You’ve gone to a lot of effort and expense building high-quality products and a brand reputation that reflects a dedication to quality and value. But if your sales channel includes a mix of distributors, wholesalers, and retailers, you can quickly and easily lose control over how your products are being represented and, ultimately, how the public perceives your brand.
In the digital age, every customer has the ability to publicly vent about their bad experiences with buying your products. And even if those experiences are with resellers (perhaps even unauthorized resellers), and in no way reflect your company’s own practices, the damage they can do to your brand’s reputation is just as real.
You can’t control everything that happens with your products in the vast digital marketplace. But there are steps you can take – reseller policies to implement, brand protection technologies to deploy – that can significantly increase your control over how your products are represented online and decrease the likelihood of poor customer experiences that can harm your brand’s reputation.
A 5-step brand protection strategy you should implement now
1. Publish a minimum advertised price (MAP) policy
If you haven’t done so already, this should be your first step.
A minimum advertised price (MAP) policy is a statement issued publicly by a brand stating the minimum prices at which resellers may advertise its products. MAP policies are key to brand protection because they can help deter price wars, protect and strengthen the manufacturer’s relationships with legitimate resellers, and help preserve the manufacturer’s products from being perceived as lower-quality goods.
A word of caution: Your MAP policy must be written with care, because if it is written in a way that suggests the statement is actually an agreement between the manufacturer and its resellers, the policy might tip over the legal line and into antitrust territory. For this reason, it is a good idea to work with a MAP expert to draft your policy.
2. Implement an authorized dealer program
Unlike a MAP policy, an authorized dealer program is an agreement between a manufacturer or brand and its resellers – which you can demand any reseller sign and return to you before you add them to your resale channel. Manufacturers draft these agreements to help control both the customer’s experience with resellers and the brand’s perception and reputation.
You can include a wide range of clauses in your authorized dealer program for how resellers must sell and support your products. Examples include a demand that a reseller agree to honor all warranties or advertised support for your products, that they guarantee they will not sell returned or refurbished items unless identifying them as such in their advertising, or even that the business must have a physical retail store to become an authorized dealer.
3, Deploy a brand protection enforcement strategy
Neither your MAP policy nor your authorized dealer program (nor any other brand protection policies you implement) will be of much value to your brand if you don’t also have an enforcement strategy backing them up.
If a reseller advertises your products online for less than your MAP-approved amount, what will you do? If an online retailer that has signed your authorized dealer program nevertheless represents your products in a way that violates that agreement, what steps will you take to handle that?
Your enforcement strategy is vital not only to stop an offending company’s violation as quickly as possible – although that is certainly important – but to help preserve your brand’s reputation. An effective enforcement process is also critical to demonstrate to your legitimate resellers that you will take immediate steps to ensure they are not undersold, to help make representing your product line more attractive to new resellers, and to act as a deterrent against rogue retailers who would violate your resale policies if they thought they could get away with it.
This enforcement process ideally should address the entire Internet as an ecosystem – monitoring across all Internet sales locations (marketplaces and websites), sending out escalating violation notices daily, and including a clear plan to handle non-compliant violators.
4. Develop an “authorized dealer verified” program and issue clickable trust badges for authorized resellers to display on their e-commerce pages
Because your customers know that not every company online is engaging in honorable business practices, it’s a smart strategy to use tools wherever possible to help reinforce to shoppers that the business they are dealing with is in fact above-board.
A quick stat should help underscore how important it can be to help your authorized retailers build trust as quickly as possible with their customers visiting your products online. A study reported in Forbes found that more than 60% of online shoppers have cancelled a transaction because the website did not display any trust seals.
One valuable trust seal can be an “Authorized Dealer Verified” icon, a badge placed prominently on your authorized resellers’ pages that list your products, which a visitor can click to verify both that the company is part of your retail network and that the product on offer is the real thing and not a knockoff.
5. Implement a review tracking program
Finally, one more way to protect your brand’s reputation is to set up a review tracking system.
According to research cited by Econsultancy, 61% of consumers now read online reviews before making a purchase. This means that your product reviews, including those published on the sites of your resellers, are almost certainly having a direct effect on your brand’s sales as well as your reputation.
Implementing a review tracking program will give your team a better picture of what customers are saying about your products and the experiences they’ve had buying them – either from you directly or from your resellers (right next to the buy button) – so that you know what is working and where you or your sales channel can improve.
Because the ecosystem of Internet retailers is so large and so spread out, it probably won’t be practical – or at least not ideal – to try tracking your products’ reviews and comments manually. But it’s critical that you know of potential issues before they snowball, so you can take proactive and corrective action. Your best bet will be to partner with a brand protection technology expert that can deploy an automated system to continually monitor the Internet for reviews of your products, gather and analyze that data, and deliver intelligent reports or alerts so you know where to focus your resources to maintain or boost your brand’s reputation.
For more on protecting your brand’s reputation, see The Future of Cybersecurity: Trust as Competitive Advantage.