6 Must-Dos To Maintain Human Connection in Digital Marketing


Digital marketing is one of the fastest changing industries in the world and today’s digital marketing technology is more advanced than ever before. Automation and technology lets marketers do so much more in a fraction of the time. Technology helps us track, analyze and reach target customers.

According to a recent Forbes Insights survey, nearly 62% of brand and agency representatives around the world are satisfied with how well their current marketing technology is meeting their expectation and 57% plan to make new technology investments.

We have technology to help us understand customer behavior and characteristic trends. Growth in smartphone adaption and the popularity of mobile and messaging has exploded since 2005 with 50% of searches done on mobile. Artificial intelligence such as Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger, that offer consumer assistance, is one of the biggest trends of 2016. Marketing cloud solutions like Adobe, Salesforce, and HubSpot help us help us automate data across customer lifecycles.

Multi-platform internet usage requires marketers to manage email marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, paid and organic search and more across platforms. And more new technologies are coming!

With such powerful automation at our fingertips, it can be easy to overlook the ‘human connection’ involved in digital marketing. How do you think about your customers? How well do you understand your audience? What do they want?

Digital marketers can, and should, be considering customers and prospects in all aspects of digital marketing. Some ways to do this come right out of the traditional marketing playbook. Knowing your customer is the first step to winning others like them to your brand. Customer demographics like age, gender, income, education and occupation are on nearly every marketer’s radar. But what about customer psychographics? What do you know about a potential customer’s interests, activities and opinions?

Here are six ways to understand your customers and to maintain a human connection.

1. Focus Groups. Focus groups offer a great advantage to marketers. Invite a group of people who meet the demographics of those you want to attract to have a discussion. Ask them questions to get at a better understanding of what they want in a product, how they choose to make a purchase, and what motivates them actually make the purchase. The more people who join in, the better your chances to really understand your customer base.

2. Build Relationships. When promoting your product or service avoid pushing information or advertising at your audience. Instead focus on building an ongoing relationship. Social media is designed to let customers look for help and for you to provide feedback and resolve problems. Can you be empathetic with your audience? When you truly understand them and care about what they want, the better that relationship will become.

3. Create a Customer Persona. Consider creating a marketing persona to represent your customer. Include demographic information, their goals and challenges, their values and fears, as well as their interests, activities and opinions. How do you do this? Review your website analytics to determine additional demographic information about your customers. Use social media listening to find potential customers. What are they saying already?  You could also bring a group of colleagues together—human resources, customer service, accounting, etc—to share their customer perspectives with you. And, a really sound approach is to ask your customers questions directly. Conduct a survey, a focus group or one-on-one interviews. Once you’ve pulled together a customer profile or persona, give her/him a name. Bring them to life for your marketing team so every interaction is personal.

4. Use Emotion in Marketing. People are, after all, human and as humans most of us have emotions and often make purchasing decisions based on emotions. Rather than base marketing strategies on hard data, add emotion to your marketing. Tell a story with humor, excitement, action, adventure…whatever motivates your customer.

5. Show Your Own Humans. Marketers usually promote a company filled with people. Why not show—through photos and videos—those who connect with customers? This helps humanize your company and your marketing efforts. Use testimonials, statements about company philosophy, why customers matter, etc to show that the company cares about customers.

6. Get Personal. Can visitors find a telephone number easily on your website? When they call, do they get an automated answer or does a person pick up? The last thing you want is to lose a prospect because they can’t reach a real person. Ensure that customer service representatives—or anyone who interacts with customers—knows how to be friendly and professional on the phone. And, set up policies and procedures that reflect how you feel about your customers so everyone within the company understands how important this is.

Try not to get mired in digital marketing technology and automation. Learn to listen to your customers. Treat them like people by keeping human relationships at the forefront of your marketing and customer service.

