One of the fastest growing industries in the world is CBD, or cannabidiol, derived from cannabis. We have seen the amount of users in the UK double between 2018 and 2019, while it’s predicted the industry will be worth 1 billion pounds by 2025.
As you can imagine, the regulations around this emerging product line are blurry at best, however we are seeing the laws relax around the world.
While there have been a huge amount of CBD brands selling products of all different levels of quality, there were also fears around certain products containing pesticides or heavy metals when not managed properly.
The Food Standards Agency therefore brought out a deadline for a novel food application to be completed. This was a dossier, which would cost brands a lot of money to complete all the requirements, but was a necessity to ensure higher levels of regulations would be achieved.
This will also help to ‘weed out’ (no pun intended) the cowboys and ensure the real brands are left over. The deadline was set for the 31st March 2021, so we are just starting to see the dust settle and which brands will emerge.
Another key factor in the emergence of CBD brands was the Farm Bill in the USA. This bill legalised the regulated production of industrial hemp, allowing people to legally grow cannabis farms.
This led to a huge amount of CBD brands being launched in the USA, many of which are now selling over here in the UK.
Issues With Marketing
I have worked in marketing for over 10 years. I was a judge for the EU Search Awards and the UK Agency Awards, I’ve worked both agency and in-house while I’ve also represented a vast number of brands. However, I can say without doubt, the CBD industry is the hardest to do marketing in.
From regulations to negative connotations, social platforms rejecting advertisements and banner advertising requiring no benefits, it is an absolute mine field. I will therefore go through the reasons why it is difficult, before offering some alternative methods to handle the marketing for your CBD brand.
Amazon Doesn’t Accept CBD Brands
While some brands have sneaked around this by not highlighting what their product contains, or being a little clever with their wording, the reality is you can’t sell CBD products on Amazon. Being the biggest marketplace in the world, this has held back a number of CBD brands from managing to push their product range to their potential audience.
This might however be on the verge of a change, with Amazon UK running a test pilot with four CBD brands since the summer of 2020. They haven’t offered any hints as to how long this pilot will run or whether they will relax their own rules, which seem illogical at best.
Facebook Ads A No-Go
While you can build out your Facebook page for your brand, you cannot run any paid campaigns or boost your posts at all. I have also spoken to a number of CBD brands that have had their business accounts disabled after trying to run an ad, however this didn’t affect their brand page.
Instagram The Same
As you can imagine, being run by the same company, Instagram also has a no-CBD policy, being on their list of restricted items.
They don’t have any issues with you posting about CBD, but you can’t boost it to potential followers, which also means many CBD brands still only have a couple of thousand followers.
Twitter Joins The Crowd
Considering Facebook and Instagram have said no, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Twitter also jumped on the bandwagon.
Of course, you can still build out a profile page and gain followers from a natural route, but you can’t utilise their paid advertising options. I wouldn’t say this is a big loss, as their paid network simply doesn’t yield the results you can get from other methods.
Don’t Use PayPal!
PayPal does not allow anyone to sell CBD products and if they find you are selling CBD products via their system, they will freeze your account and hold onto your money for up to 18 months. This has happened to a huge amount of CBD brands I know and have spoken to.
Of course, they have every right to, you’ve broken their rules. But the issue lies in the blurring of lines. They allow Boots to sell CBD products, as well as a few other big name retailers, so it seems they’ll let it slip for a big brand bringing them a lot of money, but they will punish the little guys.
Changing The Mindset
Many people hear I work in the cannabis industry and instantly think I’m a drug dealer. I can’t knock them, it is a general view of cannabis that has been hard to shake off.
The most common question when talking about a CBD oil is whether it will get you high. Well, to sell in the UK, the THC levels (the part that gets you high) have to be below 0.2%. To be clear, you can’t get high. Of course, you could still fail a drug test if it’s a full spectrum CBD oil, with those trace amounts affecting the results, but that’s another question.
The reality is that some people have decided in their mind that cannabis is purely an illegal drug and one of the most difficult challenges these brands face is convincing people it has a purpose to help people.
You Can’t Talk About The Benefits
I spoke to a billboard advertising brand about setting up a CBD poster. Don’t get me wrong, I told them I wasn’t going to do this, I was trying to learn about what I could do (I didn’t want to waste their time or lead them on).
It was incredibly eye-opening as you realise how many rules are in place around CBD. You can talk about the product, such as how much CBD you get and how expensive it is, but you can’t talk about the reasons for taking it or the benefits. Any medical claims will leave you in hot water, so you have to be a little creative with your advertising.
This is actually the same for TV ads, which you can do, but what you can say is virtually nothing.
Google Ads Still Say No
This is a similar scenario to Amazon in many ways. Firstly, Google flat out reject the advertisement of CBD products, so if you do this, your account will be disabled.
Just like Amazon, many brands have found clever ways of getting around the rules, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as it normally leads to the account being disabled after a short period of time, so it arguably isn’t worth the effort (depending on how many sales they can make in that time).
So What The Hell Do We Do?
