Alphagreen Nominated Best Scale Up For 37th Marketing Society Award
“Thank you, Alphagreen, for giving my life back”
Martin, one of Alphagreen’s 4000+ customers
When we entered the CBD space in 2019 it was a nascent, ungoverned market. The industry was full of cowboys looking to make a quick buck by spreading misinformation and selling counterfeit products.
Customers had lost trust and were ready to give up. We needed to spark change – not just for ourselves, but for the CBD industry as a whole.
Our idea was to launch a marketplace that acted as a filter for the most effective and safest CBD products. We would use our marketing strategy to facilitate education across a wider audience so consumers could have confidence in their purchasing decisions.
But marketing in a regulated industry such as CBD isn’t easy – paid advertisement across Facebook and Google is banned. There was no short-term fix. We needed to think outside of the box, take risks and use alternative marketing levers to carry forward our vision.
The following story will tell you how the Alphagreen marketing team managed to shift public opinion and paint a more trustworthy and respected picture of the CBD sector.
It will explain how through a long-term marketing strategy we educated, inspired and simplified the CBD buying experience so customers could choose the correct product to make a meaningful difference to their health and wellness.
We will also highlight the risks, learnings, success and difficulties we encountered along the way. And most importantly, it will show you that marketing doesn’t just have to be about meeting the bottom line – it can also inspire change for an industry and its customers.
The early years weren’t pretty…
It was a difficult period for CBD customers. There was a lot of distrust in the CBD community, and as a new market entrant, it made it an even bigger challenge to build a loyal customer base who believed our products were safe and effective.
Education and understanding of CBD was limited amongst customers. Even though we were selling high-quality, compliant products, customers didn’t have the knowledge to differentiate us from competitors selling inferior, counterfeit CBD formulations.
A byproduct of limited education was the negative ‘weed smoker’ stigma associated with hemp-based products. People believed CBD products would get you ‘high’ as they didn’t have the knowledge to know it was different from THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis).
This stigmatised view of CBD was endorsed by most players in their branding and marketing. Brands were under the impression that associating their products with weed leaves, smoke graphics and green colour schemes would draw in marijuana smokers looking for a legal alternative.
The industry was missing the real reason the wider population would be interested in CBD – the need for a natural, effective health and wellness product absent from debilitating side effects.
What’s more, when consumers overcame these hurdles and decided to try their first CBD product, for the most part, they were subject to untested and counterfeit products. Word-of-mouth and media coverage soon started to encourage consumers to avoid the CBD industry.
Who could blame them?
After identifying the challenges in the CBD market, our mission was clear – we needed to shift public perception away from an unregulated, murky industry and rebuild trust amongst consumers through our marketing.
We had a three-phased vision for the future of CBD consumers:
- We had to raise awareness amongst the general UK population and provide a better understanding of what CBD is, what it can be used for and how simple it is to try.
- We needed to break the stigma associated with CBD – our offering wasn’t about getting high; it’s about improving your health and wellness.
- CBD was made unnecessarily complicated by CBD brands before us. We wanted to simplify the purchasing process with on-hand expert advice.
By removing these barricades and giving customers the confidence to make good purchasing decisions, CBD would become accessible for everyone.
We knew once we built this trust, the product would speak for itself.
An Educational Approach
We decided that the main focus for our marketing team should be education, but we also realised that if we didn’t have the traffic, who would there be to educate.
As a new entrant with limited traffic and budget, we had to employ a cost-effective marketing strategy that simultaneously attracted customers to our platform and empowered them with the knowledge they needed to make educated purchasing decisions.
Our task was already challenging. But we soon realised we wouldn’t have the marketing tools available that a regular business would have. Google, Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram all have strict policies against advertising CBD products.
These rules trickled over from the US, as it was federally illegal to advertise CBD and hemp-based products. In the US many states override federal law and permit CBD brands to advertise their products. We were penalised to advertise to UK consumers by a law enforced in the US, that was circumvented on a state level where cannabis is available as easy as an Uber.
Evidently, having no access to the biggest paid advertisement growth channels would handicap us. We needed to be creative, innovative and resourceful to spread our message to the masses.
During this brainstorming process, we made the strategic decision to focus on a more long-term marketing strategy.
