What Content Writers in the Cannabis Industry Need to Know
In an industry that feels more like the wild wild west, creating content for cannabis and CBD companies can be a daunting task. That is why we’ve compiled a few guidelines which have helped us navigate this uncharted territory. This article explains these five tips for creating more effective content:
- Follow the Rules Established by Federal Regulatory Agencies
- Be Ready to Adapt
- Know Your Audience
- Root Your Content in Quality Research
- Don’t Sensationalize
Follow the Rules Established by Federal Regulatory Agencies
The first and most important guideline for writers and content creators in the cannabis industry is to understand the laws and regulations around how cannabis products can be marketed. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) began sending out warning letters in 2015 to companies “that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD).” The FDA goes on to specify that CBD products are not approved for the “…diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease.” Companies who receive warning letters have 15 days to take corrective actions and notify the FDA about these changes; they are threatened with “seizure and injunction” if they fail to do so. Obviously, it is bad news if your company receives one of these letters, especially since they are published for the public to view.
It is your job as a marketer to make sure the language used to market and advertise your products or company do not violate any federal guidelines. It’s not just the FDA that CBD marketers need to pay attention to. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out warning letters to CBD companies for deceptive advertising claims. The recipients of these warning letters were not publicly stated, but the types of claims that were identified were similar to the FDA in that they targeted companies who claimed CBD could cure or treat serious diseases.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is another regulatory agency to keep in mind. On August 26th, 2019, the Department of Justice released a statement announcing that the DEA is trying to “improve access to marijuana research.” The statement also specifies that hemp and CBD are no longer a controlled substance and DEA approval is not needed to grow, research, or sell it. The legal distinction between hemp and marijuana is a result of the 2018 Farm Bill which reclassified industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity.
Like in all marketing regulations, language is key. It is important to do your research on exactly what types of language the regulatory agencies deem unacceptable. I will provide a few basic guidelines. Avoid words like ‘cure,’ ‘treat’ and ‘relieve.’ Phrases such as ‘CBD can relieve pain’ or ‘CBD is effective at reducing anxiety’ are red flags for the FDA. Steer clear of sensational terms terms like ‘magic’ or ‘miracle.’ If for any reason you mention specific diseases or ailments, make it clear that it is not your company’s opinion, but the unproven opinion of someone else. For example, link to your source directly saying, ‘This study from … investigated the efficacy of CBD for reducing anxiety.’ Never state CBD’s ability to treat anything as a proven fact, unless you are referring to the FDA approved, epilepsy medication, Epidolex.
Be Ready to Adapt
The cannabis industry lacks strict regulations and is expanding at a rapid pace. This means that things are constantly changing. New terminology, regulations and guidelines, innovations, research and news stories are coming out every week. Like my high school chemistry teacher always used to tell me, “adapt and overcome.”
In order to stay relevant, compliant, and up to date with the industry, it is important to stay connected to the breaking news on CBD, and pay attention to what the leading CBD companies are doing. The ‘vaping crisis’ is a great example of a hot button issue that indirectly affects the CBD industry. Vaping is a popular way to consume CBD, and therefore, it is an opportunity to produce relevant content around a topic that people want to learn more about. For issues like this, it is extremely important not to contribute to the misinformation and sensationalism.
Providing a fact based, thoroughly researched perspective on breaking news or changes in the industry gives your audience a reason to trust you as an authority and educator in the CBD world. Another example of drastic shifts in the CBD industry is the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill distinguished hemp from marijuana and made hemp an agricultural commodity. This essentially declassified CBD as a controlled substance. Now, farmers across america are able to grow hemp legally without special approval, opening up the supply chain for the CBD industry. This changes how CBD companies can talk about hemp, and it is important to be on top of huge changes to policy such as this.
Know Your Audience
Back to writing 101, you must understand who your target audience is. However, this may not be as simple as it sounds. The CBD industry is growing rapidly, and there are many different types of companies in the market looking for marketing content. Businesses who manufacture CBD (‘Business to Business’ or B2B) have a different audience than businesses who distribute CBD products (‘Business to Consumer’ or B2C).
Customers who buy bulk ingredients from manufacturers use the raw materials to develop new products such as specially formulated oils or edible goods. Customers who buy private label products from manufacturers are able to skip the product development and production phase and focus solely on branding and marketing premade products to consumers.