Moving a Mountain: Pioneer and Advocate Jeff Jones Reflects on 20 Years in the Cannabis Industry

Note: This blog post was originally written for Oaksterdam University’s Cannabis Industry Today.

Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris with Jeff
From right to left: Jeff Jones, Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad in mid to late 1990s

It’s been 20 years since the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club (OCBC) set up shop in the heart of downtown Oakland. Jeff Jones, who now operates the Patient ID Center and who is an Oaksterdam University professor, was one of the pioneers who helped change the course of cannabis in the United States. Cannabis Industry Today sat down with Jones to remember what it was like two decades ago and to learn just how far the City of Oakland and the cannabis industry has changed since.

Cannabis Industry Today: What was Oakland like in 1995 and `96?

Jeff Jones: Very few people came downtown. It was largely vacant of businesses and still broken down from the earthquake that hit San Francisco, Oakland and Loma in 1989. Rent was cheap and parking on the street was readily available. When I opened OCBC, a patient could easily park right on the street and run in for a pickup.

Cannabis Industry Today: What motivated you to come to Oakland back then?

Jeff Jones: I watched my father suffer from cancer treatment, which is pretty impactful on a teenager. He died in 1988 in home hospice when I was 14 years old. That same year Federal Administrative Judge Francis L. Young had ruled that cannabis should be immediately rescheduled to allow research on its therapeutic benefits. Though I learned this later in my life, I was very frustrated that an alternative therapy could have helped my father but there had been no information about cannabis available or legal access to it for anyone. It wasn’t until I was in college that I heard about the Cannabis Action Network (CAN), which had a hemp booth at a Primus concert. Based in Oakland, CAN was a source of information about marijuana at a time when the government didn’t recognize any of the medicinal properties of cannabis. There I met Debby Goldsberry, who founded CAN, and others and got a crash course in cannabis activism and how to create change at a grassroots level.

Cannabis Industry Today: So you’re in Oakland and decide to start the OCBC. How did that come about and what happened?

Jeff Jones:  I followed in the footsteps of cannabis advocates Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary, who were heavily involved in providing medical cannabis to AIDS patients in San Francisco in the early 1990s. The first time I ever saw any government official supporting cannabis at the time was when then Board of Supervisor Tom Ammiano participated in Dennis’s ribbon cutting ceremony for the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club.

In Oakland, I saw an opportunity to do something that could help the City and help patients who wanted and needed access to medical cannabis. But, I decided to go with a slightly altered model compared to Dennis—one that could become a model for others anywhere in the country.

OCBC was a bicycle delivery business and I worked with the City to create an official Resolution of Support, which passed in 1996. This allowed me to rent space and set up shop right on Broadway downtown and it made the City of Oakland the first U.S. city to contract with a medical cannabis provider. A task force of people from law enforcement, the city manager’s office, the city attorney’s office and the cannabis community came up with guidelines for how the police would handle people using marijuana and how to determine if there were using it recreationally or medically. That’s how the idea of a medical card came about.

There were no regulations in place for a cannabis business, so I self-regulated OCBC with the goal of being a respectable business and good neighbor. Cannabis wasn’t being taxed, but I paid taxes on cannabis sold through a bit of ‘smoke and mirrors’ method. Cannabis items were identified as pens, paper—items that were legally taxed—to ensure I paid taxes on goods sold by OCBC. Word-of-mouth news about OCBC grew and patients only received cannabis if they had a recommendation from a medical doctor.  Many of the practices I implemented then became the tenants of Senate Bill 420 and the Attorney General Guidelines of 2008.

Cannabis Industry Today: How long did OCBC stay in operation?

Jeff Jones: Many city council members helped me legitimize my goal to bring medical cannabis to patients in Oakland. OCBC had operated for about two years before the U.S. Department of Justice sued us; the civil lawsuit caused us to close up the dispensary and to fight the battle in court and public opinion.

