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With customers and patients staying at home amidst widespread stay-at-home orders, digital marketing could experience a heyday, says Laurie Parfitt, a cannabis consultant with LKP Consulting. But reacting to a global crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is not something for which many companies can be adequately prepared. As a result, critical mistakes can be made when trying to craft marketing strategies in these trying times that lead to tone-deaf messaging.

Consider these marketing dos and don’ts as your company navigates this new era of global health awareness.

Don’t sell product; Do build community

Aggressive product-moving campaigns might not be the best ways to approach the COVID-19 pandemic, Parfitt says. Attempts to sell product might come across as profiteering or unscrupulous.

Parfitt currently is advising a healthcare software provider, and says the advice she gives to that industry applies just as much to the hemp market: “It shouldn’t be about selling product, it should be about how can we support you in these times,” she says. “It’s not about making money, it’s not about selling services, it’s about making sure that people get the best possible care.”

She says hemp companies can turn to digital tools to strengthen bonds with patients and consumers, and amongst patients and consumers. Zoom chats, social media groups, and live chats hosted on your company website are all tools that companies readily have access to right now and can be major boons to creating and strengthening community bonds.

“It’s really about creating that support network with your customers and patients and reaching out to future customers and patients and trying to provide them with a safe place where they can feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and where they can talk to others who are going through something similar to what they are,” she says.

Don’t claim any curing properties; Do stick to laws and regulations

Another reason to avoid trying to sell products in these times is that it can be enticing to claim hemp products might reduce or treat COVID-19 symptoms. Even if done in a tongue-in-cheek way, Parfitt advises against attempting that.

“I think one of the biggest pitfalls is claiming some type of curative property or explaining that it has a certain effect on you because the issue with anything, whether it’s THC, CBD or hemp-derived CBD, is that it interacts with your endocannabinoid system and everybody’s system is different,” Parfitt says.

Indeed, the cannabis and hemp industries have experienced recent crackdowns from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over COVID-19 messaging, with the main issue being claims that CBD can treat COVID-19 symptoms or cure coronavirus altogether.

Parfitt says that even the best-intentioned mentions of CBD as curative will land companies in hot water. As such, it’s best to follow the letter of the law.

“Whether we’re in COVID-19 or not, we still have to go by the same guiding principles and the laws surrounding hemp-derived CBD in the Farm Bill and we can’t claim anything,” she says.

Don’t give false hope; Do give hope that we can get through it together

A few weeks ago, few were aware of COVID-19. Today, most of the U.S. is under stay-at-home orders. The lesson from this, Parfitt says, is not to make light of the situation in any of your messaging.

“Making jokes about it doesn’t help anybody through it,” Parfitt says. “In fact, it gives people a false sense of security that it’s not going to affect them.”

Parfitt recalls a strategy used with a former cannabis client where the brand essence was focused on love. She says focusing on making people feel loved, cared for and understood while not providing false hope can help hemp and CBD companies better navigate this new landscape. With that client, she says, “we wanted everyone who left the dispensaries to feel love. We wanted everybody who interacted with our brand or our people to feel love. We wanted all of our employees to feel love.

“We call that ‘leading with love,’ and I think as long as companies are leading with love in everything that they do and that is their guiding principle, they will always do the right thing.”

Do the right thing

Ultimately, putting community and public health above sales and profits are what is going to help brands get through the global pandemic with their reputations relatively unscathed. Parfitt also notes that these times are a golden opportunity for the CBD, hemp and cannabis movements to show they want to do what’s best for the greater good.

“I hope that all the hemp-derived CBD companies, THC companies, all the dispensaries … see this opportunity as not to promote product, but to be there for the people they’ve always been trying to help,” Parfitt says. “I think it’s a really rare opportunity for these companies to step up and show that they want to do the right thing for the world and if they can prove that, we get closer to more people being accepting of these products and taking the shame and stigma away from people who use THC or CBD products for medical purposes.”

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