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It’s true that cannabis brands face a host of rules and regulations when it comes to marketing and advertising. Restrictions on available paid media options can put cannabis brands at a disadvantage when trying to reach new customers. 

While these strict regulations may change in the future, there are other effective marketing strategies cannabis brands can implement. One such strategy is “influencer marketing.” While influencer marketing can be effective for a variety of reasons, it’s notable for the fact that it is not regulated in the same way as traditional advertising, meaning it’s an available option for cannabis brands.

It may be something you’ve been considering for your cannabis brand. The problem is you’re not quite sure how to get started.

That’s where this guide comes in. With it, you’ll be on your way to crafting a better influencer strategy to amplify your brand’s reach and attract more customers. 

What Is Influencer Marketing?

Before we dive into how to build an influencer strategy, it helps to review the basics. So, what is influencer marketing anyway?

Today’s influencer marketing has been spurred by the social media revolution. In many ways, it’s just a new version of the celebrity endorsement deal.

Most people are familiar with celebrity endorsements. A famous person does a commercial or a photoshoot to advertise a product. They tell their fans about how great the product is, and why they should be using this brand over another.

The reason marketers invest in celebrity spokespeople is to reach those fans. Celebrities often have very dedicated followings, and fans value their idol’s opinions. If someone loves Rihanna’s make-up looks, they’re listening when the pop singer talks about the makeup brands she loves.

Here’s where social media enters the picture. YouTube, Instagram, and other platforms have created a new brand of celebrity. Just like people follow celebrities, they also pay attention to social media personalities. You can look at famous YouTubers, beauty bloggers, and Instagram stars for examples.

These people have dedicated fans who value their opinions. What’s more, their posts have even more reach on social media than some companies. If a cannabis brand wants to reach a new demographic of consumers or find their audience, then teaming up with an influencer might be a great idea.

How Influencer Marketing Works

In principle, influencer marketing is relatively simple. A company partners with an influencer, who then promotes the company’s products or services through their social media feeds.

Payment may be in the form of free product or a paying contract. Some influencers receive promo codes that they can share with their followers. They may receive a percentage of each sale that uses the code.

Most brands work closely with their influencer partners to craft social media posts. That way, the brand can be sure posts accurately reflect messages and brand values. Care also needs to be taken to identify when an influencer has received payment or product. The FTC considers this a form of advertisement. The federal watchdog demands transparency so consumers don’t feel misled.

Taking a Strategic Approach to Influencer Partnerships

With that explanation in hand, influencer marketing seems pretty simple. Most marketers know advertising isn’t always a walk in the park, though, and influencer partnerships are no different.

Influencer marketing is both new and evolving, so many companies are still learning how to use it. One of the most important things to do is develop a solid influencer strategy.

The right strategy can help you avoid the common pitfalls of influencer partnerships. These include:

  • Partnering with the wrong influencers
  • Sending out messages that don’t resonate with the audience
  • Paying too much for too little

If you take a strategic approach, you’ll be able to find the right people, craft the right messages, and prove ROI for your efforts.

So, how do you develop an influencer strategy?

Narrow Your Audiences

The first question to ask is like any other marketing strategy: Who do you want to reach?

Selecting a target audience should steer decisions about influencer partnerships. If a company is trying to reach a new audience, then they may want to choose people outside of their wheelhouse.

An example might be a cannabis brand that has just developed a line of CBD topicals. While the health benefits of CBD are still being investigated, some early research suggests it might help with skin ailments like acne and eczema. Other studies are investigating its potential as an anti-aging ingredient.

Let’s say this brand has traditionally targeted consumers interested in CBD for its medical benefits, such as relieving pain or insomnia. For this new line, though, they want to reach younger women concerned with both health and beauty.

To reach this audience, they might look to connect with a beauty influencer who already has a dedicated following.

As you can see, determining your audience is key to shaping the direction of strategy.

Of course, a company may try to reach more than one audience at a time by partnering with multiple influencers.

Pick the Right Partners

The next step has to be selecting which influencers to work with. By choosing the right people, the company will team up with partners who reflect company values. They can also be sure they’re reaching the right audiences.

The first thing to do is take the time for research. Think about your target audience(s). Now look for influencers who are popular in these niches.

There are a few ways to get information about who is considered influential in a niche. The first thing to do is conduct a survey. If you already have customers in the target audience, ask them about who they follow. You may even ask if they’ve heard of a particular person.

Next, check lists of “top influencers” for certain niches. You may also analyze the profiles of certain influencers. Let’s think of our medical cannabis company again, looking to promote their new beauty and wellness line. They’ve discovered several popular and influential beauty bloggers on YouTube and Instagram. They’re not sure who they should partner with.

Here, it’s important to consider several factors. You’ll want to think about:

  • Size of audience
  • Reach
  • Engagements
  • Values

Many marketers make the mistake of taking a “go big or go home” approach to their influencer strategy. They choose influencers who only have large numbers of followers. It’s not uncommon for brands to refuse to work with someone who has 10,000 followers. They’ll only partner with people who have 50,000 followers or more.

Bigger isn’t always better, and that’s especially true in the influencer game. That’s why marketers should also think about reach and engagement. Reach is a measure of how far a person’s posts go. They may only have so many followers, but their posts may travel far beyond this inner circle. They may be boosted by other, larger personalities, or they may have a sizable following across platforms.

