As more and more consumers are going online to fulfill their shopping needs, manufacturers need to play close attention to how their products are being disseminated online. With online retail giants, like Amazon, meeting customer demand for increasingly diverse products and brands by authorizing third-party vendors to sell these products on their platforms, the need for brand consistency among manufacturers has never been more crucial.
The Third-Party Dilemma
The third-party dilemma goes a little something like this: say you’re a well-known brand like Coca-Cola, in an industry where lower-quality knock-offs sold and distributed by unauthorized third-parties can be a real problem. Consequently, you’re very careful where and how your products are sold and distributed. But you also need to get your products out there, so you authorize select third-party vendors—brick-and-mortar and online—to sell your products. You know how important it is to build a consistent customer experience, and you have the means to make sure that’s exactly what happens.
Now, say you’re a lesser-known brand on the rise, with perhaps fewer channels of distribution, and less brand clout. One day you notice your products are being sold online without your consent. You’re a little confused at first, maybe upset, but can’t argue with the fact that it’s contributing to your own bottom line. Besides, what harm could it really do?
Unfortunately, the answer that more and more manufacturers are waking up to is a lot. Take a look at a couple of the myths (along with their corresponding facts) behind the third-party dilemma:
Myth #1: It Will Increase Brand Awareness
One common misconception relating to the third-party seller dilemma, particularly as it relates to smaller brands, is that it will increase brand awareness. Whether some brands like it or not, the proliferation of eCommerce and online retail sites is allowing shoppers to more easily engage with new brands in a variety of different settings. And while it’s true that the transactions may be taking place through third-party vendors, at least your brand name is getting out there. Right?
Fact #1: It Can Jeopardize Brand Consistency
On the other hand, when you have other people selling your goods—namely those who care less about preserving your brand integrity and more about their bottom line—the threat of brand inconsistency skyrockets. Any damage caused by third-party vendors who are using outdated or low-quality product content immediately outweighs whatever goodwill or sales profits their efforts might have produced for your organization. Simply put, when customers have an inconsistent brand experience, it’s the brand (and not necessarily the third-party vendor) that ultimately suffers.
Myth #2: It Will Improve Product Transparency
Now, more than ever, customers want to know the who-what-when-where-and-why of everything online purchases offers: from the exact ingredients used, to the correct temperatures at which products should be stored, to where exactly the materials were sourced from. Thankfully, these various online platforms are built to provide modern customers with as interactive an experience as possible. The third-party dilemma could provide a great opportunity to match the growing demand for product transparency (as long as everyone—from your internal teams to these third-parties—has updated and correct information).
Fact #2: It Could Risk a Non-Compliance/Misrepresentation Suit
In a perfect world, these third-party vendors will be using accurate product data when marketing and selling your products. But when it comes to consumer packaged goods (an industry marked by rapid product turnover from year to year), chances are good they are working with outdated information—and this is a big deal! Say someone buys your product through a third-party (authorized or not), and her purchasing decision is based on content that is no longer relevant. And say that purchaser has an allergic reaction because your product content didn’t list certifications, ingredients or other facts that help in decision making…you are just as liable and culpable as the third-party reseller. You need to protect your brand and your company.
Creating a Consistent (and Quality) Customer Experience
It should come as no surprise that when customers have consistent, high-quality experiences with a brand during the various stages of the buying process, that brand loyalty increases, as does the likelihood of that customer becoming a return customer, and increasing your base through word-of-mouth referrals. Conversely, when the brand message and product content is inconsistent, brand trust plummets and can ultimately destroy the brand.
Control Your Message
The online shopping experience can be great for customers in demand of new and high-quality products; however, it can also made brands vulnerable when there are multiple parties sending mixed signals. If you plan to make any gains in online retail, you need to control your message in three ways:
- Quality: Quality product content at every stage of customer interaction is imperative to your success! Customers are becoming increasingly scrutinous when it comes to the products they buy online. Typos in the copy, low-res product images, and inaccurate information will immediately raise red flags in potential buyers. And you can be sure that customers who have a negative experience resulting from outdated information are going to let you, their friends, and maybe even their lawyers know about it.
- Consistency: No matter how high in quality your product content is, it won’t make any difference if there is still old, conflicting, or low-quality content within customer reach. That means understanding where and how customers are engaging with your content, and taking steps (and yes, that can mean spending money) to take control of the message in those areas, maybe by even becoming an authorized Amazon vendor yourself.
- Uniformity: Of course, if your own content teams aren’t on the same page in terms of what content is being used, and what messaging needs to be implemented in the first place, then your problems are a lot bigger than just third-party vendors. Everyone from copywriters, to the sales team, to the SEO guy needs to be briefed on how your products are being presented to the world, because that is, in essence, how you position your brand for greatness.
Conduct a Regular Content Inventory
A simple way to get everyone on the same page (both internally and externally) is to have a central repository, or content inventory, that represents the canon of approved and verified content to be used in any given situation. This will be your best shot at creating a consistent and quality message for your brand. And though organizing the content inventory represents a major achievement for any brand, the real challenge and success lies in the updates. Making sure your inventory is regularly up-to-date will protect customers against misleading information, and you from a potential lawsuit.
Once you have your internal teams on the same page, and you have updated your content inventory, what’s next? How do you plan to implement your content strategy? If you’re drawing a blank, you might consider partnering up with an trusted content distribution partner. Partnering up on your content distribution strategy will ensure a disciplined and data-driven approach to how and where your product content is seen by customers, making your products consistently searchable across various attributes—regardless of where your customers are finding your products. In short, working with an established content partner will help your brand take great strides in maintaining a consistent and high-quality customer experience.