Successful marketing strategies for CBD businesses must be strategic and thoughtful, as well as wide in scope, namely because the CBD industry presents a wellspring of potential across a variety of markets. Yet, CBD brands in the United States are in a strange waiting period concerning FDA approval and subsequent compliance standards. Therefore, as you develop a CBD marketing strategy, you must account for both opportunity and uncertainty every step of the way.
According to the popular website Market Watch, “Ever since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD has existed in a sort of regulatory limbo. While the bill legalized hemp, it did not legalize CBD, but rather moved enforcement of the substance away from the Drug Enforcement Administration and over to the FDA.” As we continue to wait for FDA regulation, CBD marketing teams must continuously pivot to ensure their message is compliant and up-to-date with current standards.
The CBD industry of today is colored by a mix of hopeful entrepreneurs, regulatory uncertainties, startup companies, unpredictable markets, and changing drug policies. This rapidly shifting mire of business interests and government agencies is fueled by billions of dollars in investor capital and a newfound global hunger for “everything CBD.”
The Uniqueness of the CBD Industry
It’s no secret that opportunities in the cannabis and hemp industries are directly related to expanding legalization efforts. While the legalization of hemp is undoubtedly historic for universal advocacy efforts, a federal hemp industry does not necessarily translate into an easy environment in which to do business.
In a strange and unprecedented turn of events, the federal legalization of hemp created perhaps the most confusing and convoluted facet of the modern cannabis space - that being CBD products. To illustrate, our peers in state-regulated medical/recreational cannabis markets (working with federally illegal THC products) have the luxury of largely knowing “the rules.” Conversely, the current hemp-derived CBD marketplace exists in a grey area where hemp is considered legal, and CBD is considered, well, “kind of legal.”
On their website, the FDA poses a very important question concerning the CBD business: “Is it legal for me to sell CBD products?” They answer with, “It depends, among other things, on the intended use of the product and how it is labeled and marketed.” While this quote is undoubtedly frustrating for those people looking for clear federal guidance on the CBD business, it does inform our approach to CBD marketing. Most importantly, it tells us you have to be very careful “what you say” and “how you say it.”
CBD Marketing Guide Overview
Forewarnings aside, there is an undeniable excitement fueling the global CBD marketplace. To this end, just 5-10 short years ago, most people had no idea that CBD even existed. Looking at the market today, CBD has become a global phenomenon sparking unprecedented growth for an industry based on a semi-legal cannabinoid. Amazingly, while still operating in a legal grey area, CBD products can be found on the shelves of most major retail outlets in the U.S; The same can be said about such online juggernauts as Amazon.
As new companies enter the CBD space, marketing teams must be shrewdly aware of both the risks and rewards that are systemic throughout the industry. Importantly, it is possible to be aggressive with CBD product expansion plans, while also paying careful attention to the developments occurring within such agencies as the FDA. For hopeful and established CBD brands out there, MOST consulting put together some important criteria as a guide for marketing CBD products.
If interested in developing a sound marketing strategy for your CBD company, please take a look at the below categories.
CBD Market Diversity
The more we learn about CBD, the more applications we find for this amazing cannabinoid. This fact has led to the development of a vast array of CBD products that penetrate an equally impressive number of markets. These markets span from health and wellness to pet products - and everything in between.
In developing a marketing plan for your CBD company, it’s essential to understand where CBD products are being sold. As you come to learn about these sales channels, you can develop marketing strategies that attract retail/wholesale buyers as well as their potential customers. These channels exist in traditional “brick and mortar” capacities, as well as more modern digital options.
Traditional Retail Stores
Today’s most established CBD product companies have developed partnerships with leading retail stores. According to Forbes, retail powerhouses such as Krogers, CVS, American Eagle, Dillards, Whole Foods, and Walgreens now carry CBD goods in one fashion or another. The sheer diversity of CBD products at these stores is apparent through a kaleidoscope of tinctures, topicals, salves, vapors, balms, and pet products.
Needless to say, CBD marketing plans today must acknowledge major retail players such as those listed above. In order to attract this caliber of a client with your marketing strategy, you should focus on professional branding as well as making a splash at major retail tradeshows.
Specialty CBD Shops
Just as quickly as major retail players made space on their shelves for CBD, a slew of specialty stores also opened to offer these new goods. One of the most notable specialty CBD stores is American Shaman, a full-fledged franchise chain that has opened over 350 stores nationwide to date - with plans on opening over 400 in the future.
Specialty CBD shops should be a major focus of any CBD marketing strategy today. Importantly, while “big box” retailers like Krogers certainly have a leg-up on foot-traffic, specialty shops such as American Shaman see much more targeted consumer visits.
Since specialty stores are often smaller than their counterparts in mainstream retail, CBD product marketing teams have the advantage of contacting them more directly. Therefore, marketing plans for these smaller retailers should include email campaigns, store visits, and as well as free sample giveaways.
It can’t be denied that the internet is quickly becoming our preferred method of shopping. From clothes to cars to groceries, people enjoy shopping from the comforts of their own home. The CBD product industry is certainly not insulated from this fact.
When designing your CBD marketing strategy, e-commerce plans are essential. That being said, your company should start with an easy-to-find e-commerce page on its website. To facilitate ample online sales through your website, you should invest time and money into such things as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and digital ad campaigns. After all, if people can’t find your online store, how can they purchase your products?
