Inside Fluent cannabis company’s email and SMS marketing strategy to grow first-party data

Florida-based cannabis company Fluent is steadily ramping up its email marketing to create a direct line of communication with shoppers in an increasingly noisy digital environment.

Cannabis regulations have become less stringent, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp. However, restrictions on cannabis advertising are still in place on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube, making digital advertising a murky place for cannabis brands like Fluent.

While some cannabis brands have found a workaround through influencer marketing, Fluent has instead turned its efforts to its email strategy, which has seen a 25% year-over-year increase in spend, according to Os Graziani, creative director at Fluent. At present, Fluent’s budget for email and SMS marketing is around $350,000 a year, Graziani added. Around 20% goes to email marketing, leaving the remaining budget for SMS efforts, he said.

“We decided let’s go back to emails because at least I can have a direct conversation with my consumer,” Graziani said. “We established this amazing database of customers that were actually waiting for emails every day because they knew that there was some value in them.”

For the last three years, Fluent has had an email strategy in place, spending 25% more on the channel each year as it becomes the brand’s leading customer retention tool. Recently, Graziani said the brand has layered in text message-based marketing and is testing segmentation within those efforts. The information collected allowed Fluent to build out its marketing and product strategy, he said.

At present, Fluent sends anywhere from 10 to 14 emails and text messages per week, averaging one or two emails a day to customers who sign up during in-store visits to Fluent retail locations, Graziani said. That email list has grown from 2,000 to 150,000 since it started, per Graziani.

“We’re really [keeping] an eye on open rates and engagement and we [found] out that it’s definitely all about putting value in the emails,” Graziani said, adding that Fluent marketing emails include discount deals, new product launches and company announcements. 

For Fluent, email and SMS marketing has served as a cost-efficient customer retention and brand awareness tool. Per Graziani, a text campaign can result in a 20% revenue increase compared to a day without one.

According to Kantar, Fluent spent more than $22,000 on media in 2021, significantly up from the $2,655 spent in 2020. In 2019, Kantar reports Fluent spent $25,000 on media. Those figures do not include social media as Kantar does not track those numbers.

While email marketing has remained a consistent channel of communication between brands and customers, advertising experts say data privacy measures like iOS 15 have put a “proverbial nail in the coffin” of email marketing for brands that are getting emails from third-party data sources.

But for brands like Fluent, which rely on first-party data to build email subscriber lists, email marketing makes sense, according to Nicole Penn, president at EGC Group marketing agency.

“Email and SMS allow brands to lean on first-party data. The more personalized information you can have on your consumer, the better,” she said in an email.

However, she warns advertisers to treat data and inboxes with respect. 

“You’re not the only brand in their inbox (you’re likely one of 60 or 70),” Penn said. “And if you’re communicating too often with content and experiences that aren’t useful or memorable you’re likely to get an opt-out.”

As the digital advertising landscape remains cannabis-adverse, Fluent plans to continue efforts in email and text message-based marketing, using social media solely as a branding opportunity. 

“We’re definitely ready to be on social media when they let us. Right now, it feels like a very challenging ordeal,” Graziani said.

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