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. DailyStory works with a customers in a variety of industries including cannabis and CBD.
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:
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 $0.03.
Note: Using an MMS to include an image that uses text is a way to work around potential carrier violations.
While MMS messages have significant benefits for cannabis marketers, MMS messages are only supported by modern smartphones (such as Android and iPhone). Not all mobile devices are capable of receiving MMS messages.
All content sent through phone companies’ networks is delivered at their discretion. This means that not all content will get through, and some content will get flagged as a “carrier violation.”
What are carrier violations?
A carrier violation occurs when carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T, and others) receive an outbound SMS or MMS message and opt to not deliver it to the destination phone number. In other words, carriers monitor and filter text message content. And, if your message triggers a perceived violation from the carrier’s perspective, your text will not be delivered.
These violations can occur for a number of reasons:
- High number of recipients replying STOP or QUIT to opt-out
- High delivery failure rate due to non-mobile numbers
- Objectionable content
- Content that is overly promotional or sales-related
- Content that may be considered misleading
As a cannabis marketer, it is especially important that SMS marketing is only sent to recipients that have both opted-in and are expecting the message.
Furthermore, the content of the message should not contain any words deemed to be illegal. Examples include (but are not limited to):
This also includes variations of these terms, for example, “c@nn@bis,” “cannabi$,” “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.
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.
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 bit.ly or tinyurl.com. 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.
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).
What DailyStory can do to help you run a successful cannabis SMS marketing campaign
Above are steps and recommendations for running a successful cannabis text message campaign. These should be common across any marketing platform you use. But, when using DailyStory, there is much more that can be done to boost the success of your campaign.
Let’s first explain what DailyStory is: DailyStory is a marketing automation platform. It helps you take your existing and new marketing campaigns and execute them with process, consistency and measurement. It does this with a set of common marketing tools (SMS, email, popups, website, landing pages), provides reporting around those, but most importantly enables powerful automation to enable you to run automated campaigns.
The capabilities below are what we believe DailyStory can uniquely offer, especially to cannabis marketers.
1. Send targeted SMS marketing to a segment of your contacts
Often, when working with cannabis marketers, we find that their approach to SMS marketing is to send the same message to their entire audience. For example, your dispensary may have 10,000 contacts. In this case, a daily deal text message is sent to all 10,000 of your contacts.
While this works, a complimentary and proven strategy is to segment your contacts and target each segment with the most appropriate message.
Note: An audience segment refers to a group of contacts with shared or common attributes that are grouped together for marketing purposes.
Here’s an applicable scenario: You want to start a campaign, which will offer exclusive discounted deals to your customers who purchased flower within the last 90 days and have spent over $1,000 since becoming a customer. And, you want to restrict this segment only to customers who are within a 25-mile radius of your location.
This type of audience segmentation ensures that the accompanying offer is well targeted at potential customers. Distance-based segmentation is especially important for cannabis marketers since out-of-state customers are not likely to be able to take advantage of a deal or offer.
DailyStory brings in data for segmentation through either import or integration. DailyStory is integrated with several platforms. Flowhub, a modern point of sale system for dispensaries, is one example. Data from Flowhub flows into DailyStory and makes it incredibly easy to build segments based on customer data.
Below are some examples of segments:
- Never purchased
- Have not purchased within last 30, 60, or 90 days
- Engaged customers (clicked links or visited your website)
- Disengaged customers (have not clicked links or visited your website)
- New customers
- Customers that have spent more than $1,000
- Customers with a medical license expiring in the next 30 days
- Customers with more than 100 loyalty points
- Customers that purchase flower
- Customers that are within a 25-mile radius of your location
Segmentation is also used to build exclusion lists. For example, if you operate both medicinal and recreational locations, who you can market to changes. Some states allow medicinal customers 18 and older. Most states require recreational customers to be 21 or older.
It’s easy to build a segment of contacts younger than 21 years old, for example, and exclude them when running promotional campaigns for your recreational location.
Identify who is engaged and not engaged
We recommend building segments first of engaged and disengaged customers. This simple segmentation will enable you to better target different content for different groups. And, most importantly, you will not send text messages to people who have a higher likelihood of opting out or flagging your message as objectionable.
The ability to segment your customer data is a powerful tool within DailyStory. You can bring any data about your customers into the system and use that for segmentation.
Regionalize message delivery
As discussed in the example above, using distance-based segmentation is a powerful and simple tool to better focus who receives your message.
We often advocate regionalizing the content as it is common for medical and recreational locations to have transient, out-of-state customers. Targeting these customers with daily marketing is a guaranteed way to either generate a carrier violation or an opt-out.
2. Rely on intelligent sending
DailyStory’s SMS marketing platform uses a world-class infrastructure for sending text messages. While we have worked with many cannabis marketers, our experience and platform is used by thousands or marketers in a variety of industries. As such, there are numerous unique capabilities that DailyStory is able to offer.
For example, DailyStory can use a pool of long-code phone numbers when sending text messages from your account. We also will make the recipients “sticky” to the phone number that messages were sent from. This ensures that even when you have multiple phone numbers, recipients will always receive your texts from the same number. Furthermore, if you have multiple area codes, your pool of long-code numbers will automatically match up with recipients based on area code.
Automated sending guardrails
DailyStory enforces rules when sending text messages. These rules are in place to help you effectively communicate and ensure simple mistakes are avoided.
