SMS marketing guide for cannabis marketers

12 minute read
SMS marketing guide for cannabis marketers

Thank you for your interest in our content regarding SMS marketing for Cannabis. However, DailyStory does not provide SMS marketing for Cannabis businesses.

SMS marketing is a powerful tool for cannabis marketers. Text messages, on average, have a 95 percent open rate. The strategies and tips in this guide will help ensure that your text messages get delivered, read, and drive revenue for your product or dispensary. The more effective your SMS marketing, the higher your sales.

PDF version of the Cannabis SMS Marketing Best Practices guide

We’ve created a PDF, SMS Marketing Best Practices for Cannabis, that details the steps you should follow to run a great SMS marketing campaign. And, it is specifically written for cannabis marketers.

At DailyStory, we’re focused on helping marketers incorporate process, consistency and measurement around your marketing campaigns. Doing so enables you to make decisions based on performance versus what you think might be working.

While many of these recommendations don’t apply strictly to cannabis / CBD, most do. And, although cannabis is not federally legalized yet, consideration should be made for what is legal in a state-to-state environment.

And, finding cannabis friendly SMS providers is not easy.

1. How phone companies view SMS Marketing

SMS marketing, which utilizes telecommunication provider networks (such as AT&T), enables the delivery of content through both SMS (Simple Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Service). It’s important to understand how the telecommunication companies process your messages since it directly impacts the types of messages that can be sent.

Messages sent over the phone companies’ networks are billed per-message and are delivered solely at the phone companies’ discretion.

What are SMS and MMS messages?

SMS messages are sent as text but can include special characters like emojis. For example:

SMS Marketing Text Message

An SMS has a character-length limit of 160 characters, known as a “segment.” A segment is a hold-over from a time before smartphones. And, it’s common to send and receive messages that are more than 160 characters long. However, the telecommunication companies still charge per message segment. On average, each segment of a message typically costs $0.0075 to $0.01.

An MMS or use the same technology as SMS but enables sending an image and optionally include text content. The cost for an MMS message is equivalent to three SMS segments. On average, an MMS message costs $0.0225 to $0.03.

SMS Marketing Text Message

Note: Using an MMS to include an image that uses text is a way to work around potential carrier violations.

While MMS messages have significant benefits for cannabis marketers, MMS messages are only supported by modern smartphones (such as Android and iPhone). Not all mobile devices are capable of receiving MMS messages.

Read more about text message marketing compliance and specifically how cannabis retailers stay in compliance with text messaging.

All content sent through phone companies’ networks is delivered at their discretion. This means that not all content will get through, and some content will get flagged as a “carrier violation.”

What are carrier violations?

A carrier violation occurs when carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T, and others) receive an outbound SMS or MMS message and opt to not deliver it to the destination phone number. In other words, carriers monitor and filter text message content. And, if your message triggers a perceived violation from the carrier’s perspective, your text will not be delivered.

These violations can occur for a number of reasons:

  • High number of recipients replying STOP or QUIT to opt-out
  • High delivery failure rate due to non-mobile numbers
  • Objectionable content
  • Content that is overly promotional or sales-related
  • Content that may be considered misleading

As a cannabis marketer, it is especially important that SMS marketing is only sent to recipients that have both opted-in and are expecting the message.

Furthermore, the content of the message should not contain any words deemed to be illegal. Examples include (but are not limited to):

  • “cannabis”
  • “kush”
  • “flower”
  • “dab”
  • “marijuana”
  • “pre-roll”
  • “edible”
  • “indica”
  • “sativa”

This also includes variations of these terms, for example, “c@nn@bis,” “cannabi$,” “prer0ll” or “ku$h,” as well as plural versions, such as “edibles.”

Note: In some cases of small text message sends (fewer than 300 recipients) it is possible to use these terms without getting flagged as a carrier violation.

The good news is that there are things you can do to improve the deliverability of your text messages.

Note: When using DailyStory, it is possible to check your text message deliverability score using the DailyStory Deliverability Score tool. It will help you quickly identify any problems with the content of your text message.

