Marketing Smarts: Words You Should Never Use in Your Cannabis SMS Campaigns

With high open rates and fast response times—a blistering 90 seconds, on average—SMS (short for “simple message service”) is one of the very best ways to reach your customer base and share important news.

Of course, that word—“important”—is key. SMS marketing works best when it’s used to deliver short, meaningful, and actionable bits of information: A COVID-related closure, or a deal tailored to that customer’s purchase history and preferences. And SMS marketing only works when it’s legally compliant. That means steering clear of specific words that violate prohibitions on cannabis advertising.

Getting dropped by your cell carrier is a hassle; getting fined by your local cannabis regulatory agency is downright painful. Whether they’re clients of ours or not, we don’t want that to happen to any dispensary. So let’s take a little dip into the world of words you can’t use in your cannabis SMS campaigns.

Words You Should Never Use in Your Cannabis SMS Campaigns

First and foremost, you should be 100% sure that everyone you’re texting has actually opted in to receive SMS messages from you.

this seem self-evident? It does. Do dispensaries sometimes break this rule, and find that the people who didn’t actually opt in are the ones most likely to report them? They do. Are there attorneys just waiting around to initiate class-action lawsuits against said dispensaries?

You’d better believe it.

You can—and should—read more about these issues in our articles on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the CAN-SPAM Act. But what about all those specific words not to use?

Cell phone carriers all maintain lists that can trigger blockage of your texts (or a review by their legal team). And while those lists aren’t generally made public—nor is there a “standard practice” in this department—we can make educated guesses about which words might trigger such an event:

  • Marijuana
  • Cannabis
  • Weed
  • CBD
  • Hash
  • Joints
  • Shatter, wax, etc.
  • Transactional language like “Buy now”
  • Promoting sales or offers, such as “10% off today”
  • Implied health benefits, such as pain relief
  • Promotion of recreational use

cannabis sms campaigns woman looking at phone
Again, because cell phone carriers don’t generally publicize their lists of banned words, these are mere guesses. And we included some words with multiple meanings—like “weed”—to make a point: As some dispensaries have found (to their dismay), carriers can and do block their messages for reasons that might otherwise appear mysterious.

What if “cannabis” or “marijuana” is part of your business name? Some carriers allow you to customize your SMS display name, so that “Hightown Cannabis” could be configured to read “Hightown (placename)” or some similarly neutral identifier. But regardless, you’ll still need to exercise extreme care around your texting practices.

Speaking of which, let’s turn from the topic of what you can’t do with SMS marketing to the more constructive question of what you can (and should!) do with the power of SMS.

Marketing Smart: SMS Marketing Best Practices

For the foreseeable future at least, playing it safe is the way to go with SMS marketing. That means offering short and to-the-point messages about important service updates, targeted deals and other notable news. But some dispensaries find that bumping up to MMS—that’s “multimedia service”—offers a viable workaround in the form of image-based messages.

Of course, there’s a tradeoff. While a single SMS “segment” of 160 characters costs in the neighborhood of $.0075 to $.01 to send, an MMS—commonly calculated as three segments—costs between $.02 and $.03 to send. And devices other than modern Android and iOS smartphones generally aren’t capable of receiving MMS messages.

Over and above resorting to costly MMS campaigns—which also take more time to design and implement—we recommend you try them only in concert with time-tested and effective SMS marketing practices, such as:

  • Require a double opt-in to ensure customer confirmation. You can either use a simple SMS response to the original opt-in, or a more time-consuming form-filling approach that captures consumer information such as name, email, and other details. While the second approach is more valuable from your perspective, customers dedicated to quick texting may be turned off by this ask.
  • Always include the “STOP” option to immediately opt-out of SMS marketing.
  • Be targeted. Use segmentation to determine which texts should go to which customers. As with all good marketing efforts, when you reach out to fewer people with more precision, you’ll generally achieve better results.
  • Monitor any responses, like “I didn’t sign up for this.” On the same note, maintain a Do-Not-Text list and be sure that it’s up to date (and able to transfer between platforms should you change carriers).
  • Be regular. Send SMS messages on a regular schedule to maintain contact and trustworthiness, but don’t overdo it (may experts recommend no more than 2-3 campaigns a week). And rather than sending out a campaign on an important date such as 4/20 or Green Wednesday, where they might compete with other dispensary deals (or worse still, be delayed due to long message queues), send your cannabis SMS campaigns before the big day.
  • Be compliant. Choose your language carefully, identify your dispensary by name, and send between 8am and 9pm local time as per TCPA guidelines.
  • Be sparing with emoji, all caps, and other eye-catching gimmicks. Remember, the beauty of SMS lies in its simplicity and light footprint. Don’t try to make it something it’s not.

Need to grow your SMS list? Check out our webinar on topic: Sell More Now: 20 Ways to Quickly Grow Your SMS List.

Last and certainly not least: Develop a plan. Work with battle-tested experts in dispensary marketing to ensure your campaigns are as timely, effective, and lucrative as they can possibly be. Reach out anytime.