Originally published on February 5, 2020, updated April 3, 2020
Are you struggling to promote your brand on the Amazon marketplace? Is your brand properly protected?
In this webinar, we discuss what you can do to promote and protect your brand on Amazon with experts Nick Young from MarketplaceOps and Pixelfy.me and Joe Kovacs from Brand Guarde. You'll learn:
The Amazon marketplace is very competitive, and you might feel like you’re struggling to promote your brand in a way that really stands out. At the same time, you also need to make sure that your brand is properly protected.
This webinar features Nick Young from MarketplaceOps and Pixelfy.me as well as Joe Kovacs from Brand Guarde. They provide some incredibly insightful and in-depth guidance for Amazon sellers. It’s definitely worth watching the entire video, but in the meantime, let’s review some of the highlights.
Being competitive on Amazon is much harder than it used to be. Young encourages sellers to use white hat tactics such as offering discounts and coupons to improve sales velocity. He also explained that building a list of loyal buyers by optimizing the post-purchase funnel is essential “so that people are incentivized to leave their information with you.”
This offline source of traffic includes “a list of people who are audience members that are really, really involved in, and love, your brand." He then discussed being able to engage those customers with regular promotions on the products that you're launching.
Young also noted that Amazon has begun prioritizing social traffic, which can help validate the importance of a listing. Social sites such as Pinterest and YouTube, for example, “are generating a lot of boost, in terms of ranking, for these particular listings.”
If you’ve been selling on Amazon for a while, you may have had an encounter with unauthorized sellers. While they can hurt your sales, Kovacs doesn’t “necessarily think that unauthorized sellers are bad people.” He got his start as a reseller and admits that, when you’re just trying to make money, you may not be thinking about how your actions could impact others.
“There are legal strategies to help you reinforce your brand,” Kovacs explained. Some ways he’s helped sellers navigate this complicated issue include reviewing their marketing and distribution strategies to identify vulnerabilities. Protecting your business can feel overwhelming, especially if you have multiple levels of distribution and you’re in several retail channels. In these situations, it’s probably best to reach out for help from professionals who are experienced in dealing with unauthorized sellers.
The first step to protecting your brand is building some intellectual property and having your trademarks in place. As Kovacs explained, this is especially important if you’re launching newer brands. Then, you can get Brand Registered, which will give you access to other marketing tools that Amazon provides.
Additionally, Kovacs warned that, unless you’re Brand Registered, you won’t really have a way to report violations. Make sure you take this critical step toward protecting your brand, and you’ll be more able to guard against listing hijackers, unauthorized people changing your content, and other challenges.
Don’t put off registering for a trademark, either, said Kovacs. It can be a slow process — often taking six to eight months through the regular United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — but when you go through Amazon, you’ll be given access to Brand Registry much faster. As Fickenscher noted, this is a “very clear indicator that it’s something Amazon definitely wants you to do.”
Young points out that Brand Registered businesses are also given highly-coveted promotional tools such as headline display ads, product display ads, video and search ads, and so much more. Truly, Amazon sellers cannot overestimate the benefits of taking this vital step which, as Young clarified, “...plays a part in both personal protection, and also for promotion.”
You already know that having product reviews is important for your credibility and reputation. Did you know that they can also be a vital resource for identifying problems with your brand? As Fickenscher explained, product reviews are a wealth of information — especially the negative ones. Reading the comments being left by customers can alert you that something is wrong with your account.
Product reviews “can tell you if you've got counterfeiters, they can tell you if there's actually something wrong with your product or if there's something wrong with your listing,” she said. “I highly recommend that in the atmosphere of promoting a brand, protecting your brand, and creating your legacy, you need to pay attention to what customers are saying about your products, because that's ultimately what Amazon cares about the most.”
While this is a recap of some of the major points, listeners asked many great questions towards the end of this webinar. It’s definitely worth reading the transcript below or watching the recording to hear what mattered most to your fellow Amazon sellers, as well as the informative answers they were provided. Get ready to take some notes!
Liz: My name is Liz Fickenscher, I'm the Industry Liaison here with eComEngine. That means that I work with thought leaders like these guys, I talk to sellers like you guys, and I try to understand the pain points that are going on in the industry, and I try to solve those, with educational webinars like this. We've got all kinds of great content on our website, so you should check that out, ecomengine.com.