Read more about carrier violations and how to avoid them.

2. Bring quality data for SMS Marketing

It’s imperative that your customer database has been opted-in to receiving SMS marketing from you.

Note: We recommend double opting-in all your SMS marketing recipients.

You can obtain this permission when a new customer signs up or agrees to an offer. For example, several of our cannabis and CBD customers provide an opt-in for their customers when they make a purchase at a store or add to an online cart.

An easy way to opt potential customers in is with an offer. For example, you can say on your website: “Text JOIN to (555) 123-4567 and get offers and coupons sent to your smartphone.”

Note: We encourage cannabis marketers to encourage replies to their text messages. This sends a positive signal to the phone companies that your message is valid.

And while agreeing to receive text messages should be easy, so should opting out of them. The most common opt-out option for text messages is by replying with “STOP.” In fact, including this text is required for cannabis text message marketing.

Note: When DailyStory receives the text STOP, QUIT, or UNSUBSCRIBE the recipient is automatically marked as “do not text” and is ineligible for future text messages. While text message keywords are often shown fully capitalized, DailyStory’s text message keyword processing is not case sensitive.

Quality over quantity

When it comes to your data, think quality over quantity. A smaller database with up-to-date, correct contact information is more powerful than a larger database with out-of-date information and contacts who haven’t opted in yet.

Next, don’t focus exclusively on a transactional relationship with your customer. While daily deal text messages are important, you should also consider messages to:

  • Alert them that their medical card license is about to expire
  • Wish them a happy birthday
  • Welcome new customers
  • Express “we miss you” to customers that haven’t purchased recently
  • Target customers with specific offers, such as a new pre-roll

We also recommend focusing on brand identity. If all the text messages are transactional and not relational, your customers will have no affinity to your brand or location.

Personalize your text messages

Personalization is your ability to use the data you have about your audience to understand how your content best fits their needs or interests. This ensures visitors and customers get messaging tailored to them.

DailyStory’s personalization engine uses a contact’s profile properties and custom fields to build simple replacement personalization, such as displaying a person’s first name, or more complex personalization to show varying blocks of content.

Read more about personalization and how it is truly one-on-one marketing.

Note: DailyStory has built-in personalization enabling the personalization of text message content.

Avoid free URL shorteners in your text messages

When you do include a URL in your text message, you want that URL to be as compact as possible since the character count in your URL impacts your message segment size (increasing the cost).

A common mistake is for cannabis marketers to use free URL shorteners like or These URL shorteners take a long URL, such as:

And shorten it to:

However, the use of these public URL shorteners is almost always guaranteed to cause a carrier violation. Because public URL shorteners aren’t associated with a specific business, where they redirect to isn’t automatically trusted.

DailyStory includes a built-in URL shortener. When editing or creating a text message, use your full URL, and DailyStory will automatically convert it to a shortened URL. An added benefit is that each recipient will have their own unique, shortened URL.

Note: DailyStory’s built-in text message URL shortener is enabled by default but can be disabled, too.

3. Build your SMS marketing reputation

Similar to warming up your email-sending reputation, you should warm up your text message sending number(s).

Suddenly sending from a new number can cause recipients to opt-out, which may cause your message to get flagged. When carriers see your text messages for the first time, it’s best to keep your messages simple and concise. Most importantly, don’t use links or any sales language to begin with but do use images with your logo to help recipients know who the message is from.

Better yet, if you can craft a message that requests a response, such as “Reply YES for more info,” these replies help the carriers identify that your content is expected and welcomed by the recipient.

Note: Customer replies sent to text messages can be used to start automations and will be sent as a notification to your team members.

The difference between short codes and long codes (10DLC)

In text messaging, there are short codes and long codes.

Short code

A short code is a 5- to 6-digit number used to send SMS or MMS messages. For example, a spa can ask customers to text RELAX to 35353 to join its loyalty program. Short codes are special because they are designed to be used for promotional purposes, unlike long codes.

10 Digit Long Code (10DLC)

A long code is a standard, 10-digit number, also known as a 10 digit long code (10DLC) that also can be used to send SMS or MMS messages. It’s the type of phone number you’re likely used to: (123) 456-7890.

