Crowdsourcing your counterfeit detection gives you an army of real-time field inspectors. The underlying tech is also your key to more connected customers.
Counterfeiting is a huge issue for brands, and is only getting worse. Despite initiatives manufacturers are putting in place to protect their products, fakes are still appearing and show no signs of going away. Now more than ever it’s easier for counterfeiters to get their fake products into the global marketplace and into consumers’ hands because the storefront has transformed.
In the past, counterfeiters penetrated legitimate supply chains in order for fake products to end up in stores or quasi-legitimate marketplaces. Neither were simple endeavors, but most brands had the internal resources available to discover a majority of the fakes in the market.
Today, global e-commerce platforms have transformed the ways in which consumers shop. Virtual “stores” that look and act the same as legitimate shops selling the real thing can easily be set up, but be filled with counterfeit items. While online sales have consistently increased over the years, the current global pandemic has caused a significantly greater transition to online shopping, which means the industry is prime for counterfeiters looking to sell fake goods to unsuspecting consumers. To make matters worse, it’s easy for counterfeit e-commerce sites to reopen under a different name after being shut down, making this a serious and systemic issue for all brands.
In order for brands to get a hold on pervasive counterfeiting, more “feet on the street” are needed to do the necessary discovery, and associated heat mapping both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. In-house brand protection teams can only cover so much ground, and while partnering with Customs and implementing web scouring platforms are essential, these efforts still fall short. Our borders are big, and the internet is vast. That leaves a lot of room for fakes to slip through the cracks.
Educating consumers about counterfeit products is key and essential to this message is that counterfeit operations are not only illegal but the money made from these illegitimate sales fund global organized crime. Though a fake handbag may have a faulty snap that won’t cause physical harm, the international crime organizations receiving the profits from counterfeits are detrimental to citizens across the globe.
Enter Crowdsourcing. A Free, Real-Time Army of Counterfeit Field Inspectors
Putting the power of counterfeit detection into the hands of as many individuals as possible is an essential step brands must take to drastically impact and escalate the discovery of fakes. Crowdsourcing brand protection is an opportunity for manufacturers to make a gigantic leap in their counterfeit discovery programs without having to increase their internal headcount and resource investments. Also, consumers will gain value from being able to authenticate their products, and brands will then have access to advanced data to optimize business decisions both related and unrelated to brand protection.
e-Fingerprinting is a technology that creates a unique digital identifier for each and every product in the marketplace. Consumers can authenticate products with their smartphone wherever they are in the world, but since each product is digitally connected, that product is now onboarded to the digital world. The bi-directional nature of that connection can be used to do exciting new things that weren’t capable with traditional links like static QR codes.
Not everyone is comfortable being this transparent with their customers. The good news is, you don’t have to be. Read on to learn how e-Fingerprinting enables Gamification, Super Shoppers and Connected Connoisseurs. All of these programs can be set up to send product authentication data discreetly back to you each time a user interacts with your product, or a counterfeit of your product.
Four Connected Customer Strategies that Increase Brand Value and Customer Engagement
As discussed, a key benefit of crowdsourcing for brand protection is to partner with your customers to find the fakes. However, what if we look beyond brand protection?
Companies today are interested in “connecting” their products and packaging to the data-driven world. This largely relies on printed internet addresses or QR barcodes on a product that, when scanned, redirect to a static website. This is “generic” connectivity. It is very limited and does not allow for a high degree of engagement or richness of experience. What if the “power of one” could facilitate an exceptionally deep and robust interactive experience between the purchaser and the brand?
Remember that e-Fingerprinting technology identifies each and every item uniquely. Data and information about its unique pedigree can be associated with each individual item. Lot, batch, expiry, packaging date, source, purchase order, processing date, factory and other information can be linked to the e-Fingerprint and presented to consumers after authentication. The opportunities created when authenticating unique, e-Fingerprinted products takes the mutual brand/crowd benefit to an even higher level.
Safety – Consumers can immediately discover if a product is suspect to prevent them from using and/or consuming counterfeit items. With bi-directional data capabilities, brands can push important notifications to the customer such as a recall notice for the specific lot/batch of the product they have. Additionally, consumers have the ability to report back to brands regarding allergic reactions, side effects or offer general feedback about their experience.
Gamification – Brands can create exciting games for customers based on the uniqueness of the product they have making for a more engaging experience. Think of a cosmetic product that is used by the consumer over an extended period of time. A contest for “the most well-traveled” cosmetic could be held. Users would authenticate their product wherever they are in the world. Those data points would be collected, and the user could even see the trace map of their product’s journey on their smartphone. Data analysis would determine which e-Fingerprint was authenticated in the most places and/or derive the most miles traveled by the product. Fun!
Super Shopper – Loyalty programs are the backbone of many consumer engagement apps and programs hosted by brands. One common approach is to enlist customers into a loyalty program to drive repeated purchases. Instant rewards can also present a powerful incentive through cash back directly into the customer’s digital wallet. And finally, there is the allure of winning a sweepstake prize. To turn a product into a lottery ticket not only draws customers to that brand, but also in turn rewards the owner with increased sales.
Connected Connoisseur – Today’s consumers are more interested than ever in the quality and sourcing of their foods and beverages. One industry that is looking to take advantage of its customers’ desire for a richer product experience is wine. Customers can start by validating the authenticity of their wine, and in exchange they receive information about the contents such as vintage details, appellation, terroir, varietal percentage, harvest date, crush date, sugar levels, ABV, barreling statistics, cases produced and any other data elements. Finally, because the product is now uniquely identified and connected, the consumer can comment their tasting notes back to the vintner.
All these examples highlight mutual benefits for brands and consumers from crowdsourcing brand protection, counterfeit detection and the resulting data-enriched capabilities that come with such a program.
Have you tried any of these strategies yet? What types of consumer engagement programs are you building into your roadmap?