- A lead in a campaign is only sent a text message once. When sending text messages through automation or through the scheduler, we will ensure that a lead in a campaign will only receive your text message once. This keeps you from sending the same text message by accident, and it allows the tracking of text message performance per unique send. What this means is that a text message can be scheduled repeatedly for the same campaign or sent again through an automation without any concern of over-sending the same text message. If the recipient was previously sent the text message, they will not be sent that text message again.
- Mobile numbers are automatically de-duplicated. While a recipient can only be sent a text message once, it is possible for multiple recipients to share the same mobile number. When both contacts are set to receive the text message in a campaign, both will be marked as have been sent the text message. However, the text message will only go to the shared mobile number once.
- The contact must be Active. The contact who is set to receive the text message must be an Active contact. Contacts marked as Deleted, for example, will not receive a text message.
- Lead status must be Active, Converted, or Nurturing. When a contact is added to a campaign, it is called a lead. A lead in a campaign can only receive a text message from that campaign if the lead’s status is Active, Converted or Nurturing.
- Contact must be opted-in. Contacts who are marked as “do not contact” or have opted out of text messages will not be sent any texts.
- The mobile number must be valid. Invalid mobile numbers will not be sent to.
- “Do not contact” date must not be in the future. If a contact’s “do not contact until” date is set to a future date, the text message will not be sent.
- The max contact frequency cannot be exceeded. If the contact’s max contact frequency is exceeded (the maximum number of messages per day the contact can receive) the text message will not be sent.
- Auto-cool down once flagged. If a contact is flagged for a carrier violation, DailyStory will auto-cooldown your account until it’s appropriate to begin sending again.
While these examples are specific to SMS marketing, DailyStory’s capabilities extend well beyond this as you begin running multi-channel marketing, such as email, social media and more.
3. Benefit from artificial intelligence
DailyStory offers a proprietary Text Message Deliverability Score tool that is built into the text message editor. This tool is built to help you avoid getting your message flagged as a carrier violation. In general, you should attempt a score of 85% or higher. And while this does not guarantee that your message won’t be blocked, there is a much higher chance of delivery.
What impacts the deliverability score?
DailyStory maintains a growing list of more than 2,500 words and phrases that are known to impact carrier deliverability. This list is driven largely by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to analyze customer content and deliverability. For example, a low impact phrase may be “get 15% off” whereas a higher impact word or phrase uses terms that may be illegal, such as “buy cannabis today.”
In addition to words and phrases, the URL used in your text message is important. As mentioned earlier, you should not use public URL shorteners like bit.ly. Instead, simply include your URL and allow DailyStory to use its built-in shortener.
The reason for this recommendation is that shared shortener domains, like bit.ly, are used by a wide variety of messaging industry-wide, potentially including spam or unwanted content, which is filtered by carriers.
4. Make decisions using reports and insights
From the text messaging reports homepage, you will find a summary dashboard for total delivered, total failed, total opt-out and total clicked across all text messages within a selected time frame.
Beneath the dashboard, you will see a list of text messages for the time frame selected and the following summary information for each:
- Name of message
- Sent total
- Last Sent date (you have the ability to sort this column by most or least recent)
Once you are inside the report for an individual text message, a new dashboard will appear with results that apply for that specific text message. The dashboard buttons also are clickable links to the supporting data for each metric.
View replies in text message reports
In addition, there is a Text Message Replied Report that shows you all of the replies received for any given text message.
When viewing All Text Messages under the Sent Text Messages Report, you can click on a number in the reply column to go directly to the replies report. From there, you can view all replies that were sent.
5. Simplify keyword management
With DailyStory, it is possible to create keywords for text message replies from your recipients. When a keyword is texted back as a response, the contact can automatically be added to a campaign.
This is exclusively used for adding people to a campaign. If you want to take an action when a keyword is received for a contact already in the campaign, we have an Autopilot automation that you can set up for that purpose.
6. Automate as much as possible
DailyStory enables you to automate how text message replies are handled. When someone replies to your text message, several things happen:
- The text message reply can run an automation.
- The text message reply will get logged in the text message replies report.
- You will receive a notification that a text message reply was received.
Run an automation
When a text message reply is received, if there is a trigger or condition set up for the text message, DailyStory’s Autopilot will run that automation.
For example, you could start an automation when a reply is received. This could be as simple as starting a drip campaign or replying back with a specific message.
You also can set an Autopilot condition to evaluate the text message reply and take specific actions. For example, if you sent a text message with an offer, such as “Reply YES to get this awesome deal,” you could run a condition that would automate the series of actions when “YES” was received.
Automation is an incredibly powerful part of the DailyStory platform. And, you can automate everything from new member welcome campaigns, handling replies to text messages, taking actions when people visit your website and so much more. It is one of the most popular capabilities with our customers.
7. Leverage a multi-channel marketing platform
Email marketing is an untapped opportunity for most cannabis marketers.
In fact, about 91 percent of U.S. consumers use email, and it is estimated that for every $1 spent on email marketing, an average of $38 is gained, making the ROI (return on investment) a potential 3,800 percent.
Emails also are not as restrictive as SMS marketing and serve as a perfect complement to an overall digital marketing strategy that already features text messages.
If you aren’t already, we strongly encourage Cannabis and CBD marketers to use email as part of their marketing strategy.
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.
At DailyStory, we’re focused on helping marketers put 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.
If you would like to learn more about DailyStory and how we’ve helped cannabis marketers, please contact us as email@example.com.