The case, which began in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was argued up to the U.S. Supreme Court and was the first case to ask the question for medical necessity patients. From the beginning I was not going to let the federal government call me a ‘drug dealer,’ and that focus and tenacity to continue was important. Without it I would not have been treated fairly.

JeffJones“We experienced setbacks in the case, but I think we triggered a new feeling that not all marijuana cases filed lead to prison time–a battle that is still being waged throughout the country today–and the case created a discussion about states’ rights that has influenced cannabis legalization around the country.”

— Jeff Jones reflecting on U.S. Supreme Court case United States vs Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club and Jeffrey Jones

Cannabis Industry Today: Were you treated fairly?

Jeff Jones: I think so, yes. We experienced setbacks in the case, but I think we triggered a new feeling that not all marijuana cases filed lead to prison time—a battle that is still being waged throughout the country today—and the case created a discussion about states’ rights that has influenced cannabis legalization around the country. My experience has allowed me to share a cannabis business model…a regulation model…that is duplicable and acceptable around the country.

Cannabis Industry Today: How has Oakland changed since 1996?

Jeff Jones:  Oakland offers the perfect example of how legal cannabis sales can be regulated and taxed and how it creates a positive economic impact. The cannabis industry helped seed change in Oakland and today the city is thriving. Oaksterdam University started here in 2007. The Fox Theater was renovated in 2009 and restaurants have opened all around it. The old Sears store is now being renovated into office space, hotels are going up and there are plans to revitalize Jack London Square, Old Town and Uptown.

The City continues to be open to change. In May, the Council voted to pass the Equity Permit Program, which allows recently incarcerated to be eligible for medical cannabis industry permits. It’s a unique move. Across the nation such convicted felons would be barred from entering the legal cannabis trade. What would make the Equity Program even better would be to also offer loans so these businesses could get set up…give them hope as well as ability.

Cannabis Industry Today:  And, the cannabis industry?

Jeff Jones: We moved a mountain. There are lots of individuals who have made a difference. When I first started advocating for cannabis I thought change would happen faster, but it’s not that simple. I think a lie got started about cannabis and then more lies were added onto that original lie and that’s what people believed. A key turning point in the perception of cannabis came when Dr. Sanjay Gupta apologized on CNN for his original opinions about marijuana and released a documentary called “Weed.” Today support of cannabis legalization among Americans is outpacing opposition to it, 25 states have legal medical marijuana, and we are on the cusp of rescheduling cannabis. I’d say that’s pretty huge.

7 Digital Must-Dos To Promote Your Cannabis Business

Light Bulb Concept

Promoting your cannabis business is challenging. Because cannabis is still illegal federally and laws vary from state-to-state, knowing what you can and cannot do isn’t always clear. While you want to avoid advertising with search engines such as Google and Yahoo, sending postcards through the mail, or setting up a store on Facebook, you do have options for reaching your patients and dispensaries.

1. Start With a Strong Brand. Creating a strong brand will build patient and dispensary recognition and give you a competitive edge in the market. Focus on what makes your products different and the shared values you have with prospects. From there it will be easier to connect with customers and introduce new products.

2. Go Organic Strategically. Choose your words carefully for your website and your social media posts. Hone in one the phrases and words patients and dispensaries use when looking for cannabis products, then hone in on other words specific to your brand and the shared values you project.

3. Follow Mainstream Social Media Rules. You can promote your brand on social media if you understand the ground rules. Earlier this year, Facebook dropped some dispensaries from its platform. This rattled the industry but the dispensaries hadn’t read the fine print for using the mainstream platform. Focus on education and brand recognition on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. (see How to Protect Your Cannabis Facebook Page for more insight)

4. Use Cannabis-Based Social Media Platforms. There are social media platforms specific to the cannabis industry and promoting your brand on them will be safer. By now you’ve probably heard of MassRoots, the first to market. But there are others including Duby, which is similar to Instagram and Social High, which is like Facebook–both are specific to the marijuana industry.