Differences between short and long codes

One of the differences between the two is that short codes allow you to send thousands of messages at once, making them ideal for mass texting, while long codes can only send one message per second. A common practice is to register multiple long codes to share the load because short codes can be more costly and frankly more impersonal.

Short codes are usually rented from providers for $1,000 per quarter. Long codes are usually rented for about $1 per month. The main differences have to do with send rates and allowed content. Long codes typically should send no more than about 200 messages per hour. Otherwise, you risk getting flagged for a carrier violation and seen as a potential spammer.

Whereas long codes will always pass through carrier filtering, short codes are not as restrictive.

While short codes are more costly, they do allow for better content. They also have a higher delivery rate than long codes.

Can cannabis marketers use short codes?

No, Cannabis marketers cannot use short codes. The CTIA lists cannabis as part of SHAFT (sex, hate, alcohol, firearms and tobacco) content. Senders sending SHAFT content are not allowed to use short codes.

Related: A2P 10DLC updates for SMS marketing

4. A picture (MMS) is worth 1,000 words

As discussed earlier, MMS is an extension of the SMS protocol. Unlike SMS, which is text-only, MMS can deliver a variety of media, such as images, videos and GIFs.

While there is an increased cost for sending text messages with images, there is increased value as well that cannot be ignored. Visuals consistently generate higher engagement rates across various marketing platforms. Think of a tweet with an image versus a text-only tweet.

Images also help the cannabis marketer convey the intended message while avoiding illegal words and phrases.

Good uses of MMS marketing

We typically recommend that all of our cannabis marketers employ MMS as part of their text messaging strategy. Below are a few good examples:

  • Brand identity for text messages help the recipient know who the message is from
  • Use of words or terms that would cause carrier violations if sent as plain text
  • QR codes for discounts or offers

Poor uses of MMS marketing

We see many cannabis marketers publishing large, beautiful high-resolution images on Instagram and Twitter. These platforms are fully capable of handling these large images, which are typically displayed on a desktop or app designed for images, like Instagram.

These large, high-resolution images are typically not great candidates for MMS marketing. An ideal MMS should have a resolution no larger than 1200 pixels wide and should be optimized for the dimensions of a mobile phone screen (16:9). The message file type should be a JPG and is ideally as small in size as possible (fewer than 200KB).

Of course, MMS messages can run up against carrier violations for such issues as the media file not being the right size for the carrier. Also, not all receivers’ devices are MMS compatible. When that’s the case, the carrier may return an error indicating the device is not capable of receiving MMS messages.

5. Invest time and effort into your content

Compelling content works alongside clean contact data for a successful SMS marketing campaign. In essence, content is truly king.

What to avoid in your SMS marketing

As noted earlier, you’ll want to avoid any illegal words or phrases in your text messages, such as “cannabis,” “kush,” “weed” and “marijuana” (among others). There are some exceptions to this, such as smaller send sizes and when sending using a short code.

In addition, it’s critical to avoid language that is too sales-focused. Terms like “free,” “deal,” “sale” and others can flag carrier violations and prevent your text from being delivered.

What to focus on in your SMS marketing

This means that you have to get creative and think outside the box. Writing a fewer-than-160-character message that’s conversational, not overly sales-focused and shares your brand and identity does not just happen.

Remember, just because the words “deal” and “sale” can get flagged, you still want to think through ways to convey that there is a deal or a sale that a recipient should act on.

Write a few drafts, get feedback from colleagues and use the DailyStory Deliverability Score tool to rate how successful your deliverability will be (according to typical carrier violations).

Read more about how you can write effective text messages.

In conclusion

We hope this guide helps you run a successful text messaging campaign and provides some good tips. The legalization of cannabis, varying across state laws and federal law means that cannabis marketers operate in an ever-changing environment. It’s important to find partners that understand this environment and help you maximize your marketing investments.

Thank you for your interest in our content regarding SMS marketing for Cannabis. However, DailyStory does not provide SMS marketing for Cannabis businesses.

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