At this point, you’re probably scratching your head and wondering what way to go. You’ve heard numerous platforms cut off any chance of allowing you to use their system to reach potential customers and it’s all looking a bit doom and gloom.
But don’t worry, there are certainly some great ways to build up your audience. I would know, I’ve been experimenting with them in the CBD industry over the past couple of years to a very decent level of success.
Feature your Brand On E-Commerce Websites
Amazon, might have shut the doors on your brand, but there are a number of alternatives that still bring in a huge amount of traffic. One in the UK is Nature’s Health Box, which sells a wide range of CBD products, from oils to lotions.
Expo’s can be a great place to meet these e-commerce website owners or people representing them, however, do remember that many don’t bother to attend exhibitions and conferences, so you should also look on Google to see what’s ranking and how you can get listed on their website and then reach out to them.
I’m an SEO at heart, always have been, so I’m always going to big up these practices. If I was to look at my own CBD website CBD Sloth, the traffic is up over 300% compared to 12 months ago, while it is growing exponentially.
Build out a strong content strategy, start building high quality links to your website and make sure you have a quick page speed. I could go on for hours talking about what you could do to get your website ranking well for some high volume search terms, but the best tip would be to state you should outsource this to someone who is skilled in this area. *cough* give me a call *cough*.
You can get featured in a number of magazine and national publications through various methods.
You could send your products to a journalist when you have a new product launch coming up, to build some hype. You can answer journalists as a case study or as an expert in cannabis.
But one of my favourite methods is by being included in lists. Have a google search of the best CBD oils in the UK and you will find a huge number of lists created by journalists. At the starting point, they will reach out to CBD brands for them to send over their products. If you get featured on this list, the page should bring in a decent amount of regular traffic, which can then transfer through to your site and lead to a spike in conversions.
I have split feelings when it comes to influencer marketing. Some campaigns work well and some don’t do so great, but part of this is down to picking the right influencer and getting the message right. They are known as influencers as they should be able to influence people’s purchase decisions.
Many company owners (notice I didn’t say marketers) make the common mistake of just picking someone based on their follower numbers. But follower numbers can certainly be faked, while a big audience doesn’t mean they have any interest in your product.
Sometimes picking someone within your niche can have much greater results than a big name celebrity.
Many customers are also becoming used to seeing ads from certain celebrities. Ok, I’ll say it, give up targeting reality stars. If they’re posting a different product every day, their audience know what is happening and they know the celebrity probably hasn’t even tried the product.
You want to reach out to the influencer who genuinely seems impressed with the product. Kim Kardashian (yep, I’m not saying you’ll have the budget to reach her) is a CBD obsessive. If she talks about a CBD product, it’s more likely it’s because it’s something she genuinely thinks works and she wants to give them some form of credit. That’s not to say she wasn’t provided it for free or maybe she was paid, but when you know someone genuinely uses a product, it makes the message more believable.
Try to add some form of tracking code to the URL you give the influencer, or provide them with a unique discount code, so you can measure the results afterwards.
Enter Industry Awards
You can say your product is the best, but how can you prove this? There are hundreds of products on the market and the depth is growing by the day, so how do you get your voice heard?
One way I find you can really add some trust factors is through awards. Whether it’s the World CBD Awards or the Hemp & CBD Expo, if you can win an award for your product then you can show this on your website, you can print it on the packaging and you can use this when you’re featured in national publications.
You can build up an email list a number of ways, such as offering a free cannabis e-book or something people can download from your website, or potentially through events, or simply advertising the monthly newsletter in the sidebar of your blog.
Regular emails can provide you with a sudden spike in sales. This is often a forgotten or undervalued method of marketing, which is simply bizarre when you think of the ROI.
Visit Trade Shows
I found it fascinating attending trade shows. If you setup a stand as a CBD brand owner, you will be approached by competitors trying to learn more about your products and where you source them from. You will be approached by hustlers just wanting a freebie. But between all these time wasters, you will occasionally be approached by someone who represents a big gun.
I would recommend working out how to spot them in the crowd and then working out how to impress them. Don’t bother with all the bells and whistles, you don’t need something distracting, you just need to make sure your brand and products are noticeable, then to bravely walk up and ask if you can talk to them for just a moment. Make sure to get their contact details and follow-up with them when back in the office.
A lot of these people will be people who work for pharmacies and they may be interested in adding a few of your products in a couple of their chains, but nothing huge. Every little counts, however somewhere in that crowd will be the big shots, the ones that represent the big household names on the high street. Do be aware of your placement location in the exhibition and that they will have researched the big names beforehand.
Whether you use an affiliate networking platform or simply a plugin on your website, affiliate marketing is a great way to add alternative avenues for revenue. The best part for you is you don’t pay a penny to the affiliates unless they have made you a direct sale. This means they could be sending you hundreds of visits for free before getting you that sale.
In the CBD industry, most brands offer between 10-30%, with 20% commission seeming to be the general average. You have to work out what works for you and will deliver you ROI, but will interest the affiliate enough to work for it.
Add a page on your website detailing about the platform and start reaching out to websites that have affiliate links to competitors on their website.