It is important to keep in mind that not all consumers are in the same stage of the buying cycle when viewing your content. A topic such as “Why our CBD Products are Crushing the Competition” for example, is targeting customers in the Intent or Repurchase stage. They already know about CBD, but want to find out more detailed information. This can persuade them to purchase from your company, or solidify their confidence in your brand. Other topics like “What is CBD?” are for customers in the Awareness stage. They are learning the basic information needed to realize that your product could meet their needs. Pay attention to the buying stage of the audience you are targeting in order to direct them through the buying process more effectively.
The types of people who are buying CBD products also vary widely. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 26% of Americans have tried CBD. Of that 26%, 40% of them were age 18-29, and 15% were in the 60+ range. This data shows that although younger people are the largest portion of users, there are substantial numbers across every age. A survey study conducted by Brightfield Group found that 55% of CBD users were female and 44% male. Although these numbers show slightly more female users, there isn’t a clear bias towards either gender. This even spread of CBD consumer demographics presents an interesting challenge for content creators. It is important to create content that effectively communicates across age and gender.
There is a massive overlap between marijuana consumers and CBD consumers. Among the cannabis users surveyed, 75% used CBD products and 70% use THC dominant products. Another point in the Brightfield study stated that 28% of cannabis users who were not interested in hemp-derived CBD responded as such because they believed it was less effective than marijuana-derived CBD-only products. This is a misconception, and goes to show that many people don’t yet understand the differences between marijuana and hemp or THC and CBD.
Basic education about CBD, hemp, and the industry is of utmost importance for content creators. People need to understand what CBD is in relation to THC and marijuana. In order for consumers to fully invest in a product, they need to fully understand it first.
Root Your Content in Quality Research
There are many great articles online about CBD and the industry. But the good always comes with the bad, and there is a lot of CBD content which contains unsubstantiated claims and lazy research. Finding primary or trustworthy sources is not difficult by any means, you just have to know what to look for. Finding unreliable and sensationalized content is way too easy. So here are some tips for doing better research.
First, look up your topic and see what other people have written about it. If these articles link to their sources (that’s a good sign), follow the links to check them out. This is just to get an idea of what is out there, where the information is coming from, and what is missing that could be included in your content.
Next, look for articles and studies published in scientific journals or look for information at its source. For example, instead of linking to another blog post about CBD regulations earlier in this article, I went to the FDA website and got the language directly from the source. Avoid getting information from articles that don’t provide any sources. Even the most respected scientific journal articles include reference lists over 100 sources long. This article published in Pharmacological Reviews, about the Endocannabinoid System, has over 1300 cited references. The more credible sources identified, the better the research, and therefore, the information is more reliable.
Make sure you know who is providing the information. Is the author or company reliable and do they have a good reputation? Keep in mind any biases the author may have. What is their intention or motive for writing the piece and do they have relevant experience with a good reputation? Government websites like the FDA website are the most reliable sources of information about government policies. Reputable companies and news sources such as The Washington Postor The New York Times also provide information that is reviewed by editors and is research based. A personal lifestyle blog entitled ‘5 Ways to Lower Cholesterol!’ is much less trustworthy compared to an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, entitled “Cholesterol-lowering effects of a proprietary Chinese red-yeast-rice dietary supplement.”
The CBD industry is steadily becoming more well known. There are an incredible number of claims about CBD online and in stores. It is hard to navigate the anecdotal versus researched-based claims for a substance with limited research and huge market value. Most claims about CBD treating diseases or other ailments should be taken with a grain of salt. Factual education and professional research is the key to launching CBD into the future.
I think people interested in CBD have heard all about its benefits. However, maybe those who haven’t tried it are looking for substantial evidence or education on how it could benefit them. The only way to do that is to provide education on what we know to be true, and constantly push to learn more. There is no doubt that the CBD industry will be big, but it is important that our messaging is ethical and true for the benefit of all.
By Adam Higelin
Adam Higelin is a University of California, Berkeley graduate with a BA degree in Integrative Biology. He is a passionate writer with a love for the environment, botany and music. A special focus on research based, scientific writing has allowed Adam to pursue his dream of educating and inspiring people to better themselves and the lives of others.