In my last post I wrote about the explosion of the online counterfeit market
. In that post I talked about the fear brand owners have around the issue, the difficulty law enforcement faces in ever stopping the problem now that fakes are shipped one box at a time, and the real world impact it’s having to our economy and customers, but the issues are just the setup – now it’s time to talk about how marketers can help solve, or at least reduce the problem.
By keeping the issue quite companies have tried to suppress it, avoid having their consumers know there’s anything amiss, anything wrong out there and as a result, we’ve left our customers unaware and easily fooled. We have made it easier for the counterfeiters to get ahead. It’s time to talk about what we can do as marketers. We can stop the demand and make this an unprofitable business to be in.
During my time at Monster we were aggressive against counterfeits taking down thousands of auctions and sites daily but we also weren’t afraid to talk about the problem to insure our customers were protected. If your brand is ready to step up and fight to stop the confusion, reduce the demand, and hit the counterfeiters square in the wallet here’s the tips from what we learned to get serious.
Monster Cable puts a warning message on every page alerting consumers about fakes, showing them the top offenders and offering alternative dealers to shop safely with.
Step 1: Remove the veil, admit the issue.
Before the first letter of a press release is drafted, the first page wireframed, you have to convince your organization that the only solution is to open up and talk about the problem. This is the hardest part for a myriad of reasons: You’ll hear that telling consumers will impact share value if you’re publicly traded. You’ll be told that it helps the counterfeiters know what you’re doing to stop them. You’ll even have people complain that your public statements will help drive consumers to go buy fakes.
These are all true yet doing nothing is far worse. Consider:
If you do nothing you will continue to lose up to 10% (and in some fields much more) of your sales. Period.
If you do nothing, 10% of your customers will not know they bought a fake product so when the poor quality replica fails they will take to social to trash your premium brand. You will see more bad reviews.
If you do nothing the counterfeiters will evolve and improve leveraging their nimble, profitable model until they have a better SEO, SEM, Social and Media strategy that you do. Counterfeiters are even buying social ads these days… anything you we do they can try faster.
If you do nothing you are continuing to build an uneducated customer and partner base. Every day you say nothing the counterfeiters profit allowing them to fine tune, expand, and make it that much harder to stop them.
Telling our customers something is wrong is exactly how we fix the problem. Doing nothing to inform does nothing to stop that demand and that loses sales, hurts brand credibility and gives the counterfeiters a chance to equal up to you in product quality before you even see the issue – there goes profitability and share prices.
Every day thousands of consumers search around trying to find out how to buy authentic products, if your brand isn't providing education, it's anyone's guess what they will learn.
Step 2: Warning customers = protecting customers.
Once your organization is willing to tell the world about its problem it’s time to do just that. Think about the issue like you would any other marketing campaign and you can find an ROI to justify the time and resources (true fact, educating consumers will not only reduce fake sales but it also makes for great brand marketing and is extremely viral bringing new customers in).
It may not be pretty but Rolex is one of only a few watch companies to reinforce the problem with knockoffs front & center on their website.
You’ll want to educate in ways that help solve the problem, that is to say, you don’t want to just say there are fakes, you want to tell people how to avoid them and why.
I suggest you look at this as a multi-channel initiative. Online is certainly the place to be seen and heard, especially since so many sales take place through the web, but the same rules apply to a press release, retail storefront, or even an event:
Have your facts lined up. You don’t have to share every detail or trick; just enough to get people to understand that buying fake is no good.
- What is being faked, how it hurts (safety, quality, performance implications)
- How customers can avoid fakes (spotting tips, serial number registration)
- The really bad guys that you can’t get rid of (your bad dealer / site blacklist)
- The good guys people they should buy from (your site, retailers, partners)
With your facts in hand it’s just another marketing campaign to slot in.
Step 3: Put your message where people are looking
In writing this post I did dozens of posts about top brands who are known for having huge counterfeit issues and in just about every case when I searched for “brand + avoid fake” or “brand + buy online” what I got was user guides, forums and comments about fakes. How can you stop people from buying something they don’t even know exists?
- Buy up search terms from people looking to avoid fakes or to buy authorized.
- Try swapping in counterfeit messages to general brand terms to see if that attracts attention over more general marketing terms.
- Push the same messages back to your site with the same urgency that there is business impact. If the issue is big, the warnings should be big, if it’s smaller, they can be relegated to a navigation item or footer.
- Spread the issue out to marketing partners, authorized dealers, microsites or anywhere else that has your product and brand.
eBay Sellers and Third Party sites are providing their own opinion on authorized products. With SEM they can easily be replaced with official education.
Wherever you place the message remember to keep it simple and interesting… I’ve see a lot of sites with warnings that are so long & boring a contract lawyer would give up. Give customers the facts and give it to them in a way that represents your brand as well as any other educational effort you put out there. That’s all they need.
Step 4: Leverage the customer to become the educator.
Your loyal customers are the most potent source of education you can possibly have in addressing counterfeits. Their action as advocates can turn the issue from boring, corporate education and make it real and important. Through social it’s easy to spread the message, identify bad sites, and even create a culture of customers who call out the bad guys and people buying from them.
In the end quality only goes so far, especially when the savings are 50, 60 or 70% but if it’s not socially acceptable to have the knockoff, you’ve got a big advantage. Just look at the purse industry: while everyone knows where they can buy a similar-but-different knockoff, no one wants to be caught dead with an imitation version. In luxury goods that is essential to surviving.
In the consumer audio space, Beats by Dr. Dre has become a household name to youth and the counterfeits have followed. From photo galleries and posts about fakes to made-for-web videos [contains profanity], Beats has used social media channels from twitter to facebook to youtube to engage with loyal customers and build a negative stigma around “#FakeBeats”. This authentic conversation has in turn created a class of brand advocates so passionate that when someone buys or even asks about a fake site on a blog, forum or social network, they jump in and respond fiercely to warn them away, often before a community manager or brand employee has to get involved. Their advocates bring credibility to the problem and make it uncool.
This single post on fake headphones from the Beats by Dr. Dre facebook page has over 1,800 engagements from fans.
Leveraging the power of the fans to spread the word and defend the brand trumps any other strategy. People will dispute a brand’s message on quality, warranty or other advantages but just like a user review is trusted, a post back about a bad experience goes miles. Enough posts and you’ve got a trend that influences purchases online and off.
- Leverage social channels to educate your followers about the issue.
- Empower them with examples, bad sites, and one-to-one responses on the inevitable questions so they know what’s bad and what’s good.
- Allow them to dialogue with other fans, calling out sightings of fakes and making it something advocates are looking to attack. Put reporting right into social channels.
- Encourage customers who buy a fake and come to support or legal for help to share their experience back to your social channels as well as other blogs and channels they use to build the network effect. your own educational center so it’s not just your brand speaking, it’s real customers with real stories and faces explaining why it’s just not ok to make the purchase.
Educated customers will spread the message. This user went to Craigslist and posted against fake products because they saw and wanted to help others avoid a problem.
Putting it all together
As marketers we can’t individually stop an issue that spans the globe and brings in billions but when you look at the issues facing enforcement for both government and our brands, it’s clear that there won’t be a short term end but there can be short term wins by curtailing demand.
In the long term, educated customers avoid buying fakes, turn into advocates and, if that spreads enough it will disrupt the flow putting your brand on the list of companies not to bother with. Offense up front is a whole lot more effective than relying on your last line of defense when this much is at stake.