Cannabis and CBD marketing just isn’t as straightforward as it is for other consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, in light of federal and state regulatory issues. You can’t run ads on Facebook, Google or Instagram without getting flagged, even if your product is hemp based, due to “dangerous product” bias. The only way to stand out in this unique and crowded industry is to build trust with your customer in a few creative ways. But how? We’ve noticed four marketing strategies that our partners have used to build consumer trust with success and wanted to share them here.
1. What’s in your CBD product? Getting a COA (Certificate Of Analysis)
As of August 2021, TheLeafReport stated that only 42% of the nearly 3000 CBD brands they surveyed test their products for potency, and of that same amount, only 13% test for purity. By testing each batch of your CBD product, you can certify the truthfulness and transparency of your product label with COAs, or Certificates of Analysis. COAs are obtained through well-established organizations or groups who test your products or directly through third party cannabis or cannabinoid testing labs.
These labs or groups devise their own sets of standards, which could be anything from sustainability of ingredients to verifying the levels of CBD in the products because standards vary widely state-to-state. For the most part, they test for:
Products that pass the tests are given permission to use that organization’s or lab’s seal on their labels and marketing materials and are given COAs that verify the results. COAs are popular with dispensaries and discerning customers who expect brands to prove that they are getting what they pay for and in some states, COAs are required for every CBD product, every new batch.
US States where QR Codes are required (from QrCodeCompliance.com)
Many brands make their COA’s publicly available because the discerning consumer demands it. Consumer Reports, in How to Shop for CBD, cautions, “If an online manufacturer or a retail store doesn’t have the information, or refuses to share [their COAs], avoid the product and the retailer.”
Discerning customers don’t just want to make sure a product is safe–they also want to know who else is using it. This is where CBD reviews come in.
2. Who likes your CBD product? Gathering CBD Customers and Reviews
CBDoil.org “Best CBD Oils” Review
Legitimate reviews are essential for gaining consumer trust and right now, they’re the first line of inquiry for a majority of customers. Startup CBD companies usually ask friends and family, and then by extension friends of friends and family of family to review their products. But once companies have leveraged every network they have, they still only have a few hundred reviews. How do they compete with others who have tens of thousands of reviews? And how did they get them?
Getting reviews is a challenging task, because according to the FTC you can’t pay for or offer incentives to customers for them, e.g. free products. Companies that have paid for reviews have been getting fined, since the FTC went on a warpath since 2019, fining or reprimanding CPG companies who tried to solicit reviews:
The FTC warned Byte, an orthodontics company, when it received a “best” product ranking on a third party website, because it had paid for that ad/endorsement. This “review,” the FTC claimed, even though it was on a third party website, was in fact directly paid for.
The FTC reached a $3.5M settlement with Hubble contacts, who offered customers a free months’ supply of contacts for a review on their site.
Urthbox, Inc. a snack subscription company, offered current customers a free month of snacks for reviews on the BBB and Trustpilot. That was a bold move, considering that the BBB is unofficially partnered with the FTC. The FTC fined Urthbox $100,000.
The overarching lesson here is that you can’t, even if you’re very creative, ask customers to review your product in exchange for anything–not even a coupon.
The way to get reviews is through a third party partner website.
Two different kinds of review-generating third-party partners exist (and some can be both):
1. A partner that allows you access to their reviewer network for a fee, either directly on their platform or through affiliate partnerships. For the former, you can’t pay for reviews or offer free products, and the consumers must purchase your product themselves, but the networks are massive. For the latter, if a consumer purchases your product, they click on a link from the third party website and you give them a percentage of the sale.
2. A marketing partner that offers you optimization software you reach out to your existing customers for reviews and increases traffic to your website once you get those reviews:
While positive reviews are vital to gaining consumer trust, they aren’t an adequate resource for improving your product. This is because just hearing one or even one hundred testimonials won’t give you the consistent, pinpointed information you need to determine which products are resonating with your consumer base, or how to attract more customers. This is a job left up to marketing research, or surveys.
3. Who wants your CBD product? CBD Survey Data
Swagbucks CBD Oil Coupons
The old-school days of annoying survey cold calls and crisp dollar bills sent through snail mail are mostly gone. But surveys are still alive, having experienced a renaissance due to some savvy marketing. Survey companies are gamifying the survey process through apps while providing value to customers (some people make thousands a month taking surveys on multiple apps). Companies can pay the survey company for an ad, and then the survey company sends a survey to its huge list of survey takers. Survey takers are pre-screened, and are rewarded with points, cash or gift cards for taking the survey (sometimes even if they don’t qualify, they still get something). The loophole is that the company is not directly paying for a survey, but the third-party survey company is.