E-commerce operations for CBD companies also entail placing your products for sale on leading online platforms like Amazon. This process can be quite time consuming, as your e-commerce team must work to develop attractive imagery, graphics, and product descriptions. Even more, you can “sponsor” your products on Amazon, so they are visible above your competitors.
Flexibility in CBD Marketing Strategy
As we touched upon in the introduction to this marketing guide, the future of the CBD industry is largely unknown. To this end, it’s best that your CBD marketing strategy is flexible enough to change with the evolving regulations coming from the FDA. Even more, each U.S. state has unique rules of their own concerning the legality of CBD and subsequent marketing regulations.
The legal standing of CBD products can become even more confusing when analyzed on a state-by-state basis. Here are a couple of examples:
The state of Iowa has been particularly perplexing concerning the legal status of CBD. To date, CBD is considered illegal within the borders of Iowa, unless you have a doctor’s recommendation. Nonetheless, like the rest of the country, many retail businesses in Iowa have moved forward with CBD sales, even with the threat of legal prosecution.
Colorado is widely known as a cannabis-friendly state. This notion also rings true for CBD, as Colorado has made the cannabinoid fully legal on all fronts. Therefore, within the state of Colorado, you can market your CBD goods just like any “normal” products.
The CBD legality state-of-affairs in Iowa and Colorado make for great examples of why your CBD marketing plan should always remain flexible. Importantly, you must be able to mold marketing strategy to the demands of unique state markets, all the while maintaining the integrity of your original brand messaging. Even more, it’s likely that Iowa’s CBD industry will evolve to more closely resemble that of Colorado, while both markets can also be influenced at any time by federal intervention.
Compliant CBD Marketing
While CBD product companies patiently await FDA guidance on a vast majority of the industry, there is one thing that the federal government has been very vocal about: CBD marketing. To this end, the FDA has spoken out explicitly about how CBD companies choose to describe their products. Therefore, your CBD marketing team must carefully control your brand message to avoid an unfortunate run-in with the federal government. That being said, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for the latest updates to CBD compliance regulations.
In looking again at the FDA website, CBD companies find some very complex guidelines that must be followed to safely market their products. Within this regulatory framework, the FDA has established a convoluted web of terminology concerning such common CBD descriptors like “drug” and “dietary supplement.” While it is no doubt challenging to understand this legal jargon, there are a few key points we can take away in developing marketing plans for CBD products.
It is vital that your CBD marketing team carefully controls your brand message, so the term “drug” is never used to describe CBD products. The FDA website makes it very clear: besides the pharmaceutical drug Epidiolex,“there are no other FDA-approved drug products that contain CBD.”
As many CBD brands have found, the FDA is not bluffing about this crackdown. Nearly every month, we see reports of government intervention with CBD companies who describe their products as drugs with medical value.
The FDA website continues, “Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the law but also can put patients at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective.”
Needless to say, we have to be patient with the federal government as we wait for CBD medicine studies, regulations, and approvals. While the health benefits of CBD may be glaringly apparent to many of us, large-scale government studies are notoriously slow. Therefore, it will be some time before you can get FDA approval on your CBD products as legitimate drugs and finally brand them accordingly.
Dietary Supplement Terminology
Just as we see with the term drug, the FDA does not approve of CBD companies referring to their products as “dietary supplements.” While this term likely offered CBD brands a convenient marketing loophole in the early days of the industry, the federal government has taken notice as of late.
The FDA website also goes into detail about why CBD cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement. In a somewhat arbitrary argument, they claim CBD cannot be legally called a dietary supplement because it is actively researched as a “new drug.” Beyond this statement, the FDA proceeds to back their reasoning with several confusing paragraphs stuffed with legal terminology and cross-references to other regulations/statutes.
While dissecting the FDA’s line-of-reasoning for CBD language exclusions is beyond the scope of this work, it is worth noting that they allow for other parts of the hemp plant to be dubbed “dietary supplements.” As a result, it would be worthwhile to have your legal team assess if you can use the term dietary supplements to describe terpenes, chlorophyll, or other plant materials found in hemp.
CBD Product Reliability
The CBD space has operated in a legal grey area since its inception. As such, the industry has lacked any sort of uniform product testing standards. In turn, this situation has led to a marketplace notoriously plagued by poor quality CBD products. In the worst cases, shady businesses sell fake or even unhealthy products.
In order to rise above shady dealings in CBD and help usher in a new era of legitimacy for the industry, operators should make product purity an integral part of their business. Based on this information, CBD marketing teams should include messages of product transparency in their overall brand identity.
A surefire way to promote CBD purity in your brand message is by publishing testing results on your website and product packaging. Many CBD companies make their Certificates of Analysis (COA) public in order to promote Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in the industry.
By taking extra steps in product testing and ingredient transparency, you will help new customers feel comfortable with your product while also insulating yourself from future regulatory hurdles set forth by the FDA.
It can’t be denied that the CBD industry is here to stay. As such, in order to capitalize on the global CBD phenomenon, you must balance aggressiveness with meticulousness in your marketing strategy. Even more, you must go to extra lengths to ensure your products and brand are ready for FDA rules and regulations when they come to light. Needless to say, this is a very challenging process.
It's important to remember that the CBD business is brand new. Therefore, while we wait for the FDA to catch up with the industry, it’s essential that we do our best to create a good reputation for ourselves. For marketing CBD teams, this process involves honesty and transparency every step of the way. By following these important points from MOST consulting, you can begin to lay the groundwork for long term viability in the ever-changing and always-exciting CBD space.