You wouldn’t wait until your house was on fire to purchase insurance. So why would you wait to invest in brand protection until after a counterfeiter ate into your business’s market share and wrought havoc on your reputation?
“Because brand protection is complicated and expensive,” you might say.
Track and trace, overt vs. covert security elements, forensic markers – it can all start to feel like overkill. Your brand isn’t exactly Gucci, after all. Do you really need to worry about counterfeiting?
Sadly, in today’s world, almost anything can be – and will be – copied. Counterfeit versions have been found for everything from canned corn (yes, we’re serious) to medicine. If you sell a physical product, you’re at risk of being knocked off. Product counterfeiting hurts manufacturers’ revenue, forcing them to compete against their own great ideas (trade in fake goods represents over 3% of global trade).
Additionally, these knockoffs can undermine brand reputation and customer relationships. The last thing any manufacturer wants is to find themselves scrambling to implement brand protection while dealing with loads of irate customers complaining online about defective merchandise.
Is Your Brand in Danger of Being Counterfeited?
As we pointed out above, counterfeiters will attempt to copy nearly any physical product they think they can sell. Luxury products are the first category that typically comes to mind, but it’s worth noting that, these days, handbags and watches aren’t the only high-end status symbols consumers covet.
Popular electronics such as headphones, phone chargers, and even drones have been faked and sold online (according to a Better Business Bureau study). Sporting goods (such as rackets, golf clubs, and exercise equipment) and kitchen appliances are also frequent targets for counterfeiters.
Perhaps the most dangerous form of counterfeiting involves pharmaceuticals. Every year, 250,000 children die after taking low-quality or fake drugs intended to treat malaria or pneumonia, a group of doctors has warned. Counterfeit drugs not only lack sufficient active ingredients to perform as expected, but they often contain harmful ingredients, such as printer ink, paint, and arsenic.
Three Low-Cost Ways to Improve Your Brand Protection
The best brand protection method is the one you put in place now before your brand becomes compromised. And fortunately, brand protection doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.
Here are a few low-cost steps you can take right now to bolster your brand against counterfeiters:
1. Add a Layer of Complexity to Your Product Labels
When it comes to choosing a target, counterfeiters typically opt for the path of least resistance.
Just like burglars skipping over houses with visible security systems, counterfeiters zero in on products that are easy to copy and that they can sell for a premium. The simpler your product’s design, the more tempting it will be to counterfeiters.
This isn’t to say you should add a bunch of bells and whistles to your product just to frustrate counterfeiters. Minimalist design might be part of your brand. You can, however, add layers of complexity elsewhere; your product label is a good option.
Brand fans and discerning retailers learn to differentiate between authentic products and fakes based on subtle features. These features do not have to be expensive.
For example, you could coat your product label with a simple fluorescing varnish. Or you could use a bit of microprinting, tiny letters or numbers that are easy to overlook. If you’re able to spend a little more, you can consider more advanced brand protection label technology, such as color-shifting ink or holography.
2. Protect Your Design Files
Freelance graphic designers and other third-party contributors are generally a trustworthy group. But every now and then, an outsourced provider might either deliberately or inadvertently allow some of your trade secrets to fall into the hands of competitors and counterfeiters.
Before you begin working with any freelancer – even those you know well – draw up agreements that stipulate exactly what your partners can and cannot do with your company’s valuable intellectual property. Make sure you understand how your freelancers are keeping themselves and your files safe from hackers, and if they’re failing to follow data security best practices, steer them in the right direction.
3. Search for Your Product Online
It used to be the only place for counterfeiters to market their goods was on the street. But online marketplaces such as Amazon and Alibaba have made it easier than ever before for counterfeiters to reach wide audiences of often-unsuspecting buyers.
Some of these e-commerce outlets do more than others to combat unauthorized sales. But some brands feel the measures are too-little-too-late (causing oft-counterfeited brands like Birkenstock and Nike to pull out of Amazon altogether).
Are counterfeiters selling fake versions of your products online? There’s only one way to find out: monitor the web for counterfeits and unauthorized resellers (and with the rise of social commerce, don’t forget to monitor places like Instagram and Facebook Marketplace). If you find any, notify the e-commerce platform immediately.
Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Brand Protection
In fields such as pharmaceuticals, where fake products can do deadly harm, brand protection is essential. But all businesses can suffer the consequences of counterfeiting.
- Counterfeiting can hurt your brand’s reputation. Consumers who buy fakes may not realize they’re fakes and associate shoddy craftsmanship with your brand.
- Counterfeiting detracts from your revenue. A consumer who buys a counterfeit product will probably not also buy the real thing from your brand.
- Counterfeiting strips away your competitive advantage. Brands dedicate years and invest millions of dollars in developing their intellectual property. Counterfeiting negates all of that.
Nearly every brand faces these risks, but no one-size-fits-all brand protection solution will be cost-effective for every brand.
For example, if you sell a pen for $1, you wouldn’t spend $5 to make it copy-proof. On the other hand, if you sell something like the Yeti Rambler (a high-tech, frequently copied insulated beverage holder that can retail for up to $35), you might be able to justify spending a little more on brand protection.
The appropriate level of brand protection for your business should be based on your products’ value, the potential risks of counterfeiting, and the frequency with which your products are faked.
As we’ve demonstrated in this article, however, brand protection doesn’t have to be expensive. Small measures can make a big difference.
Ready to dive deeper into the latest brand protection options? Start with our three-part series that answers the question, “Do You Need Brand Protection?” Then learn how to deploy your brand protection strategy here.