We defined our strategy with key marketing levers to drive our success: leading with content, driving trial and creating a new image not only for Alphagreen but for the alternative healthcare category. These were some of our tactics:
We invested heavily in content creation and hired an astute team of writers with expertise in search engine optimisation. The aim was to consistently produce high-quality, researched, educational pieces that created a tangible value exchange for the reader (our future customer). Before the articles were published, they were reviewed by health experts to avoid any misclaims or inaccurate information.
We hoped it would enable us to educate the consumer and shift the common perception of hemp-based products and also help us reach a wider audience by ranking higher with Google across multiple different sub-genres.
We identified that by leveraging our status as a major industry player alongside the public excitement and controversy surrounding CBD, we could gain widespread media coverage across various mainstream and CBD specialist outlets. Examples range from conversations about the CBD industry on BBC Radio and other podcasts to written coverage in publications such as The Daily Mail, Financial Times and The Grocer.
Perhaps our most impressive example of PR coverage came from two CBD surveys that we conducted in 2020 and 2021. We demonstrated that the market had grown 50% in the UK since we entered, which gave us leverage to excite media and gain traction as an industry leader in the CBD space. On the back of this, our data and quotes on the industry were published in Forbes, and subsequently, we received organic backlinks from multiple publications.
While media attention is slow-burning and can take a long time to reach viral levels, our significant investment into this marketing medium has put Alphagreen in a strong thought leadership position and has significantly boosted our reputation as a major retailer in the CBD space.
Public fundraising round
We were the first company in the UK to go public with a fundraising round through Seedrs. We raised £2.4m, which is still the largest amount of capital raised by crowdfunding in UK history in the CBD space. This was a monumental step for the industry as it further normalised the view of CBD as a legitimate business and gave other fundraising entities who followed us the opportunity to grow.
On a customer level, it helped us increase CBD awareness and solidify a professional image of Alphagreen and the CBD industry. The platform also allowed us to emphasise our business knowledge and desire to make a difference in people’s health and wellness through our marketplace. And we knew that letting our customers invest in us would simultaneously help drive consumer adoption.
Although we were successful, public fundraising was a high-risk move. We weren’t sure how the public would react – if negative, it would have had damaging implications for our reputation. As our company was also under the spotlight, it also opened us up for a compliance review. It was much more comfortable for us to secure private investment and operate in secrecy like all the other players in the industry, but we wanted to demystify our business model and make a point of underlining our objectives within a public domain.
Influencer marketing and Consumer-2-Consumer commerce
We gave free, high-quality CBD products to influencers and regular people to encourage public discourse.
Providing these social media users found use and benefits with our products, we knew that they would directly speak with their audience, further reinforcing a trustworthy identify in the CBD space. And although micro-influencers didn’t have a big following, we found this group to be more in touch with their audience, offering a platform for more meaningful interactions.
We were using our most powerful marketing tool at our disposable: Word-of-mouth. Once people experienced the true quality of our CBD products and saw our ethical business practices, they would quickly spread the message.
Bold Social Media Marketing
We used the power of social media to relate to consumers and provide a different avenue for education.
By using bold, provoking and viral memes, we were able to simultaneously achieve great engagement and highlight the message we wanted to get across. On a more serious level, we also wanted to help consumers achieve their better self. We emphasised living a healthy lifestyle by sharing self-care routines, healthy recipes and motivating messaging to inspire our followers to change the way they lived.
It wasn’t about making sales with cheesy advertising – that’s a short-term perspective. We wanted to embed customer values and goals in everything we do to strengthen trust and loyalty.
We interviewed our most loyal customers who experienced life-changing outcomes using our products and published their stories in a question and answer format.
“I feel like it has calmed my general anxiety and has helped me sleep much better,” said Amy.
“What I loved about Alphagreen was not only were you guys helpful straight away as I had a lot of questions, but I love the brand and the fact that Alphagreen has a variety of products all in one place,” said Hayley.
These real-world case studies showed new, curious customers that CBD could be effective if you use a legitimate, high-quality product from a trustworthy marketplace like Alphagreen. It also helped us remove the stigma and stereotypes that lingered around hemp-based products. Customers could now see that your average Joe and Jane use CBD – it isn’t the junkie that most people first envisioned.
1-1 Customer Voice Interactions
We placed great emphasis on gathering qualitative data to understand our customers better.
