Educating Consumers to the Risk of Counterfeit Products

Most brand owners grapple with the question of alerting their consumers to the fact that your brand has been counterfeited. On the surface, one might think that it is an obvious decision to alert consumers. After all, brand owners hate the fact that counterfeiters could profit from stealing your brand. But many, if not most, brand owners do not raise the issue of counterfeits with their customers. Let’s explore the pros and cons of involving customers in your anti counterfeiting strategy.


Brands are afraid consumers will avoid a brand that is being counterfeited

Many brand owners believe that once a consumer is aware that counterfeits exist, they will avoid buying that brand. They are either afraid that they are at risk of buying one of these counterfeits, or that the brand is somehow tarnished by counterfeit activity.

My opinion is that counterfeiting has become so commonplace that few brands have not experienced some form of brand infringement. As such, it should not be a stigma against a brand because it has been so targeted. Brands should show their customers that they are concerned about the counterfeits and want to protect their loyal customers. Making customers aware of the problem can be a brands way of showing their customers that they cherish their loyalty and want to insure they know how to avoid being tricked into buying a counterfeit. Talking to your customers, showing you care about their protection, should create a stronger sense of attachment to a favorite brand. Your communication should emphasize that a claim of low prices is tied with product that is not authentic and questionable to its quality and performance.  They buy your product because of the product’s integrity and your brand reputation. A low attractive price cannot be a substitute for that. That’s the message your customer’s have to hear.

Can consumers assist in your anti-counterfeiting effort?

The logical point to consider is that your consumer is the target of counterfeiters. Counterfeiters need these individuals in order to survive. So your customers will be the first to know when products are being offered for sale that competes with your authentic products. The strongest selling point, of course, is likely to be better prices. If your customers are familiar with your products and selling strategies, they should be able to detect when offered prices are “too good to be true”.

What your customer’s can provide to you, is a first hand alert that there is someone trying to sell them product that does not appear to authentic or authorized. If you’ve created the right brand loyalty mentioned above, they will be happy to assist in exposing counterfeiters who are not only trying to steal your sales, but also tricking them into spending money on products that are not what they appear to be. They will have a sense of satisfaction that they have exposed a thief who is attempting to prey on your good will.

What do consumers need to know to be of help?

What you tell your customers about counterfeiters must be carefully considered. You want to rally their loyalty, not drive them away. Respect their loyalty and remind them why they buy your brand. Clearly let them know that you cannot determine the quality and performance that the consumer expects, in these unauthorized products. You should talk about your authorized sales channels, normal pricing policies, authorized distributors, on-line dealers and websites, shipping policies and locations, customer service contacts, and even regional product variances if any. Things like overt anti-counterfeiting devices; packaging, markings, etc. can be helpful but remember that these can be counterfeited very well. Offer the consumer a convenient and easy contact that will verify a selling site. A strong endorsement of your loyalty would be some type of policy that allows customers to send questionable product to you validation.
Do not reveal any covert anti-counterfeiting devices you may be utilizing.

Do not ask your customers to be investigators

When a customer or consumer brings you information about a possible counterfeit site, it is now your responsibility to investigate. Do not ask the consumer to make a buy, contact the seller, or get more information. They’ve done their job by notifying you, now the follow up is your responsibility.

Educate your Customer Service staff

Your Customer Service staff needs to be educated on how to speak to consumers who bring questions or information about questionable selling sites. They should know how to extract relevant information without scaring or interrogating the consumer. Of course, a consumer should never be berated for visiting a site that might be selling counterfeits.  Your Customer Service staff should be communicating quickly with whomever in your company is charged with brand protection.

Monitor Social Media

Important information about counterfeit sites, poor quality products purchased, unusual prices, etc. can be picked up from social media. Know how to identify conversations that reveal potential counterfeit sites and sources. Social media can also be used to alert consumers of harmful sites to avoid.