Have a Cannabis Business? Here’s How to Get More Visitors to your Website.

Paris Holley

In this interview with the co-founder of Mantis Ad Network, Paris Holley, we’ll learn exactly how cannabis-based business can advertise online and increase their sales. Paris gives specific expert suggestions anybody can use to get started.

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atthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.canninsider.com/trends. That’s www.canninsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Cannabis businesses can’t do many of the things that traditional businesses take for granted. We have had guests on the show talking about how to get a bank account for your cannabis based business, and today we have a special guest that will tell us how you can advertise your cannabis business online even if you’re ad has been turned down by media sources in the past. I’m pleased to welcome Paris Holly from Mantis Ad Network to CannaInsider. Welcome Paris.

Paris: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here, and talk a little bit about what we do.

Matthew: Yes tell us what Mantis Ad Network is and how it helps cannabis based businesses.

Paris: So Mantis is a digital marketing platform built specifically to support the industry that’s been neglected by Google, Facebook, Twitter and other traditional media companies. We allow businesses to advertise direct to a cannabis audience without worrying about being shut down or violating any strict terms of service. So to put simply, you know, if you’ve gone to one of our publishing partners, whether that’s been the Denver Post or Medical Jane, Leafly and read an article on those websites, often you will see on the side an image or a banner encouraging you to purchase a product or service as well as if you’ve any widgets that would recommend content for additional reading, and we’ve also powered a lot of that as well. And so what we’ve done is we built our own network within this space to provide an outlet for businesses to market their products and services.

Matthew: Yeah this is really needed because Google won’t touch anything in the cannabis related market, and Facebook primarily as well. So this is really solving a big problem. What is your background, and how did you come to start Mantis?

Paris: Yeah, so I come from an enterprise consulting background. I led teams as a system architect for Fortune 500 companies across the country. My introduction to this space was actually through my partner Matthew Price who became a patient here in California and founded Medical Jane to focus on educating consumers about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. It was through our work together on that project that we began to identify gaps within this space, and marketing was a common theme we heard both as a publisher and as advertisers. Traditionally businesses in this space only have events and print to go to for a lot of their marketing efforts. So the pain points that we went through, the anecdotes that we heard from businesses in this space, we felt that Mantis was definitely needed. And if no one was going to support the industry, you know, it’s something that we kind of needed to do and build on our own.

Matthew: So let’s dig down a little bit into what Mantis does. Let’s say I have a business that’s in the cannabis space and I have an ad that’s been turned down by Google or Facebook, but I think it’s a really good ad, how can Mantis get my ad out there? What’s going to happen once I submit a banner ad to Mantis?

Paris: Sure so our network is composed of over 50 websites that are either focused primarily on delivering cannabis content or are just supportive of our space in general and willing to promote cannabis businesses on their websites. So within each of those websites we provide the ability to target based on demographics such as age, income and gender. Maybe based on the location of where that visitor is coming from whether that be by state, by country or by metro, as well as through keyword targeting. So if you’re reading an article about a particular target or a topic, excuse me, you would be able to then market your campaign and your banners to specific types of content. And as I mentioned before, the way we do that is we either put the banners on those websites or we recommend content from your website within those publications. So we’ve built our own network by collaborating with all of these different websites in this space who are friendly to cannabis businesses.

Matthew: There may be a lot of listeners that are not familiar with the terminology used in online marketing, and it can seem a little bit intimidating. But really the concepts are very easy once they’re explained. Can you help us understand some of the important metrics that are thrown around with online advertising?

Paris: Sure. I think that the one that’s probably most known would be the one metric that everyone tends to focus a lot on is conversion rates, right. So I launch a campaign. I know that if I spend X amount of dollars, drive people to the website, my visitors are going to convert into a purchase at a certain percentage of my overall traffic. Generally when you look across e-commerce and other websites, you know, companies tend to sell anywhere between half a percent to two percent of their overall traffic and converting that into sales. And so conversion rate is a good metric to use as an overall indication of performance in general of a campaign. But there’s also other metrics that you have to be aware of, and regardless of whether or not you’re spending to drive traffic or you’re building organic traffic. So there’s tools out there like Google Analytics which can give you a plethora of metrics whether that be bounce rates or flow within the websites. So you’ll actually be able to track, okay what page does the user enter on? How many pages does he view? What page does he drop off? If he views a product, does he add it to the cart? After he adds it to the cart, does he continue to check out or does he usually stop once he sees the price and the shipping cost in the cart?