5. List Your Business on Cannabis Directories. Many of these directories are free and offer great back links to your website. Some worthy of mentioning include the Marijuana Business Daily Industry Directory, Medical Jane’s Database of Cannabis Businesses, and Ganjapreneur Business Directory, and Dispensaries.com.

6. Maintain a Blog. Writing your own content on your own blog is a great opportunity to share your story and your brand. Blog posts can easily be shared on social media platforms, can be extensions of your website, and can attract prospects based on your knowledge, industry insight, and personality.

7. Email, Email, Email. Connecting with existing patients and dispensaries by email is crucial. Collect emails at every turn if possible–at conferences, cups, online–wherever your brand intersects with prospects. Then create emails with impact and maintain contact consistently.

What’s been your experience promoting your cannabis business online? What’s worked best? If you’re struggling to promote your cannabis business, bring on a digital marketing expert to help!




Why Our Word Choices Matter When Talking About Cannabis

I regularly write for Oaksterdam University’s blog Cannabis Industry Today. This post was originally published on that blog on March 17, 2016.  

NOWe all look forward to the day when cannabis is legal across the United States. As advocates, we work to promote change. But have you ever considered the power words hold, especially surrounding cannabis?

I sat down with Oaksterdam University’s Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones to talk about this subject; it is one she discusses in lectures and is mindful of every day.

“The truth is that our words carry enormous weight,” said Jones. “Words shape our thoughts, feelings and attitudes, which dictate our actions. That’s why how we talk about cannabis is so important today.”

FMarhuanaLots of words in the English language are used to refer to cannabis: locoweed, weed, grass, dope, pot, marijuana, ganja, maryjane, and others. At one time in America ‘cannabis’ referred to the plant and was used by pharmaceutical companies in medicine to treat insomnia, migraines and rheumatism. Not until the early 1900s—when Mexicans legally immigrated to America to escape the Mexican Revolution—that we learned the word ‘marihuana,’ which in-and-of itself is not a bad word.  However, the stigma associated with ‘marijuana’ took hold in the early 1930s when Harry Anslinger specifically used the term in propaganda and linked its use to minorities in an effort to racialize the plant.

The War on Drugs was declared by former president Nixon in 1971, soon after the Controlled Substances Act became law and classified cannabis as a schedule I controlled substance illegal federally. At this time in history, America was experiencing youthful rebellion, social upheaval, political dissent and an elevated presence of federal drug control agencies. Generations of children learned about the dangers of drugs including marijuana through programs like D.A.R.E., which perpetuated negative information and attitudes related to cannabis.

Today, even as cannabis is more accepted by the general public, Jones maintains that the cannabis industry is still a movement. “No other industry in America produces and trades a product that is federally illegal,” said Jones. “Until this changes the cannabis industry is a movement.”

Dale Sky Jones - Oaksterdam University
Dale Sky Jones

Movement implies work-in-progress and that’s exactly how Jones sees it. “Some of the obstacles still in our way are mental, perceived, and emotional. These are all very real and the words we use must be specific to change perceptions and stigma.”

So, what words do we need to drop from our vocabulary as cannabis advocates? “Stop using the word ‘recreational,’” said Jones. “It’s a dangerous word because it conjures up images of stereotypes or images of children playing, both of which don’t help us move forward.”

Other words to consider include:

  • Adult, Commercial, Retail … instead of Recreational
  • Cannabis, Medicine … instead of Pot, Weed, Marijuana
  • Consume and Consumer … instead of Use and User
  • Overmedicate … instead of Overdose
  • De-schedule … instead of Reschedule

“Advocacy requires education and responsibility,” said Jones. “Choosing our words wisely advances our goal.”

How to Better Protect Your Cannabis Business Facebook Page; 6 Steps to Take Now

Facebook Cannabis PageIf you’re in the cannabis industry and have a page on Facebook, you are probably watching as one of the world’s largest social media platforms is taking down marijuana dispensary pages. With over 1.59 billion active monthly users as of December 2015, Facebook’s shutdown of three New Jersey dispensary pages made news early in February.