Engagement measures how much someone’s fans interact with them. Someone who has 50,000 followers but gets just 1,000 likes on most of their posts doesn’t have a very engaged audience. People follow them, but they tend not to interact.

That doesn’t translate to clicks for their partner brands. By contrast, someone who has just 10,000 followers but gets 1,000 likes is converting 10 percent of their audience. A larger proportion of people are interacting with them.

Those with smaller followings may even get more engagement than popular personalities. Their followers are more engaged and more likely to buy as a result.

The Importance of Values Alignment

Cannabis brands must also consider how well any influencer aligns with their company values and brand messaging. Someone could have 50,000 followers or a very engaged audience of 10,000 followers, but this won’t matter much if the influencer and brand don’t align.

Why? If your brand and the influencer have mismatched values, their audience is likely to ignore you. Some may even complain. At best, the audience may feel confused. Behind the scenes, the relationship between the influencer and your company might be strained. Partnering with them may even alienate your own customers or audience.

A famous example of this is the partnership between Disney and popular YouTuber PewDiePie. The YouTube star had a massive following, but also posted content that didn’t jive with Disney’s “family-friendly” image. The partnership soon fell apart.

You can learn from Disney’s misstep here. Going after someone with a large following isn’t always the right move.

Instead, cannabis brands should seek influencers who have similar values. For our hypothetical medical cannabis company, they may not choose someone who focuses on “high fashion.” That influencer’s attitude about health and wellness might oppose their own. A better partner would be a blogger who focuses on beauty as part of health and wellness.

Design Your Offer

The next step for any brand is to approach the influencer with an offer. The influencer market has changed. Many influencers are more aware of their value to companies today. Some people will be happy to work with you for a product-only deal, while others will demand payment.

Most companies prefer a mix of payment and products, where possible. After all, you want to put your product in the hands of the influencer so they can test it and review it for their fans. If someone has a large following and proven reach, you may also consider paying them.

You’ll want to design the offer before you take it to the influencer. How much product will you offer? Will you pay them, and if so, how? Some companies offer upfront payments or installments. Others will work on a pay-for-performance scheme. Influencers may get bonuses or a percentage of sales driven through sponsored links.

In your offer, you should outline more than just payment and product value for the deal. How long will you work with this influencer? How many posts do you expect from them? Some companies ask for a monthly post, while others ask for much more frequent posts.

What’s a Reasonable Offer?

This is a good question many marketers are still trying to figure out. Since influencer deals are new and evolving, it’s difficult to tell what makes a good or reasonable offer. Influencers often charge per post, and they determine their rates based on the number of followers they have, as well as engagement. Some influencers will charge $100,000 or even $250,000 per post!

The general rule of thumb is $100 per 10,000 followers. If someone has 1 million followers, the price will be in the $100,000 range.

Some brands end up paying far too much for big-name influencers who seem to do little for them. Others get away with handing out product-only deals to people with much smaller followings.

A smart move is to set a budget. Aim for a mix of influencers as well. A reasonable budget should allow you to book one “big name,” and then a few smaller influencers. Keep in mind that deals will be negotiated, and each deal will likely be different.

Building and Managing a Relationship

Another factor to consider is just how much creative control to give the influencer. Some marketers are happy to give influencers free rein. Doing so means they don’t have to create content or messaging themselves. Others want to have full control over the creative process, so they can keep influencers on-brand.

The “right” approach probably falls somewhere between these two extremes. Influencers know their audiences, so letting them design posts is a smart idea. That way, they can create content that resonates with their audience.

That said, letting influencers do whatever they please can lead to posts that don’t fit with a brand’s image. Suppose our medical cannabis brand has an image as a friendly team focused on holistic medicine. A beauty blogger who is always sarcastic and in-your-face may not create content in line with the brand’s image.

Giving this influencer free rein will likely result in content that resonates with their audience, but it may alienate your own customers. A middle ground is needed.

Treat your influencers like partners. They want to create great content for their audience, and they probably believe in your brand too. Focus on building a relationship with them, not micromanaging their creative process. Work together to create a content calendar. Ask for final approval of any branded content they post before it goes “live.”

Measure Results

The final step in any good influencer strategy is getting some metrics in place. How will you know if your influencer marketing is working?

Metrics are a dime a dozen, but a few to consider include:

  • Impressions
  • Engagements
  • Clicks
  • Sales

It’s easy to measure sales if the influencer has their own discount code or something similar. Whenever a customer checks out using that code, you know the sale was brought in by the influencer. Clicks tell you how many people arrived via the influencer’s links. Engagements might include comments and likes on the influencers posts, as well as people who then follow your company.

Impressions measure the reach of any given post. This includes video views and similar measurements.

Sales are the best measure of how well an influencer strategy is “working.” Impressions are less helpful. If your goal is to reach more people, then knowing how many people are seeing posts may determine “success.” If you want to grow your social media following, then engagements might be a helpful metric to track.

When you measure, you can prove ROI. Some benefits of influencer marketing, such as goodwill and brand visibility, are harder to measure. They usually come hand in hand with high scores on other performance metrics.

Influencer Marketing Done Right

By developing an influencer strategy, you’ll be well on your way to developing successful partnerships and getting a higher ROI on your influencer marketing.

Many marketers are still learning influencer marketing, and the industry is still evolving. A strategy can help you avoid common missteps. Instead, you’ll be able to do influencer marketing the right way, right from the start.

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Mary Jane Marketers