So there’s a lot of data available through these tools that you can use to optimize not only your page spend, but even just taking advantage of the traffic that you get through other channels to your website. It’s understandable that many businesses tend to focus on that conversion rate specifically because it’s an important number, right. If you know if I drive so much traffic, it’s going to only convert at best case at a certain percentage, I can correlate how much I spend to how much I’m going to earn in profit. What a lot of businesses don’t do is really build a model around what the true cost of an acquisition is or a lead is and figuring out the lifetime cost of having that lead as a potential customer. A lot of businesses will spend or put a lot of effort into building their organic traffic without taking advantage of contact information that you can grab from a visitor. So if you’re paying for a campaign or you are launching an SEO effort and driving traffic to your website, but you’re not getting that user’s email in a marketing list, you’re not asking them for their phone number, you’re essentially throwing away traffic. Even if that user does not buy the first time he comes to your website, you can always remarket and retarget them in the future.

Matthew: Great point, and you just mentioned remarketing. So let’s go ahead and talk about that. That’s something that a lot of people won’t be familiar with. Can you tell us what remarketing is and how you can leverage remarketing to bring down the total cost of your marketing efforts?

Paris: Sure so retargeting is a powerful tool that’s really kind of grown in the digital and the ad tech space in the recent years. And what it allows you to do is track when a user or a visitor comes to your website. And even if they don’t purchase a product, you know that they’ve been to your website before. So if they go to, for instance, www.cnn.com or another online website and you then have the opportunity to present them with advertising based on the fact that they’ve been to your site and done some action, right. So it can be as simple as hey you’ve gone to my website, you haven’t purchased a product, if you come back 30 days later I will target you and offer you a 10 percent off coupon. I’ve seen something a little bit more powerful where you might even know what product they purchased specifically and then launch a campaign that targets them to upsell accessories or maybe upselling the latest version of the product whether it’s carrying bags or attachments or add-ons. So there’s a lot of powerful things you can do with retargeting. And in general what the industry has been finding, when I say industry I mean the advertising industry, has been finding is that users who visit your website as the result of being retargeted tend to convert over 50 percent better than users who come to your website for the first time.

Matthew: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. I mean they came to your website for some reason to begin with, there was some interest there. So they’re more motivated and interested in your subject matter.

Paris: Exactly.

Matthew: Now you mentioned the total revenue over the lifetime of a relationship, and that is an important figure. However some businesses are so new that they have no idea, but it’s something that if you’re a dispensary owner, for example, you know hey there’s a good likelihood if somebody comes in and has a good experience there’s, you know a subset of them will come back. So the marketing, the remarketing and capturing the email, all of these things working together really create a great way to complement your internet marketing efforts.

Paris: Exactly.

Matthew: Now is there any particular products or services that you think will do well on the Mantis Ad Network? I mean everybody has had the experience where they go to like Yahoo or some news portal and at the bottom they see these ads that are pretty consistent like weight loss, insurance and a couple of other things. These are things that are kind of parentally do well with banner ads on certain types of platforms. What do you think will do well on Mantis?

Paris: I would say the success of a campaign really comes down to the goals you have as a business for marketing. From an outsider’s, not an outsider’s prospective, from my synopsis of the cannabis industry right now is that we really haven’t got into an age where branding has been at the forefront of marketing efforts and companies in our space. You can take edible companies as an example of how constrained they are with the fact that they have to only sell and manufacture and distribute within the state they launched out of. You know you see them kind of working around that through licensing, but you really haven’t seen across state lines large branding efforts of getting products in front of consumers. And for a lot of businesses just being able to get your product inside of a dispensary whether that’s a flower or a smoking device or an edible, that’s a large part of the problem right. Once you get into distribution you probably have a good starting point, but eventually things are going to change a little bit where you’re going to have to be in front of the consumer prior to them walking into a retail store and purchasing the product.

