Embracing New Ideas And New Perspectives From Your Team Can Be The Key Difference In A Successful Company

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marissa Ryan, Co-Founder of VisualFizz, a creative digital marketing company located out of Chicago, IL. She leads the marketing team in helping brands differentiate themselves and stand out from other marketing noise on social media, search engine marketing (SEM) channels, SEO channels, and other media advertising channels.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?

I’ve been in the marketing game for about 10 years, and I came from a family that owns a small business. I was first introduced to the Cannabis industry when one of my close friends was diagnosed with epilepsy and began to seek treatment with cannabis. In terms of marketing for cannabis companies and brands, I have experience in running ad campaigns for industries that are restricted or have legislation surrounding them that prevents them from advertising using traditional methods. This experience lends itself well to the cannabis space, especially in states without recreational legalization at this time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’m not sure if this story is “interesting” to anyone but me, but it is kind of funny! I specialize in SEO, which means that I try to make the brands that I’ve worked/am working under visible in the marketing space. Once, a potential client reached out to me personally for a freelance bid of a project AND via my company, VisualFizz, website, after finding both online when searching on Google. I don’t think the marketing manager knew that it was me behind the scenes of both, but I took it as a compliment of my SEO abilities!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During my earlier agency years, I worked for an awesome company that provided hotel marketing all over the country. One of my hotels was located in Orlando, Florida, very close to a Disney Park. I included “10 miles from Disney!” in one of the PPC ads that I managed, and was promptly served a very scary looking Cease and Desist from Disney that was addressed to me personally (not my company). This prompted me to learn as much as I could about what hotels and hospitality brands can and cannot say in their PPC ads. Because of this, I continued to learn about the restrictions and limitations on advertising for specific industries, which obviously lends itself well to the cannabis space. Every mistake is an opportunity to realign and not only fix the issue but to learn the cause and prevent roadblocks in the future.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

We are! At VisualFizz, we’re working on helping a paving company continue to expand their locations across the country. During the expansion process, it’s vital to ensure that a brand remains strong and doesn’t become diluted or confused with so many moving parts. We’re super excited to guide this particular client through the process of growing and expanding their business while maintaining a strong, dependable brand appearance.

This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

For Cannabis brands, there are intense limitations on what you can and cannot advertise, both online and offline. There are huge restrictions on billboard advertising, on social media advertising, on search engine ads (PPC), etc. etc. There is not a limitation, however, on creating your own content on your website or sharing that content with your manually-built email lists. You can write about cannabis until the cows come home on your blog, as long as you aren’t harming anyone or using information unethically. You can also build email lists centered around sharing your content, the only restrictions being that you must have permission to send emails. Two of the main channels we encourage all of our Cannabis brands to utilize is SEO and Email Marketing.

For SEO, brands should try to produce lots of strong, well-written content like blog posts, industry updates, case studies, product descriptions/product reviews, location-specific articles, etc. If your brand sells CBD oil, you might create a library of content centered around commonly searched CBD questions, like “what is CBD oil made from?” “Can I use CBD oil to treat _______”, etc. While generalized content is a good place to start, try to go deeper to really set yourself apart from the noise. You might write a blog piece titled “Using CBD Oil to Treat Migraines”, another titled “Migraines + CBD, what you need to know”, and maybe another titled “Research Study Finds CBD Oil More Effective Than ______ at Treatment Migraines”.

For Email Marketing campaigns, we recommend hosting and attending informative events, partnering with other well-known brands in the space (think the Merry Jane’s and High Times of the world), and attending conferences to build up your email lists. Sharing your content, products, and promotions to your email lists allow you to reach people when you are not allowed to advertise to them.

Can you share your top “10 Things You Need To Know In Order To Run a Successful Cannabis Ancillary Company”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The industry changes daily — stay up to date. Cannabis is a space that changes fast. Just as with digital marketing, it’s your responsibility to stay in the know and understand the intricacies of what’s going on.
  2. You are still in the cannabis space — plan accordingly. Let’s not forget that this is cannabis. There are lots of mixed opinions, lots of people involved, and lots of political opinions that come into play. Play it safe, err on the side of caution, and protect your personal information.
  3. You are still a business — act accordingly. Even though this is weed we’re talking about here, you need to maintain a poised, professional appearance. I’ve seen some brands try to relate to their audience by using harsh or mean jokes, imagery, memes, etc. You are still a business; you must maintain a positive, supportive, customer-focused mindset, always.
  4. You may need to rethink your strategy (maybe more than once) — that’s ok. Anyone that has been in business for an extended period of time knows that pivoting is critical to survival. Especially in an ever-changing industry, always look for opportunities to shift or pivot. Something you might not have even thought about could save you in the long run.
  5. Content is still king — create lots of it. Especially in the digital age, your content that exists about your brand is key. So brag about yourself and all the wonderful things you do! Talk about your products, create podcasts about your brand, show some local pride. Share this with your blog, your social channels, and your email lists.

Aside from your particular vertical, which other cannabis ancillary industries do you think have very strong potential in the next few years? Can you explain why?

Advertising 3rd parties — As with any industry, the more players there are in a space, the more each player needs to differentiate from the crowd. Cannabis brands need to think about their brand presence and marketing in such a competitive space, and it’s important that cannabis brands partner with marketing companies that know how to navigate the grey space of the industry.

Delivery Services — between food delivery, alcohol delivery, ubereats, and all of the other millions of delivery services, it only makes sense that there will be cannabis delivery services. Some governments actually prefer a delivery service versus an in-store purchase as it prevents the use of fake identification and leaves the store owners liable.

Subscription Boxes — subscription boxes have decreased in popularity slightly in 2018, but they are still extremely common and audiences love them. Subscription boxes allow brands to include samples and new products to test out popularity, and there is almost always valuable User Generated Content created when people “unbox” their subscriptions.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

It’s important to show your team that you care about the ethical way of running a cannabis business. Most people that are in the space are there for reasons that are personal to them. Offer good benefits, give people time off and sick days, and something I learned early in my agency years is to ask them for advice and recommendations. More often than not, they are down in the metaphoric trenches and have a different perspective of the industry than you might. It’s a team effort, and sometimes, new ideas and new perspectives can make all the difference in successful campaigns. Empower your employees, make them feel excited about the industry and furthering their education, and take care of them in the long term.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Linkedin is the best way to reach me, and I love having discussions on my posts! Feel free to reach out. https://www.linkedin.com/in/marissaryan1/

I’m also on twitter; marissaryan25

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.