In the ever-changing cannabis marketplace, online retailers face rapidly growing competition to increase organic search traffic and sales. Today, we chat with Chris Paniagua, a life-long entrepreneur in driving web sales via organic marketing. Today he leverages his 30 years of internet marketing victories by building businesses in the Cannabis industry.
As a brief introduction, can you share how your career path led you to the cannabis industry?
In 2013 I was “head-hunted” to come work as the Director of Marketing for DaVinci Vaporizers, a blossoming contender in the portable herb vaporizer market.
After 20 years of varied online Entrepreneurship at the time, I was working as the Director of a Las Vegas marketing agency that serviced celebrities, world-famous resort properties, and retail locations. This brought a working relationship with an influential HR leader who had come to consult for DaVinci and she was persistent in recruiting me to the cannabis industry.
At this time, Cannabis was mostly non-legal in the USA, and marketing herbal vaporizers was complex and confusing. It was a risky move, but the challenge and opportunity eventually got me to jump in.
Briefly introduce 420 Coupon Codes, and tell us about the inspiration behind it. Did your background influence your approach?
For background, In 2007 I was looking to take my family to Disneyland California. The prices were insane as an out-of-state resident. While looking for a cheaper way, I discovered that there were “secret” discounts available online if you knew the loopholes.
For example, a $1 donation to a specific online charity would unlock a hidden web portal that sold the same Disneyland tickets at a huge 25% discount. This meant saving $350 for my family.
The entrepreneur in me kicked in, and I collected all of these secret discounts for every entertainment park in California and Florida. I then sold this information on eBay for a couple of years until eBay banned non-tangible products. Bargain shopping and helping others to do so has been a passion of mine for over 15 years.
This background later inspired my purchase of 420CouponCodes.com – which we have now built into the world's largest and most visited coupon site solely dedicated to Cannabis brands, products, and stores. Updated daily, our expert team has been collecting and publishing the best deals, secret discounts, and coupon codes since 2016. A “RetailmeNot for Pot”. And unlike my background example with eBay, there is no cost to the customer, as we are marketing affiliates of the retailers themselves.
Your team works directly with hundreds of online Cannabis product merchants in many sub-niches and countries. What canna-industry insights can you share that might be valuable from this perspective?
It’s true, our position gives us a unique perspective and insight into cannabis shoppers and e-commerce behavior and how it varies from USA, CAN, UK, EU, and AUS across many different cannabis sub-niches, and how people search for cannabis brands in different regions.
A common area many online retailers can improve is their lifetime value of customers (CLV). It’s remarkable how many vendors and brands chase the first sale and then let a proven customer disappear after capture. Many in the canna-biz do not even have an internal metric or KPI they actively track on this subject, and it shows. Retailers we see thrive think about ancillary products, consumables, and new products and services. Their e-mail and remarketing efforts are strong, and they set up to operate in new regions as they open legally.
Brands and vendors spend millions on “Top of the Funnel” (ToFu) branding, identity, and messaging – only to lose the actual retail sale and CLV at the very last moment to a competitor vendor that better executes at the “Bottom of the Funnel” (BoFu).
Any transaction at an initial break-even or better margin is a win. By transforming the customer into a trusted buyer in your ecosystem, providing topline revenue volume, reviews, word of mouth, and other benefits. We see winners in every region and sub-niche that know this and execute well at this level.
What changes do you see in cannabis-related sales, and how are you preparing to adapt?
It’s been great to witness recreational laws change, at home and abroad. We are in this rare window of time where laws (and retail sales) are nearly exclusively moving forward with more acceptance.
We are seeing EU/UK consumer search growth in dab gear and cannabis seeds. Entire new markets open in new languages like Thailand. The boom of mail-order marijuana and magic mushrooms in Canada, and exciting new product lines like Delta-8 & Delta-9 are gaining tremendous USA appeal alongside old favorites like vaporizers. What a time to be alive.
We adapt by catering to these customers in emerging products and regions. Our patrons have already been introduced to brands and products. They’ve read the reviews, and decided on the who, what, and why.
We provide the answer to “where” with an incentive in the form of a coupon or voucher.
Our organic traffic is unique in that it has immediate intent to buy. That translates into any language, product, or region. Most consumers prefer not to pay full price, and enjoy saving a little money when possible.
What trends in cannabis e-commerce are you seeing evolve currently?
We’re seeing a spike in acquisitions and building of a “house of brands”. Many vendors and brands we used to work with individually are getting acquired and bundled. Other existing brands are building laterally into other sub-niches with similar customer demographics.
Consumer discounts are getting larger. Especially for holidays like 4/20 sales, which are now starting earlier and lasting longer.
Advertising costs are increasing everywhere. Affiliate rates are going up. We have a waitlist of over 100 vendors wanting to be included on 420CouponCodes and have their promotions listed as these competitive trends evolve.
What has been the biggest challenge in setting up the business and getting to where it is today?
One big challenge in the early days was overcoming coupon resistance from some vendors. Some established veteran vendors were reluctant to adapt to discount promotions as a part of their total marketing efforts.
Unfortunately, there are also many generic coupon sites. These nonspecific coupon portals do not have any loyal user base or targeted demographic. There is an abundance of charlatans that operate anonymously from unsavory regions. These operators are well known for abusing PPC and ™+ searches. We had to prove that 420 Coupon Codes ran much differently.
Over the years, that reluctance has evolved into near-complete adoption. We demonstrated a “one size fits all” coupon rule that misses abundant opportunities. Our brand's values, identity, and customers align with our cannabis retail partners. Every visitor to our site intends to buy cannabis-related products promptly, and we employ a full team of compliance editors verifying every promotion weekly.
Since we earn nearly all of our organic traffic from Search Engines like Google, we also compete against billion-dollar enterprises like Paypal, Forbes, CNN & Ziff Davis that all own and operate generic coupon sites. We compete and win with topical relevance and authority, but it is difficult.
What’s next for your team?
We recently spent over $100k USD acquiring the domain name 420 Friendly™ for a new development project. A highly sought-after piece of internet real estate that had been sitting unused for two decades in the inventory of a multi-billion-dollar landmark cannabis company. One of the most common cannabis communication phrases used around the world. The URL provides an instantly familiar and trusted foundation of branding for what will become our largest project in the Cannabis market.
In complement to our other properties, we are diligently developing this space into a location-based product-focused shopping influencer platform. The Cannabis nexus of locations, reviews, products, and expert / social recommendations on all devices.
It was a great pleasure to have this conversation with Chris Paniagua, founder and CEO of 420 Coupon Codes. Readers who wish to keep up with what the company is doing are invited to do so through the company’s website.