Even with some of the advertisers that we work with today, the results vary quite a bit even though they might be selling very similar products. The variability can be driven based on the product’s pricing, the website experience, whether it has good design or there’s enough information about the product once you go and visit it. In general our view of the industry and the consumers within it is that they’re very educated. You know a lot of times what we’re finding is people will… even if they click on a banner and go to your website, they might look at the product to see if it’s something that they’re even interested in, but they are immediately going to the search engines and going to other websites to look up reviews, go on the locator tools, the Yelps of the world and saying okay what do other people say about this product before I purchase it. So not only does your campaign have to be creative, but just like with any industry, any market, your product has to stand out. If you aren’t properly marketing the differences between your, for instance, vape pen between the guy next door, customers are going to see that and not be as interested in the product unless you’re really putting a large effort in making yourself different.

Matthew: In your opinion what does a good banner ad need to get a prospect’s attention. You’ve seen, I’m sure, just thousands of banner ads. What are some that kind of stick out that we can take away as a best practice?

Paris: I would say that in general they just need to be straight to the point, identify what the product and service is, and most importantly be visually appealing. I would say if you haven’t hired a designer to put together your creatives you should be. Because the difference between a quality design and something that you’ve done in house is night and day. And obviously with any type of marketing whether it’s digital or print, if you can incentivize the consumer, whether that be offering free shipping or a discount or a promotion, those typically engage much higher than a normal product or service ad would, but obviously at the cost of offering an incentive. But that’s just one part of the equation.

The other part is not just the banner itself, but strategically placing it in an area that makes sense. So one thing that we like to offer to our advertisers is keyword targeting. We’ve found that for instance a company that sells CBD based products not only will their banners perform better on our network, but they’ll see better conversion rates if their campaigns are being shown next to articles talking about the benefits of CBD or going into more detail. So users who are looking and seeking out this content can also see relevant, targeted advertising based on what they’re reading or who they are. Those strategies are going to be much more beneficial. So it’s not just what the banner looks like, but also the context in which it appears that really will drive traffic and ultimately sales.

Matthew: Now how large a footprint is available in your network? I know you’re still young and that’s something you’re building, but where does it stand right now?

Paris: Yes so currently we, our network, we’re about 50 websites. Collectively across all those websites we reach about 4 million people every month. We project that by the end of 2015 we’ll probably even be closer to over 20 million people a month. We use a third party traffic analytics provider called Quantcast. They measure a lot of the top sites across the internet, and then based on some of our previous metrics and our projections we expect to be one of the top 100 US networks by the end of next year. And more specifically probably one of the only ones, if not the only one, that would support cannabis completely.

Matthew: Is there a lot different website properties that at first had some resistance and now they’re thinking about it over time and coming around?

Paris: As far as becoming a member of our network?

Matthew: Yeah.

Paris: Yeah I mean I think it’s one of those things where for us it’s a challenge because not only are we educating advertisers in an industry that traditionally haven’t gone digital. They’ve done print, they’ve done the events, but digital is a new realm. And even a lot of businesses and especially if you look at the dispensary market, a lot don’t even have their own website or their own tools. So we’re trying to solve that problem and making it as simple as possible. But for publishers it’s kind of also an education process because say for instance you are going back to the example of a dispensary. If a dispensary wants the market to… if they’re based out of LA and they want to reach everyone in the LA metro, you as an individual publisher can only reach so many people as one website in LA. Mantis, however, as a network of 50 websites can then take everyone’s LA traffic and present it into one bundle. Outside of reach and audience there’s also the, you know, a lot of publishers in our space aren’t traditionally technical companies, right. They are publications that happen to have an online website and usually their products and services that are around their digital strategy aren’t really tailored or custom fit for cannabis, nor are they a core competency for that organization.