Liz: eComEngine has software tools for Amazon sellers, so we've got FeedbackFive, which is a reputation management tool, RestockPro, which is an inventory management tool. MarketScout, which is a really neat little lookup tool, if you're looking for things to sell on the Amazon Marketplace, and then SmartPrice, which is an algorithmic repricer that's new to market. So we are in the software space, but we don't limit the information we share to software alone.
Liz: I'm going to go through the agenda, and then I'm going to ask Nick and Joe to introduce themselves and say a little bit about what they do, and then we're going to just kind of jump into the tips and the content that we have for you today, so again, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. We're going to talk about how to promote your brand on and off Amazon. We're going to talk about how to protect your brand from unauthorized sellers and all the other nasty stuff that can happen to you when you're selling on the Amazon Marketplace. Both of these guys have advanced tips on Brand Registry, and how to make it work for you. And I'm going to talk a little bit about how product review management is critical to promoting and protecting your brand, because I just can't stop talking about product reviews.
Liz: So, without further ado, Nick, why don't you tell the folks a little bit about your three different organizations. Nick is joining us from a work event he's doing in Las Vegas, and he's taking time for this, but Nick, just introduce yourself and tell everybody about yourself.
Nick: Sure. Thanks for having me on this webinar Liz, and great to meet you guys. So, my name is Nick Young. I am a partner of Seller Tradecraft, that's probably maybe how you guys might know me. Basically Seller Tradecraft is a online community where we teach people how to launch their first products, and we've had thousands of people launch their products through a lot of the content that we've created. On top of that I'm the co-founder of MarketplaceOps, which is a brand management agency helping brands scale their presence on Amazon. We really focus on brands that have an already-existing presence, but really want to add Amazon as an additional channel. And on top of that, because I just don't have enough things to do apparently, I'm the co-founder of Pixelfy.me, and that is a tool that helps marketers retarget and build audiences, specifically for launching products on Amazon, and other e-commerce marketplace sites.
Nick: So yeah, that's a little bit about me, and I'm really excited to share some tips today.
Liz: We're so glad you're here. All right, Joe. Let's hear about you and Brand Guarde.
Joe: Yeah, well thanks for having me, and my name's Joe Kovacs, founder of Brand Guarde. We work with brands typically that have a business outside of Amazon, but we also work with brands that are kind of launching, they've been successful on Amazon and now they're launching out into other markets. We really help solve for the problem with when you have unauthorized resellers, with typically legitimate products. On Amazon this is a problem that Amazon doesn't want to solve, they kind of like that problem, but it can create a lot of headaches for brands, and so we help them create strategies and processes, as well as facilitate a lot of that work, so, excited to share some tips.
Liz: That's awesome. I heard Joe speak at the eComBootcamps event in Boulder Colorado, and learned all kinds of stuff that can happen to people, that I had no idea. I was like, "Good grief, I need to get him out there to talk about that." And obviously it's better to build a plan ahead of time, and then avoid things, so be proactive, but if you have to be reactive, Joe and his team can help you do that too.
Liz: So, let's first talk about growth. Nick, you have done a lot of work about growing brands. You've personally launched brands, and you've done the strategy and the work for other brands, and you're aware of the challenges that brands face when they're trying to be competitive on Amazon. It's super tough. It's way harder than it used to be. So can you speak to that a little bit, and give us some examples of particular pain points that brands face, and how you suggest they promote their brand for optimal success? And I think that will include some off-Amazon tips too, so why don't you dive into that a little bit?
Nick: Sure. Sure. Yeah, so I mean I think there're different kinds of brands. But I think really generally to compete on Amazon, it's really important, and I think most brands will have this, but it's really about funneling, this list. But it comes down to having a list of people that really love your brand, and teaching them how to buy your products on Amazon, so that you can launch products effectively on the platform. I think nowadays it's par for the course to do coupons, or discounts; something to just get that sales velocity going on the platform. And this is white-hat, right? Just, this is giving them coupons for maybe a certain percentage off. But really it's important to have an offline source of traffic that you're generating, either through a list of people who are audience members that are really really involved in and love your brand. And then being able to engage those customers, with regular promotions on the products that you're launching, it's going to be really important, for sending that traffic to Amazon.
