Thursday, December 19, 2013

Meet Mark Bowers, Internet Marketing Expert and Co-Founder of WeedBiz

Mark Bowers is the Marketing Director at Southern Retail Services, Inc and co-founder of WeedBiz.

Mark is a former police officer who turned his attention to the cause of cannabis legalization after leaving law enforcement and believes strongly in building a solid network of cannabusiness professionals as a way to establish a foothold in the emerging legal cannabis industry.

1. How did you decide to start a marketing firm for the legal cannabis industry?

Prior to entering law enforcement, I was a tech support supervisor at a large internet service provider. I learned the technical aspects of web development there and continued building and hosting websites throughout my law enforcement career. After about 10 years I transitioned back in to the "real world" and became interested in SEO and PPC marketing, while at the same time discovering the amazing benefits of medical marijuana. What followed was a natural progression of realizing the enormous potential in the legal cannabis industry.

2. What are some of the particular/unique marketing needs for businesses in this industry?

As legal cannabis spreads throughout the United States and Canada, it is losing some of its taboo, but there are still some challenges that are unique to the industry. For instance, in some cases the product or service we are trying to promote has never existed before so it can be a challenge to zero in on the right keywords to target. A good example of this would be the keyword "cannabusiness." Five years ago there were only 48 instances of that term being used on the internet. Today there are over 65,000. So sometimes you have to make up new words and then teach people what you think they should mean.

3. Do businesses in this field tend to need a particular focus on localized SEO to reach customers in their geographic area, or are people finding benefits in casting a wider net as well?

Local SEO is VITALLY important to businesses that rely on foot traffic, like medical marijuana dispensaries, especially in western states where there is heavy competition. With all the noise in legal cannabis markets, it can be really hard to stand out. We make this happen by developing a written local search plan and executing it with perfection. We have also established relationships with some of the leading dispensary locators online. We know which ones are likely to send traffic to your website and provide you with a solid link, and which ones to stay away from.

4. Do cannabis-related businesses run into any legal issues with their websites and other online activities (such as social media) because of federal drug legislation?

Over the last year the Obama administration has softened their stance on cannabis operations that follow state laws. This summer the Justice Department issued the Holder Memo, which basically said dispensaries that are above-board and follow both the spirit and the letter of the laws in states where cannabis is legal have nothing to worry about. That doesn't mean the potential for prosecution is not there; it just says if you follow the rules, you should be OK. Besides that, many of our clients don't sell cannabis; they provide ancillary products and services to the cannabis industry that are not illegal under federal law.

5. What is the best way for someone who is interested in selling medical marijuana to get into the industry?

As the trend for legalization and decriminalization moves east (cannabis is currently legal either for recreational or medicinal use in 20 states and the District of Columbia), we are seeing new rules being devised by state officials that make getting into the business a lot more difficult. For instance, if you wanted to open a dispensary in California five years ago, all you needed was about $10k and a half pound of good bud. But the eastern states don't want a free-for-all, so they tend to set the bar much higher. For instance, it is believed that "ganjapreneurs" who want to open a dispensary in Illinois in 2014 will need to have close to $500k on hand and go through a grueling vetting process for what really amounts to just a handful of permits.

My number one piece of advice once you are sure this is the industry you want to be in is to lock down a reputable dispensary consultant. They are going to cost you a lot of money (figure on at least $50k in states like Illinois and Massachusetts), but the payoff can be huge, so you definitely want someone that knows what they are talking about to guide you.

Thanks, Mark!

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