The Bones Of A Good Cannabis Marketing Plan

by | Oct 27, 2023

Whether you’re focused on one marketing campaign or a broader strategy, a strong marketing plan is the necessary backbone for success. This essential document — or set of documents — keeps your marketing team on track. Whether you’re a small business owner wearing all the hats or you have a marketing team, a well constructed marketing plan is an indispensable tool for getting the word out.

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan describes the tangible steps a company intends to take to achieve the goals outlined in its marketing strategy. These goals can include:

  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Nurturing leads
  • Driving sales
  • Launching products or services
  • Data-gathering for future planning

Depending on your goals and workflow, you may choose to create marketing plans on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. Regardless, your marketing plan should be an evolving document that’s constantly revised and updated as you gather additional data from each of your campaigns.

For smaller businesses and nimble teams, one overarching marketing plan should be plenty. For larger operations, a marketing plan may consist of additional smaller plans, such as a social media marketing plan, content marketing plan, or a new product launch plan. This can help separate teams move in the same direction in their respective focus areas.

What do the bones of a good marketing plan include?

Executive summary

This section is an overview of your marketing plan. It’s useful for communicating what your plan covers to those who are not in the marketing trenches. 

Target audience

Describe in this section the types of customers most likely to need your product and services. If you have it, use data if you can to back up these ideas. You can also develop buyer personas, which are detailed characters that represent each type of customer. These profiles help you zero in on the right messaging.


In this section, set some clear, measurable goals you would like to achieve. These should be goals that easily link to a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). Consider metrics like impressions, conversions, and sales that can be tied back to your marketing activities. If you can’t quantify your goal to monitor success, it might not be the best target to include.

Competitive analysis

The best marketing plans include a competitor analysis so you can see what works, what doesn’t work, and what you can do to be different. There are many ways to conduct this analysis, including a SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Whichever method you employ, be sure to analyze your top competitors to get an understanding of what they’re doing (and what they’re not) and how that creates opportunities for your marketing team to cut through the noise.


Staying on budget is critical, as your marketing campaigns should ultimately drive an overall return on investment (ROI). Your budget should outline anything you plan to spend money on, including:

  • Expected labor costs
  • Ad spend
  • Tools and subscription costs
  • Merch production costs
  • Event marketing costs
  • Sponsorship fees

It should also include anticipated revenue from your marketing activities. 

12 strategies a cannabis marketing plan should consider

Whether you’re opening a dispensary or launching a new product, the below 11 strategies may find a home in your marketing plan as you build out its structure. Not every strategy is applicable for every marketing plan, but this list gives you things to think about.

1. SEO

Short for search engine optimization, SEO is an umbrella term that includes all the tactics that help your website reach customers on search engines. In cannabis, SEO is one of the few channels not subject to restrictions in itself, although any activities done to enhance SEO, like content marketing, must still adhere to your state’s rules.

Paid advertising is a sticky subject in cannabis, as platforms like Google Ads technically do not allow cannabis content. However, many dispensaries and other types of cannabis companies attempt workarounds, sometimes successfully.

3. Social media

TikTok, Instagram, Linkedin, and other social media platforms are another tricky one for cannabis, as many of these platforms have policies prohibiting cannabis content. But the fact is, customers still look for your company on these platforms. Getting creative with out-of-the-box ideas, influencer partnerships, and other tactics can help you excel on these platforms.

4. Content marketing

Tied closely to SEO, social media, and email marketing, a robust content marketing plan provides readers with the information needed to make good decisions about their choices – and ultimately, the choice to buy from you. Depending on your sector, this can include:

  • Cannabis education
  • In-depth gated content
  • Case studies
  • Product reviews
  • Interviews and spotlights

5. Email marketing

In the cannabis industry, email marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach customers. Reaching a customer in their inbox is a powerful thing. There are many cannabis-friendly email marketing platforms that you can use to set up email lists, design and send emails, build drip campaigns, analyze data, and more.

6. Text message marketing

Text message marketing may be very effective, but it doesn’t come without its headaches in the cannabis industry. It’s not uncommon for cannabis companies to be kicked off messaging platforms or by the networks themselves that do not want to disseminate cannabis-related sales information. It’s still a valuable and powerful avenue to leverage for many cannabis companies. Many of the cannabis-friendly tools for email marketing also include a text message marketing component, so be sure to look for that feature when evaluating vendors.

7. Video marketing

Video is one of the most powerful ways to connect to and build relationships with customers. Whether your campaign calls for a full video production or just some quick clips captured on a quality smartphone, this tactic can be used to enhance many strategies on this list.

8. Out-of-home and digital out-of-home

Out-of-home and digital out-of-home (OOH and DOOH) refers to ads like billboards that your customers encounter while out and about. Depending on your state’s regulations and the policies of the company that owns the property, cannabis advertising may be allowed. Some companies have restrictions, such as not showing a pot leaf, while others have few to no restrictions.

9. Programmatic advertising

Generally regarded as a safer alternative to paid search because they are designed specifically for cannabis, programmatic advertising uses advanced targeting and automated media buying technologies to reach your target audience. Be sure to work with a company that is cannabis-friendly, such as Surfside.

10. Retail marketing

This strategy involves tactics you may leverage to bring people into your shop and how they navigate your store once they step foot inside. Many of these strategies are regulated by state or local law, so be sure to brush up on what’s allowed in your state before making your marketing plan. Some common retail marketing elements include:

  • Pop-up events, commonly leveraged by brands in dispensaries
  • Loyalty programs and promotions
  • Retail design
  • Window displays

11. Trade shows and event marketing

Trade shows remain an effective and popular way for cannabis companies to get in front of an audience of interested customers. Whether you have a booth, sponsor a trade show, or simply go to enjoy the scene, it may be worth investigating trade show marketing options in a desired geographic region or by specialty.