Nick: What we're seeing a lot is that Amazon is starting to prioritize social traffic as a source of great information to validate the importance of this listing, or the interest that people have. As more and more people are gaming the system, Amazon really wants to identify other social signals, and we're finding particularly sites like Pinterest and YouTube are generating a lot of boost, in terms of ranking, for these particular listings. And it makes sense. I mean ultimately, Amazon wants to get us to do the work for them to drive outside traffic to the listing, and so it would make sense why it's kind of naturally going in this direction. And so I think really when it comes to building a brand, on Amazon, it's important to really just leverage and build up that list, and so one thing that we can touch on later is when you're getting people to purchase your products on Amazon, really optimizing that post-purchase funnel, so that people are incentivized to leave their information with you, so that then you can build that list over time of people who really like your products, build that relationship, and then as you're launching more and more products that are related, you can then hit them up with an offer, that can boost your product to the keywords that you're looking to target.
Liz: And I think the advantage to that is that when people actually opt in to your communications that are off Amazon, there're so many restrictions around buyer/seller messaging, you're not allowed to send any kind of marketing information, that kind of stuff, but when people actually opt in and want to know more about your brand, and more about your products, you've got this wonderful opportunity, to not only reinforce your brand image, and strengthen that in the consumer world, but you also can drive that traffic to Amazon, and Amazon's never going to get mad about that.
Nick: Exactly. Exactly. And I highly recommend really utilizing a post-purchase funnel that enhances the customer experience. So one thing I usually recommend is, if let's say you sell a, I don't know, let's say a, I have a picture, behind me, but a picture frame. A lot of people don't know how to install that properly, so maybe you create a video, that shows them, instructional, how to do that. Okay, great, let's go ahead and create an instructional video. You have an insert that says, "If you want to watch a video how this works, scan this QR code", and our tool Pixelfy allows you to do that; you can create a QR code, create a unique link, it sends them to a landing page, and through that, you could then collect customer information, so that they can get access to that video. And then, you can now categorize them as, "Hey, they bought this picture frame from me before, now I can go ahead and target them for a new product launch."
Nick: On top of that, you can utilize, let's say this tool to retarget them with a Facebook pixel. So I think because Amazon is becoming a lot more stringent, around sharing customer data, you'll see that in the order details; they don't want to share the customer name, or the phone number, it's more and more important that we have protocols in place that collect that information in a white-hat way, so that we can build that relationship. Otherwise, it's going to be really difficult to build that relationship, with customers, outside of that.
Liz: Well, because terms of service are not just limited to what you do on Amazon and on Seller Central. Amazon is watching, and I actually have been preparing some other content that I'm producing, later in the month, and later next month, and it's just sort of amazing the reach, and how they have teams paying attention to all that kind of stuff, so Nick says that Amazon's rewarding social traffic, but that also means they're paying attention to social, so keeping things white-hat, following TOS to the letter I think is super super important for your continued success on the marketplace.
Liz: Let's get back to a couple more promotion tips in a second, but you both had some really really interesting things to say about Brand Registry, and that's sort of like an on-Amazon opportunity to not only promote your brand, but also, set yourself up, that plan that Joe was talking about, about actually getting something into place to protect your brand. You both have some great tips on Brand Registry, so let's touch on that a little bit.
Joe: Sure, I think I can start. I think nowadays, if you're going to have a brand, you've got to build some IP, I mean what is a brand, if it's not a product connected to a name? And so, making sure that you have your trademarks in place, especially if you're launching newer brands, that sort of thing, protect, you've got to protect, give yourself some intellectual property to protect, because just saying, "Somebody's selling a product like mine", because they got it from a similar manufacturer, that's, you don't have any intellectual property there to protect. So, definitely getting your trademarks in place so that you then can get Brand Registered, as well as then once you're Brand Registered you have access now to a whole host of other marketing tools that Amazon provides, as well as what we're typically helping brands with is when they start having some of those problems, listing hijackers, or people changing content. I mean the goal there was Amazon now establishes you as a content authority, for your brand, and so it helps with giving you the precedent, and setting that content on your listings, because sometimes that can get changed by third-party sellers, or hijackers. I'm sure some of you guys have had some horror stories of that sort of thing happening.
Joe: Then, also, when you do need to report a violation, you don't really have a way to do that if you're not Brand Registered, through the Amazon platform. So, it's kind of got to be the frontline of the no-brainer, "Let's do this, let's make sure this is in place." And I think Amazon is making that easier and easier for brands, with their new IP initiative. Was it IP Accelerator?
Joe: Where they're giving that, helping brands work through that process a lot faster, because the normal USPTO, they're pretty slow; six to eight months to get a trademark in place. Which I think Amazon is helping facilitate, giving you access to Brand Registry quicker, through that process.