So for us it’s we want to come in and build a platform that offers at the end of the day a better value to our advertisers. If you as a client want to be able to say here are my creatives, I want to push them out, I don’t want to go to every single publisher and negotiate rates, figure out what ad sizes they support, putting the images out, having to negotiate when the ad is going to launch. With a platform like Mantis we can bring everyone together. We can add more value to everyone’s website. So for us it’s not a matter of can we do it better or are we trying to take anything over. It’s like at the end of the day everyone in this industry is trying to grow, and I think that the more publishers, the more websites that can get together and work together and offer a better value to businesses in our space, the better off you are going to be as an industry. It’s kind of been our approach so far and why we’ve been able to acquire as many publishers as we have is that they all see that vision. They all see the need to build this network and provide a service that goes beyond what any one individual publisher can do on their own.

Matthew: Now let’s just review. Let’s pretend that there’s somebody that is creating their first ad on Mantis and you’re looking over their shoulder, what’s the one or two or three things that they make sure that they get right in order to have a successful campaign?

Paris: So I would say the first is make sure that you have the tools in place on your website to analyze not only the traffic that Mantis could give you, but whether the traffic comes from search engines or other websites. Make sure if you are an e-commerce or you have a store that you have online that it’s integrated into your Google Analytics, that you can track where your sales are, who they come from, what converts, what doesn’t. If you don’t have that visibility into your traffic, any money you spend you’re throwing out the window. So I would say before you even start a campaign, please be sure that you can track and quantify your investment from a marketing prospective.

The second piece would be then to also, given that half a percent to two percent is what’s typical for a website to convert sales into or to convert traffic into sales, take that into account not only when you’re budgeting, but then also trying to find ways to account for the 98 percent that don’t purchase, right. So whether that’s finding ways to collect email addresses or other ways to turn traffic that aren’t leading to sales but could be leads for the future. And then the third piece is having, if you can, try to think about or if you have existing data, try to optimize your campaign as much as you can upfront. But do understand that it’s going to be a learning process for you as well as for us. You know you’re not going to be able to launch a campaign and get 100 percent optimization off the gate. You’re going to have to learn what users from what types of devices, from what locations, from what websites work the best and then tweak and optimize as you go along.

Matthew: That’s an excellent point. Even the most successful internet marketers that I’ve met they never talk about putting up an ad and striking gold. It’s always put it up, test, refine and optimize over and over, just iterating that process. I’m glad you brought that up. You recently presented to cannabis investors at the ArcView event in Las Vegas. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and what it was like?

Paris: Yeah so Mantis launched earlier in May of this year. We’ve been steadily growing about 25 percent month to month from a traffic prospective. And you know we got to a point where we established both a need for the network as well as significant traction going into 2015. So ArcView presented a great opportunity for us to not only look at raising funds to grow our team, but to also establish strategic partnerships with key players in this space. It was actually our second time going to ArcView. And so it’s just a great opportunity to get to know other like minded individuals in a space, other technical companies that are also looking to get started. And for us we left that week with a lot of great leads and potential to take Mantis to the next level and hope to continue to build on some of the relationships that we got during that process.

Matthew: Is it still possible to invest in Mantis?

Paris: Yeah, so we’re still actively looking for investment whether that be pure capital or more strategic relationships. Particularly as we grow, as we add more publishers, as we reach even more millions of people online, we’re going to be looking to ramp up our sales efforts as well as continuing to grow our offering and our platform from a development prospective. So anyone that would be interested in getting involved in helping us grow we would be very interested in talking with you.

Matthew: Paris as we close can tell listeners where they can learn more about Mantis?

Paris: Sure. Our website is www.mantisadnetwork.com, and we just relaunched with some additional information and pricing is also available on the website if you’re interested in launching a campaign. I am generally available online via our chat room window from the website, or I can be reached on my cell at 515-974-9848.

Matthew: Well thanks so much to Paris Holly of Mantis Ad Network for being on CannaInsider today. Thanks Paris.

Paris: Thank you for having me.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guest to you. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.canninsider.com, email us feedback at cannainsider.com. We would love to hear from you.