Survey takers also get access to products and stores through the survey website or app in the form of cash back or coupon offers. The survey takers can also purchase your product by clicking an affiliate link on the survey site, and can even leave a review. (Again, you won’t be paying for the review as you didn’t give anything away, and the third-party company isn’t even paying for the review. Twice removed.)
It’s not cheap, but it is one way to fine tune your product, and get it in front of people who might not know about it yet outside of social media. Some better-known, trusted companies:
While hearing about what the market wants can help you with package design, flavors, or delivery mechanisms, it can also create more questions that surveys can’t answer. For example, you learn that survey takers want pain relief, or they worry, or they can’t sleep, but you can’t make structure/function claims about meaningful benefits on your label unless you’ve proven them through clinical studies. Research about your products is an effective way to gain consumer trust and an edge over your competitors.
4. Does your CBD work? Why clinical research on CBD is a triple win.
Prospect Farms email after closing a study with Radicle Science
The FTC, since a 2020 crackdown labeled “Operation CBDeceit” has been pursuing and fining CBD companies for making health claims in their advertising and on their labels. Andrew Smith, FTCs Director of Consumer Protection, after penalizing six CBD companies said, “The six settlements announced today send a clear message to the burgeoning CBD industry: Don’t make spurious health claims that are unsupported by medical science.” The FTC fined these companies anywhere from $30,000 – $100,000.
Among the claims made by CBD brands that were found in violation of consumer protection laws by the FTC:
“…CBD product is safe for all users, treats pain better than prescription medications like OxyContin, and prevents and treats age-related cognitive decline and chronic pain…CBD oil is ‘medically proven’ to improve a variety of conditions….”
“CBD is safe for all users, able to treat pain better than prescription medications such as OxyContin, and able to prevent a wide range of serious conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease…CBD is scientifically proven to improve many serious health conditions—including chronic pain and hypertension—and provide neurological benefit—such as preventing age-related cognitive decline.”
“CBD effectively treats, prevents, or mitigates serious diseases and conditions like artery blockage, cancer, glaucoma, autism, and schizophrenia, among many others…claims were scientifically proven or that the U.S. government has confirmed the health benefits of CBD.”
“CBD products could treat or cure serious ailments like cancer-related symptoms, substance abuse, and AIDS.”
“CBD can prevent, cure, mitigate, or treat diseases and serious health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, autoimmune disease, and irritable bowel syndrome…studies or scientific research prove that CBD is effective at treating, curing, or mitigating these diseases and conditions.”
“CBD and CBG products are effective alternatives to prescription medications and treat a wide range of diseases and serious health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and diabetes…CBD and CBG products have antibacterial properties, prevent or reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases…claims were supported by scientific evidence.”
“THC content of cannabis helps to minimize the endometriosis pain as it activates the production of dopamine in the body.”
The lesson here is that no health and wellness CPG company can make medical claims in their marketing materials, because these products aren’t drugs. But, you can make structure and function claims that are supported by substantial evidence.
Radicle Science applies modern science to prove or predict the effectiveness of CBD products used by tens of millions of Americans every day. Our objective is to deliver accurate, transparent, and actionable insights to help create trust and transparency for the CBD industry. And we do that in a fraction of the time a traditional clinical study takes (10x less–four to six weeks as opposed to two years) with a far greater group of participants (10X more people than standard) for a fraction of the cost (10X less than a clinical study).
What Radicle Science does for our partners:
Radicle Science conducts three types of studies.
Radicle Science can verify your product’s ingredients at a third party lab, gather existing customer feedback, study new customers and measure the effectiveness of your product in an IRB-approved, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical study among hundreds if not thousands of users.
Marketing a CBD product is intimidating for new brands, due to the many constraints against what you can and can’t say, from the social media platforms, the federal government and local state governments. But by self-regulating your product in an unregulated market in one or all of these four ways, you gain consumer trust and set your brand apart from the competition as they make unsubstantiated claims about the benefits and ingredients in their products. Your claims can be substantiated by your existing customers, and by scientifically rigorous studies.
Are you ready to set a higher standard for the CBD industry? Reach out to Leo! He loves to talk about the cannabis industry and can give you some amazing ideas about how to position your brand.