Liz: That's a very clear indicator that it's something Amazon definitely wants you to do. Nick, you were talking, when we were talking before you were talking about all the opportunities that Brand Registry offers you, in terms of promotion. Why don't you tell us more?
Nick: Yeah definitely. I mean look, I think like Joe said, I want to echo the fact that it's really just par for the course, if you really want to play ball here, there's no question you should be Brand Registered, even as some of our clients are selling their companies, that's one of the first questions people ask:"Is your company Brand Registered?", because of all the opportunities it affords to your brand, as you're preparing it for the sale. So I think that's a good indication of why it's so important.
Nick: But going back to your question, in relation to promotions, not only does it give you the opportunity to protect your listings, it also gives you the ability to have access to a ton of tools at your disposal, that wouldn't normally be available. So just to name a few, and then I can talk about strategies in relation to those tools, you'll get access to headline display ads, which, if you're looking for any product, let's type in Kleenex as an example, you'll see there's that bar at the top. That's only available to customers that have Brand Registry. There's also product display ads, which means you can bid directly on a specific listing. And I think in relation to those two, or actually before I keep going, there's also video and search ads, which we're seeing really incredible results in terms of return on ads, but we're seeing on average four to six, ROADs, which is pretty incredible.
Nick: But you don't really get to see that type of ability to promote, unless you have Brand Registry. And on top of that, with Brand Registry they're rolling a lot of prioritization in terms of tools. Joe, I'm sure you'll touch on this, but they have Project Zero, which allows you to report counterfeits, which we'll touch on later. But going back to these advertising tools, with product display ads in particular, one tactic I like to employ is I like to bid on my own listings. And so by doing that, I'm kind of cleaning out, taking up all the spots, so that less people are going to other listings as they're making purchases, there are less options to go to. And that's really kind of a strategy I think a lot of people listening in this call should think about, which is how can I reduce the amount of movement, from my listing to another? And having access to these suite of tools allows you to do just that. And I think really it's the bare minimum at this point, if you're really seriously considering making a dent on the Amazon platform with your brand.
Liz: That's great advice.
Joe: And some of those other benefits I think you also mentioned before were just enhanced content, video on the listing itself. All those things. Again it's not so much you're a first-mover any more; it's like you're probably missing out if you don't already have it, so, because your competitors are investing in that type of stuff, so...
Nick: Yeah. And to add to that, I think it's common for a lot of people, especially if you're playing a competitive category, like let's say supplements, oftentimes when you're launching a product, or just selling a product, a lot of people will make false contributions to your listing. So if you don't have Brand Registry, anyone can make contributions, right? Because Amazon is rating this on a scale of authority, and Brand Registry has the highest authority, because you are authorized to trademark and police that brand. But if you don't have Brand Registry, that means anyone could potentially make contributions, and adding keywords, let's say like "cures cancer", or these false claims, "kills bacteria", which you're not allowed to have. And Amazon has these bots which automatically take down these listings. So if you're playing in a really dirty field, that's really, I think, low-hanging fruit for somebody who's really trying to take you down. So again, Brand Registry plays a part in both personal protection, and also for promotion.
Liz: That's a great point Nick. I've been hearing a lot about increased black-hat activity, and even new and more inventive ways; certain sellers are hurting other sellers. And from what I understand, it's crucial to have Brand Registry, but it's also not a magic bullet. You still have to be really mindful of what's going on; you have to be reading your product reviews, you have to be doing, I think Joe recommends test buys, and all kinds of stuff, to protect yourself, because even with Brand Registry, I was talking to a great industry friend the other day, and he said that there was a scenario where someone jumped on Vendor Central, and started selling stuff, even though the seller was Brand Registered on Seller Central. And I mean Joe, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a super-hard thing to combat, so, the steps that you have to take in order to make sure that doesn't happen, I mean what does that entail? How much of a watchdog do you have to be over your listings?
Joe: Yeah, well I mean I think it's definitely advisable to have a monitoring service, I know that you guys have the review monitoring service, which is great. And there's other folks out there, different tools that if your title's changed, or if other additional changes are made to the listing, it'll notify you, so I think those are, I know one that we've heard a good bit about, AMZAlerts is pretty good about that. There's other ones, Reviewbox, that kind of thing, where they're just, you're seeing, they'll show you maybe other changes happening to your listings. That's definitely advisable, but, yeah, I would say right now that's currently one of the more difficult situations to deal with, is if you have somebody that is selling your product to Amazon, through Vendor Central, in that it's Amazon, I mean we've got ways of identifying sellers, so I mean, we have a tool right now where we have over 400,000 sellers that we personally identified, or it's come from Amazon directly, but in this case Amazon's the seller, so I mean we can even subpoena Amazon to get this information, except if I subpoena Amazon, and say, "Amazon's the seller", what information am I going to get?
