What Cannabis Companies Need to Know About Experiential Marketing
To promote the third season of HBO's High Maintenance, Grandesign Experiential used a branded food truck that distributed free CBD-infused coffee in Los Angeles and New York.
Photo courtesy of Grandesign Experiential

What Cannabis Companies Need to Know About Experiential Marketing

An experiential marketing strategy can help businesses overcome restrictive advertising regulations and reach their target audience.

October 8, 2019

With so many advertising and marketing regulations restricting the cannabis industry from reaching their target audience, businesses must be creative in getting their messaging into the hands of consumers.

For some, experiential marketing might be the answer.

“Experiential marketing, in a nutshell, is bringing the brand experience directly to consumers, street-level,” Amanda Omahen, account manager for Grandesign Experiential, an experiential marketing company headquartered in San Diego, Calif., tells Cannabis Dispensary. “Experiential marketing allows consumers to have that direct connection with the brand and have that brand experience. [It lets] people … actually experience the brand and have that long-lasting effect after that first initial engagement.”

Experiential marketing goes beyond traditional out-of-home advertising, such as billboards, to create advertising that customers can see, hear, touch and feel through events, stunts, pop-up experiences and tours, for example.

“It can be [anything] from canvassing the street as brand ambassadors, to a fabrication that’s placed in the middle of New York … where people can take Instagram-able photos and post socially, to building a 40-foot barbeque in the middle of Chicago for Johnsonville brats,” Omahen says.

This type of marketing strategy is becoming more popular as cannabis brands navigate strict advertising regulations, Omahen says. For example, Grandesign Experiential’s home base of San Diego has limited traditional out-of-home marketing options for cannabis businesses after prohibiting cannabis-related billboards within 1,000 feet of schools.

Common experiential marketing campaigns can be an effective alternative, Omahen says, and can be as simple as distributing pamphlets or coupon cards at events—like local concerts—or as elaborate as distributing free CBD-infused coffee from a branded food truck, which Grandesign Experiential did in Los Angeles and New York to promote the premiere of the third season of HBO’s High Maintenance.

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“It’s going back to the oldest door-to-door marketing and enhancing it with experiential marketing,” she says. “It can be a small activation with just brand ambassadors canvassing the street [or] a private event that’s open to [adults of legal consumption age], but also really pushing it on social [media], as well.”

This kind of marketing effort can reach people who might not feel comfortable entering a dispensary or otherwise interacting with a brand, Omahen says.

“It makes the consumer feel important,” she adds. “You can tangibly touch and interact with not just the brand, but also the brand ambassadors that are representing the brand and really get that takeaway and have that different experience across the board.”

Experiential marketing can not only grab the attention of new customers, but also solidify customer loyalty among those already familiar with the brand, Omahen says.

And while there are many ways to approach experiential marketing, efforts in the cannabis industry should always have an educational focus, she adds.

“[Some] people just aren’t comfortable with the words ‘cannabis,’ ‘marijuana,’ [and] ‘CBD,’” Omahen says. “They have a lot of questions: What’s the difference between CBD and THC? What’s going to get me ‘high?’ What’s going to help with my muscles? What’s going to help with my skin?”

Experiential marketing campaigns should strive to answer these questions, she says. When customers approached Grandesign Experiential’s High Maintenance CBD coffee truck, for example, they had plenty of questions about the trendy new cannabinoid, as well as cannabis in general, Omahen says.

“It actually turned into a more educational direction for us, talking about CBD and cannabis,” she says. “Even though this was CBD-driven, it still opened that door for education about cannabis."