Medical cannabis is legal in New Jersey and three of the state’s five dispensaries received messages from Facebook saying their pages had been unpublished because their content didn’t follow Facebook terms. Dispensary owners and patients alike were surprised by Facebook’s move. Two of the three dispensaries now have pages back up on Facebook; one made edits and appealed to Facebook to have its page reinstated and the other dispensary started a brand new page.

A recent NBC News report about the page shutdowns included a statement from Facebook saying that the pages were taken down for “violating [the site’s] Community Standards, which outline what is and is not allowed on Facebook.”

While Facebook’s mission is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” the platform has a responsibility to all of its users. One paragraph in the company’s standards covers ‘regulated goods’ and states “We prohibit any attempts by unauthorized dealers to purchase, sell, or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, or firearms. If you post an offer to purchase or sell alcohol, tobacco, or adult products, we expect you to comply with all applicable laws and carefully consider the audience for that content. We do not allow you to use Facebook’s payment tools to sell or purchase regulated good on our platform.”

Further, Facebook clearly states that it will “remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.”

And, though cannabis is legal in some form in 23 American states as well as the District of Columbia, it is still considered a Schedule I Substance under Federal Law. That makes publishing cannabis-related content on any social media platform a fine balancing act.

New Jersey dispensary Facebook pages are not the only ones that have been affected; news of other cannabusiness Facebook pages being blocked is filtering into the news from other states including Colorado and Arizona.

Could Facebook scrutiny of your page be next? Don’t wait to be warned to take action. Here are six steps you can take now to help safeguard your Facebook page…and what to do if your page is disabled.

1. Understand Facebook’s Community Standards and Terms. Many of us simply don’t read the fine print. When you create a Facebook page, you enter into an agreement with Facebook. Review the company’s Community Standards to understand what Facebook considers inappropriate and review their basic Terms of Service to understand the terms of your relationship with the social media platform.

2. Remove Sales Content, Photos and Prices. Facebook’s reach goes beyond the state in which you can legally sell medical and adult-use cannabis. Remove any reference to the sale of such products. While it is tempting to make your Facebook page an extension of your website, that’s not recommended. And, if you have a Facebook storefront, take it down.

3. Avoid Paid Promotions. Facebook can be tenacious in its suggestions to pay to promote a post or get more likes; that’s how most businesses can grow a presence on the social media platform. The platform pushes such offers to all of its business page owners. Do your best to look away and avoid these options. Anytime you pay to promote information related to cannabis on your Facebook page, it could easily be viewed as ‘advertising’ instead of ‘educational.’

4. Up Your Organic Game. Using the best keywords in your posts will help you build an audience organically. This is true for any social media platform. Focus on writing good content. Choose keywords that relate to your business and approach content as a way to educate others. Use hashtags. This is one the most important tools in your social media toolkit.

5. Avoid Photos of Cannabis Products You Sell. From a cannabis business perspective, posting images of marijuana buds you sell may make complete sense–even educational in nature. However, Facebook may draw the line at this because it is product for sale.

6. Focus on Building Relationships. At its core, Facebook is about connecting with people. Selling product shouldn’t be your primary goal of using Facebook. Rather, work at building relationships and engaging people. Find information that will be of interest to others related to your business and staff. Do you best to curate existing news articles to share on your Facebook page.

7. If Necessary, Appeal the Take Down or Rebuild. Should you receive a warning that your Facebook page will be disabled, go through the list above. And carefully read the email you receive from Facebook. It will provide a link for you to use to appeal your page being taken down. If your Facebook page is taken down, you have the option to create a new one–doing it within the Community Standards set forth by Facebook.

Cannabusinesses are not the only pages that are being targeted. Soon after President Obama introduced an executive order expanding background checks for gun purchases in January, Facebook banned private, person-to-person purchase and sale of guns on the platform.

