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The Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Dispensary Marketing in New York

Marketing a dispensary in any legal state is a challenge, but marketing a dispensary in a newly legal state is a whole different ball game.

New York state legalized recreational cannabis in the spring of 2021, but the win has been underwhelming considering it is still in the process of giving out licenses in November 2022. 

There are a lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through before cannabis dispensaries in New York actually open up with stocked shelves. However, those who are lucky enough to have been awarded licenses are in a mad rush to establish new cannabis dispensary brands and get things up and running better than their competitors. 

In other words, cannabis dispensary marketing in New York is about to be the hottest topic for any brand or dispensary looking to stand out from the crowd before the legal market gets saturated. To help you out, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about marketing a dispensary in New York:

What is happening with the New York cannabis industry?

After a state legalizes recreational cannabis, it needs to regulate and approve who gets to open up dispensaries across the state. These states have to set up cannabis control commissions and an entire system that dictates the specifics of what their unique market is going to look like.

In New York, this process has hit many roadblocks, therefore delaying the entire process. From Gov. Cuomo’s resignation to the confusing qualifications of who is eligible for a dispensary license, the state is – at the time of this writing – held up in limbo.

While cannabis is now legal, there are no dispensaries legally open for business, creating a bit of a gray market that exists between the legacy (or “black”) market and the freshly legal market. (You can read more about this “gray market” on Vox.)

Unregulated, this gray market could go haywire. However, persecuting legacy market players to curb this activity is a political nightmare that some might argue is hypocritical, considering the state has placed great emphasis on social justice and repairing the damage done by the War on Drugs.

On the other hand, as the first round of applicants are awarded licenses, they are making moves to set up storefronts and establish brands. A $200 million social equity cannabis fund supported by the state and private actors is being used for construction, renovations, equipment purchases, and more.

In other words, the pressure is on for dispensary owners to use their state-supported budgets wisely and create a cannabis dispensary that stands out from the crowd that is about to follow. 

How can a new cannabis dispensary in New York get set up for success?

In addition to all the legal and operational concerns of setting up a new dispensary, marketing should be top of mind for new licensees in New York. 

One of your first steps should be to understand the New York cannabis marketing regulations. It’s wise to hire a compliance or legal team, but you’ll want to have some understanding of what you can and cannot do from a marketing standpoint regardless. 

New York’s marketing rules and regulations generally center around age restrictions, promoting public health, reducing harm, and discretion in advertising. The state’s policies are a bit more strict than other legal markets, so do your due diligence before diving into things like logo design or even naming your company.

Once you’ve done this, you will want to think about how you aim to differentiate yourself from other cannabis dispensary licensees. 

As a cannabis marketing agency, we can tell you that every new dispensary owner says their unique value proposition is “industry expertise” or “quality products”. At this point, these are not the strongest differentiating factors.

Instead, consider niching down to a hyper-specific audience type. 

For instance, maybe you’ll be serving New York sports fans and athletes. This could lend itself to your brand, interior design, and entire dispensary experience. Maybe you want to go for social responsibility and create a dispensary for marginalized communities that center around your impact on the community. 

In other words, beyond your concrete business offerings, what are you trying to achieve? This answer is key to immediate and long-term success in a market that is primed to become saturated.

How to market a cannabis dispensary in New York

Once you know who you want to serve and how you want to do it, you can shout it from the rooftops. (Not literally, although that wouldn’t be unusual in New York.) 

Here is how you can market a cannabis dispensary in New York:

Establish a dispensary brand strategy and design

Building a dispensary brand from scratch is no easy task, but it’s definitely a fun one. It’s also arguably the most essential piece of the marketing puzzle for a new cannabis dispensary.

Until we see looser guidelines around dispensary architecture and interior design, most dispensary experiences are very similar. Apple store vibes, tight security, knowledgeable budtenders, you know the deal. 

Standing out from the crowd means thinking deeply about how you can differentiate your foundational brand. In other words, go further than the colors or aesthetics. Think:

  • What does your brand stand for?
  • What are your core values? 
  • What’s your big-picture mission?

Knowing your unique audience or niche can help you answer these questions and tie them together to develop the foundation of your brand. This is known as brand strategy and will help you form the personality and messaging that allows you to stand out through copy and content down the road.

With the brand strategy down, you can move into the visual identity: color palettes, logos, icons, typography, etc. 

Done right, a well-thought out brand will communicate your value for you – to the point you could raise your prices, work with key players in the industry, and reach your business goals. 

Get a professionally designed website

Using your new brand, you’ll want to set up a home base online: your website.

This will be one of the first introductions to your brand, and you want consumers to know that you are legitimate. Even customers who find you through social media may go to your website before deciding to follow or learn more.

Having an optimized and mobile-ready website that is easy to navigate is key to establishing a presence that gets customers through your doors. Rather than paying for templates, DIY-ing, or finding the cheapest, fastest option, it’s important to take this step seriously

By getting a professional, custom-designed website, you will begin to create your customer experience without direct contact, which will set the foundation for brand loyalty to grow quickly.

Invest in search engine marketing

As a brand new, legal cannabis dispensary in New York, you’ll want to tap into your local market. This means optimizing your online presence and investing in search engine marketing.

When someone is trying to find the nearest dispensary while walking around the city, you’ll want to be the first one to pop up in Google. This means updating your website and putting out fresh, relevant blog content to build up a presence, but that’s not all.

From optimizing your Google My Business and creating organic content to running pay-per-click campaigns, you can increase your foot traffic and brand awareness through many digital marketing tactics.

Build a community around your brand before your doors even open

Through email marketing and social media marketing, you can cultivate an audience and generate excitement before you even complete construction!

As a cannabis marketing agency, we have helped many new dispensaries create an engaging presence on social media and grow their email lists before they ever opened their doors. The power of social media is unmatched and funneling interested community members into your email list allows you to navigate marketing restrictions and share all the latest information.

Focusing on the community around your brand ensures that with every ebb and flow of your business, you’ll have loyal customers waiting to hear from you. It also offers a humanized perspective of your brand which will strengthen your overall dispensary as you continue to grow.

Marketing your cannabis dispensary in New York

Are you a licensee of a cannabis dispensary in New York? With all the roadblocks and strict regulations, you’ll want to find a marketing partner that has decades of specialized industry experience.

As an award-winning cannabis marketing agency, Cannabis Creative has helped hundreds of cannabis and CBD brands grow through data-driven, customer-first digital marketing.

Between our expertise and your vision, your New York cannabis dispensary is sure to be set up for success so you can beat the market before it gets saturated. Contact us today to get started.