Joe: So, it's a pretty black-box issue right now, and I think there's definitely some internal changes that Amazon is needing to make, in that particular program especially, a vendor. Because I do think it is getting abused, at times, and we've seen where when somebody makes a change in vendor platform in the A-plus content there, that it can at times override what you've done through Brand Registry. But that's where some of their other programs, like Transparency, especially of you're a smaller brand, I think could be beneficial. Because their program is adding a, basically unique identifier codes, looks like a QR code essentially, to your product through either a sticker, or you can add it directly onto packaging. There's some extra cost, and a few extra steps there, but it could go a long way if you're dealing with really counterfeit activity. Not so much unauthorized sellers with legitimate goods, but counterfeits. It can provide a solution that helps keep that out of Amazon's warehouses. And, I have found where their internal teams can help you connect with some of the deeper brand protection teams inside of Amazon. So possibly, if that's an issue, get some other avenues. It's always good to have an advocate inside of Amazon, and we've seen their team be able to do some of that.
Liz: Speaking of counterfeits, have you guys seen sort of an uptick in counterfeit goods, or have you seen that decline? And why do you think the answer is what the answer you're about to give me is? If that sentence made any sense.
Nick: Yeah, I mean, I'm seeing a decline. I mean, so I'm a seller myself, and I also manage seller accounts, so I'm personally seeing a decline in that. I think Brand Registry has a big part to play. It's a lot easier that the Brand Registry team, they respond within a day typically, on Seller Support, which really doesn't have much authority, with a brand, yeah brand enforcement. So I would say that's the reason why, Amazon is definitely investing a lot more, as you can tell based on these programs that Joe talked about. There's also Project Zero, which I touched on earlier. That's a specific program rolled out in regards to counterfeit especially. So, Amazon is definitely wising up to that. I also think sellers are starting to wise up. I mean, Transparency I think is the highest level, right, of what you should be doing, if you really have issues, and I think it applies to brands like let's say, YETI, or, I'm just trying to think big brands, Coleman, big brands off the top of my head that work with distributors. Transparency might make sense, because they really have no idea what their supply chain looks like when they're distributing these products. Once they sell to a distributor, it's kind of a black hole, and I'm sure Joe you can attest to that; it's really hard to enforce.
Nick: And so Transparency's a really great way to do that, but it costs a lot of money. But a couple of steps below that, if you have less distributors that you're working with, is having an FNSKU. So, even though you need a UPC code for every single product, a GS1 one, which we talked about the other day, actually Amazon wants you to use an FNSKU that ties directly to the account, so that those products are in different bins. Because if you're just using a UPC code, right, then all those products are going to be commingled, and they're all going to be put in the same place. So let's say someone sends in counterfeit inventory, it's going to be mixed in with your real inventory. So at the bare minimum, I think what sellers need to be doing is adding an FNSKU, so that that's in a separate bin, and therefore if there were any counterfeit issues affecting your listing or your brand, you can say, "Hey, here's a bin check." But if again, that's not helpful, or becomes too cumbersome, Transparency can be that next level which Joe was talking about.
Nick: But, yeah, I definitely think Amazon is making a lot of headway in making these changes.
Liz: That's great. And that's great advice on the FNSKU too. I just had a conversation with GS1 yesterday, and they're going to make it a lot easier to kind of understand what you need in terms of UPC codes but I don't think that there're a lot of people out there that are educating you on the actual layer of creating the FNSKU, so that you can ensure that your items aren't commingled, even though you do labels to make sure they're not commingled, but we've all seen the inside of an Amazon warehouse, and it's really really big, and there are lots and lots of bins, so, then they've got their own way of organizing things, so I think that's great advice.
Liz: Let's talk a little bit about unauthorized sellers, so, there are all sorts of scenarios, right? There are situations where the brand is as gated as it can get, and then there're situations where there are all sorts of third-party sellers selling certain brands. Joe, what do you guys do? You said you had a list of over 400000 sellers. Are those the in-the-doghouse sellers, that are unauthorized sellers of certain brands, or is that just like, "Yes, they're a verified Amazon seller"? Tell me a little bit more about that list, why it exists, and what you guys do to combat unauthorized sellers in a particular ASIN.
