New Regional Regulations Present Big Operational and Communication Challenges—But They Can Be Overcome, As the Energy and Cannabis Sectors Have Shown Us

As Canada’s provinces gradually announce their re-opening strategies following many weeks of pandemic lockdown, these announcements are looking quite different from one province to the next.

Quebec, for example, has reopened retail stores outside Montreal, but announced that those in the greater Montreal area will reopen May 25.

Ontario has allowed only some seasonal business to open, such as garden centres with curbside pickup, lawn care and landscaping companies, and automatic car washes—the full re-opening has been pushed to May 19.

Manitoba started reopening malls, restaurants and even hair salons May 4—while British Columbia, in comparison, appears to be taking a more cautious approach, being the last province to announce a reopening plan.

The challenge here is obvious: Brands that operate nationally will need greater responsiveness in both their operations and communications in order to go to market different ways in different provinces. A retailer may be fully open in one province, offering curbside pickup in another, and remain closed in a third.

While the varied approaches in each province are partly politically driven, they’re also due to the fundamental fact that the provinces have experienced COVID-19 differently. Prince Edward Island, for instance, is now pretty well in recovery; Ontario, on the other hand, is still very much grappling with the pandemic.

Along with differences in provincial regulations, these varying stages of recovery bring with them different consumer sentiments around economic reopening. Messages about “getting back to normal” might be well-received on the East Coast, but may not elicit the same response in Ontario and Quebec.

All of which results in a highly complex communications scenario for any national brand. There is the very real possibility that going forward, at least for the foreseeable future, brands may need to develop province-specific marketing plans.

As daunting as this might seem, it can be done effectively and efficiently, as companies in the energy and cannabis sectors have demonstrated.

Energy retailers in both the U.S. and Canada have long had to deal with tight regional regulations that, if breached, bring the risk of steep fines and even closure. These organizations depend on robust technology that not only ensures communication accuracy in different regions, but also automates slow, spreadsheet-intensive processes that are prone to error.

Cannabis producers have faced similar challenges, with regulations around cannabis purchase and use highly specific to each province. Some provinces, for example, allow producers to operate their own retail stores. In other provinces, they can operate only through government-run outlets. Producers have had to adapt communications accordingly, while still maintaining efficiency and controlling costs. This kind of adaptability will likely become more a part of the new normal for other sectors as well. As regionalism becomes increasingly ingrained in the weeks and months to come, brands will need to segment their communications as a matter of routine—and they’ll need to do it efficiently and cost-effectively.