With a focus on marijuana businesses and private gun sales, Facebook is likely feeling the potential of things to come. They certainly don’t want to be perceived as promoting unlicensed gun sales and the same could be said about cannabusinesses as long as cannabis is federally illegal in the United States.

This is another sign to the cannabis industry that advocating for de-scheduling of cannabis is needed. While there is no guarantee that Facebook won’t target your page, the best advice is to clean up your content and go forward with an eye on providing educational information to build relationships with people on Facebook. It may seem nearly impossible to do this, but with some creativity it can be done. And, if you need advice or assistance in creating great content for your posts consider contacting us for help.

Have You Made the Switch? 5 Reasons to HTTPS Encrypt Your Website Now

Secured connection link web browser detail

Have you secured your website with HTTPS encryption yet? We first published a post about securing your website in September 2014. That’s when Google announced it’s indexing priority for HTTPS websites and gave websites a window of two years to migrate to HTTPS encryption.

According to MozCast–which looks at changes in major Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features over time–there’s a slow steady increase in HTTPS page-1 results. the graph below shows activity over the past 30 days.


Now’s the time to make the switch. Here are 5 reasons that will impact your business:

  1. More secure. HTTP website traffic is unencrypted and a bit like putting out a welcome mat for hackers. If your website uses HTTPS, the data is encrypted, meaning that only the users of your site and you can see what users are doing on your website.
  2. Protect your data. The data on your site can not be corrupted or modified during transfer without being detected.
  3. Users peace of mind. If at any time users are asked to input their personal data on your site, they’ll be more comfortable doing so after being assured that the connection and their data are safe and secure.
  4. More referral data. When a user from another secure website travels to your secure website, their browser will tell your website where they came from. This will allow you to track where your traffic is coming from and to further exploit those sources.
  5. Google priority when indexing. Google made a point in announcing that security is a priority to them and that they will use HTTPS encryption as a ranking signal. This means that by switching your site to HTTPS, your site will rank higher in Google searches.

Switching from HTTP to HTTPS encryption isn’t the only thing you should do to protect your site or to improve your rankings, but it is definitely a good place to start. Be sure to check the security of your website before and after making the switch to see the difference it makes. For more tips on how to improve your ranking signal or how to protect your site from hackers, contact a digital marketing professional.

Natalie Kane contributed to this blog post.


How to Establish Your Mobile App and Keep Users Engaged

Mobile Apps Concept

So you have a website and a bunch of followers on Facebook, but what’s next? Creating a mobile app can be the next big step for many small businesses. Here are five steps to ensure your app will reach your audience and how to keep users engaged once they’ve downloaded it:

  1. Start by reaching out to existing customer touch points. Share the grand opening of your mobile app on the homepage of your website. This way, you’re reaching people who already know and love your company and you’re not spending your marketing dollars.
  2. Remember all of the things phones can do, and incorporate them. You can add QR codes, short URLs, and even SMS codes promoting your mobile app to all of your existing forms of communication.
  3. Turn to social media. Facebook and Twitter both offer app-install ads you can purchase, or you could simply post about the launch of your new app.
  4. Ask yourself if you would download your app. Your app must offer something unique in order to merit a user’s download. Make sure your app has value.
  5. Plan ahead for a seamless app experience. Once your app in launched, use your app analytics to understand which features of your app are most valuable to your users. Use this information to decide which areas of the app to grow and which ones to get rid of.
  6. Create a tie between other sources of media. Ask users to allow push messages to their notifications center on their phone. Use consumer information such as email and phone number to send updates.

Now you’re ready to drive traffic towards your new mobile app! Using these tips, you can be sure that once users are there, they’ll be there to stay. Don’t forget to spice up your app to keep long-time users interested. Bring on a digital marketing expert if you want more tips on mobile apps.

Natalie Kane contributed to this blog post.