Business Profile. Through these touchpoints, they become familiar with your store layout and your product displays. This means they’ll have a general idea of what they need to do and where they need to go when they arrive. If the real-life experience deviates from what customers have seen online, it may not leave a favorable impression.

Take NYC dispensary Union Square Travel Agency as an example. When the store opened its Union Square location, CannaContent produced blogs that illustrated the experience shoppers can expect in the dispensary’s Flower Lounge, its Eero Saarinen-influenced-inspired interior, and what you can expect when interacting with budtenders. This type of content not only engages first-time visitors, but sets them up to expect an enriching experience.

Continuity between digital and retail messaging can shape customer behavior

You want your dispensary’s messaging to strike the same notes across all customer touchpoints. This is called omnichannel merchandising, and it’s key to locking in sales. This strategy ensures you can steer as many customers as possible to take the actions in store you want them to take. This requires tapping into retail marketing best practices, understanding how shoppers move through a store, and how they interact with the options in front of them.

4 ways to use digital marketing to support the in-store experience

Retail and digital marketing strategies are part of the same equation. Working together creates a best-in-class brick-and-mortar experience that begins way before that first visit. Here’s how you start. 

1. Email marketing, text message marketing, and in-store product placement

The close collaboration and communication between digital marketers and the retail experience ensures the customer journey is seamless. A key part of this is product placement itself. Customers get an email or a text message about a special promotion or sale, and they come into the store to take advantage of the deal. Where are you displaying those products, and how? Utilizing your retail space helps draw in shoppers and encourages them to take the actions you want them to take.

From cash wrap product displays to a brand’s shelf presence, digital marketing teams can check in with retailers to make sure those sale products are easy to find. Even details as simple as lighting can make a world of difference in drawing shoppers’ eyes where you want them to go.

“You’re presenting products in a way that should feel precious, interesting, and something that you want to take home,” Marra said. 

2. Social media marketing and setting customer expectations

Use TikTok, Reels, and other social media platforms to show customers the kind of experience they can expect when they come to your dispensary. From practical advice to sexy marketing videos, use the power of the customer’s feed to start the conversation way before the viewer types “dispensary near me” into a search engine.

“You want the conversation to continue in a natural way,” Marra said. 

Some ways you can leverage social media to support the experience in the physical store include:

  • Showing customers where in the store they can find a new product
  • Prominently featuring budtenders and staff members in social media content
  • Sharing messaging on social media that can be seen or experienced in the dispensary

3. Content marketing, consumer education, and store organization

Each shopper’s relationship with cannabis is unique and individualized. Many are learning to look up products beyond the indica/sativa divide, which is a classification of the plant’s appearance and not its effects. 

One such way to organize products is by effect. Shoppers know that different product types are best for certain desired outcomes, like energy, focus, relaxation, or creativity. This is supported through search engine data, which shows consumers are increasingly aware that different types of cannabis products and cultivars have different effects. This opens an opportunity to create content and build a marketing campaign around effects, which is further emphasized by effects-specific displays in the store.

“Cannabis affects different people in different ways, but there are certain aspects to the effects of different strains that can be promoted,” Marra said. “If you have a place to start the conversation, it makes this uncertain experience better. If someone comes into the store and isn’t sure what to buy, but they know they can’t sleep and they see a sleep section, this gives them a place to go.”

Marra emphasized how this retail design can also give customers “talking points” to explore other products and answer the most common question customers have: “What do you recommend?”

“That sale is very dependent on the budtender’s response,” Marra said, adding that the effects-based displays encourage more specific conversations with dispensary staff. “With this approach, the conversation [with the budtender] has already started.”

4. TV displays and product marketing

Considering how many other menu touchpoints there are — from online and app-based menus to in-store kiosks — Marra encourages retailers to think of other ways to leverage that valuable space behind the budtenders to educate customers and share other important information.

“The area behind the [point of sale] is often underutilized,” Marra shared. “People often focus on putting menus up, and maybe they’re all repeating or scrolling the same content.” 

Marra encourages retailers to get creative with what goes on these screens.

“The TV screens don’t need to display menus all the time,” Marra said. “This could open up a cool opportunity to talk more about your dispensary, promoting a particular product, or cross-promoting multiple products … Now, maybe, a shopper is interested in a different type of product they wouldn’t have considered before.”

Align retail and dispensary marketing in time for the busy season

Whether you’re preparing for Green Wednesday or gearing up for 7/10, retail and digital marketing efforts are dependent on one another for success. These omnichannel marketing opportunities create an experience that can turn one-time shoppers into enthusiastic, repeat customers. With a strong customer focus that takes both retail and digital marketing into account, your dispensary marketing becomes an unstoppable force as you head into the most important sales seasons.

Turn to digital marketing experts who know the importance of involving all stakeholders. At CannaContent, our team prioritizes working closely with everyone on your team, from store managers to CMOs and everyone in between. When everyone is on the same page, your marketing plans level up to an unstoppable force.