12. Cross-promotion

Cannabis companies are better together! Opportunities for cross-promotion can expose new audiences to your products or services. Your marketing plan may want to include opportunities for alignment with other brands and ways you can work together to elevate one another’s profile.

4 challenges for creating a cannabis marketing plan

If you want to ensure your cannabis marketing plan has legs, there are some realities to take into account. 

1. State regulations

Because cannabis remains federally illegal, each state sets up and regulates its own supply chain. That means the rules vary from state to state. Even in places like New York and New Jersey, which are right next to one another, the marketing rules can be quite different. The bottom line: you need to be intimately familiar with the marketing regulations in your state when crafting your marketing plan. 

Common state regulations for plant-touching companies like dispensaries and cannabis product brands include requirements to avoid marketing to underaged people, restrictions on how and where you can advertise, and packaging requirements. Some states also prohibit tactics that non-cannabis companies take for granted, such as sales and discounts. You may want to take the extra step of showing your marketing plan to legal counsel or a compliance specialist to ensure everything you’ve included is in line with your state’s regulations.

2. Channel restrictions and limitations

There are some marketing channels that don’t like to provide a platform for cannabis. Some social media platforms frequently suspend cannabis accounts for terms of service violations. Marketing and advertising on some conventional media outlets, like television or radio, may violate regulations. Understand where you can safely market and what type of content is permitted on each platform to avoid wasting time and money on an effort that ends up being counter-productive.

Want to learn more about social platforms and how social media algorithms work? Check out our guide on how to succeed at social media marketing.

3. Evolving audience demographics

The cannabis industry is a rapidly changing place that serves brand-new customers and seasoned veterans at the same time in the same markets. As new product types become more common, the way existing consumers shop changes as well. It’s critical to keep your finger on the pulse of the market by staying apprised of the latest headlines, hosting focus groups, and issuing customer surveys.

4. Overcoming stigma

Although most Americans can access some form of legal cannabis, traces of stigma still remain. This can have an effect on your marketing plans and even change course on some of your ideas. For example, some communities may not want a dispensary to sponsor a community cleanup or health fair due to optics. Such a denial means you would have to go back to the drawing board. It’s a good idea to have backup ideas and contingency plans in place for these instances, especially when trying something new.

Cannabis marketing plan mistakes to avoid

Avoiding fractures in your cannabis marketing plan is as simple as conducting your due diligence early. Avoiding these mistakes ensures your marketing plan has strong bones that won’t bend or break under pressure. 

  • Skipping over research: Your marketing plan should be grounded in real data and research whenever possible. Don’t make assumptions about your target audience or your competitors when working on these sections of your plan. Whether you’re incorporating historical sales data, customer feedback, or granular competitor analysis, make sure it’s based on verifiable facts to the greatest extent possible.
  • Unrealistic budgeting: Trying to make your budget look pretty on paper sets you up for disappointment when the actuals come in. Be conservative in your estimates and do your best to stay as close to your true expectations as possible. Underestimating expenses and overestimating revenue is a recipe for disaster, but it happens more often than you might think.
  • No specifics: When you don’t include enough detail or measurable goals in your marketing plan, it can leave you unprepared for the fast-paced, ongoing realities of marketing. If your plan is focused on social media marketing, for example, it should identify which channels you’re pursuing, which types of users you’d like to reach, and an estimate of how much content you’ll need on a weekly basis to reach those goals. Try to get as specific as possible in each section, and remember the importance of quantifying your activities. If you can’t tie it to a number, it may not be detailed enough.

How to prepare to launch your cannabis marketing plan

Audit the basics

Cannabis marketing plans are all about good bones — they’re foundational and keep your strategy upright. The same goes for your daily operations. Take the time to check the major components of your campaign for form and function before you begin.

Some elements to audit include:

  • Website load times, user experience, and overall functionality, including proper form and lead collection setup
  • How you’re collecting customer information, organizing it, and leveraging it across multiple strategy types
  • Conducting an inventory of the content on your website and using that as a base to create more content or build educational campaigns

Know your audience

We talked about it before, but it bears repeating. Spreading the word involves knowing who you’re talking to. “Anyone with a wallet” isn’t helpful as consumers become more nuanced and discerning in this rapidly-maturing market. Take the time to learn about your customers, whether through their past purchasing behaviors, market trends in your city, or through developing personas and tailoring your marketing plan to specific audiences. 

Map the customer journey

Put yourself in a potential customer’s shoes. Is it easy for them to sign up for emails, receive texts, or enter into an Instagram contest? If you or your team find it difficult or annoying to go through the motions, chances are, your audience will, too. Refine this process before launching any campaign.

Solidify your budget

This is another point that deserves multiple mentions. Burning through the budget can be detrimental to a campaign, especially if it’s working and you can no longer afford it. Think conservatively before any launch, and always account for any extras or incidents that may pop up along the way.

Develop a top notch cannabis marketing plan with CannaContent

No bones about it, a well thought out marketing plan is essential for reaching your target market effectively. Unless you’re a professional marketer, it can be tricky to make sure you’ve checked all the right boxes. That’s where CannaContent can help. Our team of experienced creatives and project managers have years of experience serving all market segments of the cannabis industry. We can develop and execute upon a comprehensive marketing plan that connects your business to your target market. If you’re ready to take command of your cannabis brand, contact us for a quote today.