We did this by calling over 50% of our customers after their order to see if they needed help before receiving their product. We would then ask whether they would be happy to answer a series of optional questions about their usage and experiences to feed insight into our offering.
It was a huge success. Not only did it help us make better marketing decisions, but it also improved our reputation in the industry for offering a personalised service. Below is just a couple of our organic responses from TrustPilot reviews:
Once we gained a footing in the UK market, our next step was to widen our reach across Europe.
To do this, we employed an international team of content writers to translate, edit and write new content to improve our Google ranking in different countries.
We now have localised versions of our marketplace across all major European geographies and have set up distribution networks to allow European customers access to high-quality CBD. This includes Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Japan and Portugal.
We believed it was vitally important to communicate, involve and relate with our stakeholders to build a better industry and improve our business practices.
One example of our engagement was organising one of the first cannabis conferences in the UK at the European Capital Assembly. We invited prestigious speakers such as Crispin Blunt, MP and CEO of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, and Stephen Murphy, Managing Director & Co-Founder of Prohibition Partners (NOBL Group). Here, we discussed the future of the alternative healthcare sector and how we could work together to build a better future for the industry.
We also became a sponsored Silver Partner with Prohibition Partners – a company that leads the way in connecting the global cannabis community. Our team spoke at a conference to explain our partnership and share insights into our technology and the industry as the leading marketplace in Europe.
These examples demonstrate our diligence in working with the rest of the community to build the reputation and acceptability of the CBD industry.
From 0 to market leaders
We took the first steps into building transparency and quality through our marketing in a highly opaque industry full of negative stigma and misconceptions. While we had confidence in our vision, there will always be uncertainty when consumers have previously been deceived and let down unscrupulous competition. We asked ourselves the questions:
- Why would they respond to us?
- Why would they believe us?
- Would they see we are different?
In the first few months of launching our marketing strategy, people slowly started to trust us. They were beginning to learn more about CBD and hemp and realised that our products were high-quality.
After this initial feeling out period from our customer base, we saw a substantial uptick in traffic, engagement and sales. And all of a sudden, our figures snowballed at the end of year 1. Today – in just two years with severely restricted marketing – we achieved the following:
- 6 figures in sales, with a significant proportion coming in the second half of the year
- Over 6 million words of content written
- 500 hours spent speaking 1-1 with customers
- 60 million+ organic Google impressions
- 1 million unique visitors
In addition to our impressive figures, we were proud to announce that we built the largest CBD marketplace in Europe. Our customers had access to over 2,500 high-quality products from over 200 trustworthy CBD brands based in the UK, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.
How marketing shaped Alphagreen
Marketing has been the lever to Alphagreen’s success. In the past couple of years, we have shown that marketing tactics centred around value to your target customer deliver results, even in highly regulated and new industries like CBD.
We empowered a small group of customers through making informed purchasing decisions, and they repaid us with something more powerful than any marketing budget: word of mouth.
We reflected on a few key points that wouldn’t have been possible without our marketing strategy.
- We’ve changed over 4,000 lives
That’s people who used to live with chronic pain, people previously addicted to harmful drugs, and people who used to live with anxiety, depression, and stress. With our marketing tactics, we reached customers who otherwise would never have found us.
- We simplified the CBD buying process
Before, CBD was so confusing and overcomplicated. We’ve helped many customers who were previously daunted by the market of CBD by simplifying their purchasing journey.
- Educating consumers is more than just acting en-masse
Despite being unable to advertise through major platforms and digital PPC, we proved that you can still be successful with 1-1 interactions at the core of your marketing strategy.
- We helped clean up the market
By making it a requirement to have a third-party Certificate Of Analysis (COA), we helped isolate counterfeit brands and products. Customers were soon to realise that Alphagreen was a trustworthy source for the best CBD, and if you weren’t listed, you should purchase with caution.
- We shifted the public perception of CBD
We helped shape the acceptance of CBD in the wider community. It wasn’t only 18-year-old Joe smoking a CBD vape thinking he was getting high; it was now 72-year-old Nanna Pat using a CBD balm for her arthritis.
Throughout this case study, we have shown that the CBD market is in a much better place after our market entry. We are so proud of what we have achieved. But the journey is far from over – we want to be pioneers in the alternative healthcare sector and continue to provide education, simplicity and value for our customers for years to come.