Joe: Sure. First, I mean I don't necessarily think that unauthorized sellers are bad people. In fact, I started off as a reseller, so I'm sure I was some of those guys, reselling people's products. And I didn't really think about what impact that may have had on the brand. I think most typical smalltime sellers just think, "I'm just there to make a buck, and it sort of doesn't matter who that impacts", but I think learning more and more about how this issue can impact brands from things like price erosion, third-party sellers are notorious for creating terrible listings, because they're just in a hurry, so that can affect your brand image. We've seen other things, like if you're not winning the buy box for your products, your marketing doesn't... you can't run ads, sponsored ads won't run. Things like that. So, this issue does touch on a lot of things, not to mention, retailer relationships, because how many times do we go, you're in a retail store and you go, "Let's check the price on Amazon", right? "Let me just double-check that it's not $20 cheaper there", and so, you go try it on in a store and go buy it from Amazon, so, your retail partners don't like when that happens, and they quickly start going, "Well we can't make any money doing this."
Joe: So, I mean there's those kind of issues, that are really impacting small, medium and large brands, as they're trying to have multiple channels, not just e-commerce, or not just Amazon only. And so, what we've seen is one, this issue's not as clear, as say a counterfeit issue, in terms of legal ramifications, but there are legal strategies to help you enforce your brand. These sellers are looking at something like the first-sale doctrine, that says I can basically buy it from you and resell it where I want to if it's legitimate, and yet there's been court cases that've established exceptions to that rule. I'm not going to do a super-deep dive on all the legalities, but we help brands take a look at their strategy, their marketing strategy, their distribution strategy, understand where some of these holes are, that Nick was talking about, because it can feel like a black box with if you have multiple levels of distribution, and you're in Amazon as well as retail channels. Or you're thinking about, you've been successful in Amazon, and you want to go towards retail channels, because 90% of purchasing still happens in retail.
Joe: We like to see the growth on e-commerce, but retail, people still buy there, as much as you hear news about people going out of business, there's still a lot of purchasing happening that way, and so, then Amazon's not helpful in communicating, because they kind of like this problem; they like having a ton of sellers, they like keeping the prices low, but that can cause, like we said, all these different issues for the brand, and so Amazon basically says, we've submitted some of these cases in the early days through Brand Registry, and Amazon basically says, "Well, it's up to you to figure that out." Thanks Amazon, you're super-helpful. And so, by creating some of the legal strategies, understanding the distribution, we can then help facilitate conversations directly with these sellers. We don't want to be making false claims in Brand Registry. Right? Because Amazon sort of forces you to make a counterfeit claim for them to hear you. We don't want to be making false claims like that, and negatively impacting those sellers, and threatening their accounts. We don't want that to happen.
Joe: Some brands have done that in the past, and you can actually get into trouble as a brand doing that. You can get sued. So by investigating these sellers, now we have the ability to communicate with them outside the platform, and have a discussion, whether that means getting them to authorized status, or [inaudible 00:27:49] helping them understand why they are unauthorized, what that means, and giving them an opportunity to change that, without any significant negative impact.
Liz: I think that's awesome, because I mean, I think that it depends on the brand, but in some situations you might want a certain amount of third-party sellers, that are selling your items, so...
Joe: You don't want to burn all those bridges.
Joe: Some of these guys are good retail partners, that sort of thing. And so, having the ability to have a nuanced enforcement plan, not just, there's some softwares out there that kind of tout being able to do this, but this is really not a one-size-fits-all thing, and some of it is delicate situations that need some negotiation. That's hard to get if a bot's sending out violations, notices and things. So, we've been really successful in helping brands of all sides deal with this issue, but it's a complex one for sure.
Liz: Definitely. We have a couple of questions. I'm relieved, you guys have been so quiet today. But we have two people who are asking about what exactly is an FNSKU, and where can you get one?
Nick: Yeah. So an FNSKU is basically an Amazon barcode. And so normally I think most people print a UPC barcode. When you actually create a shipment to replenish in Amazon, you can select Amazon barcode. And so then you'll select like, "Okay, well how many units do you have? What's the carton size?", et cetera, et cetera, and then you can print out those barcodes. They're all the same. And then so you can just roll that out, and apply it to that shipment. And so, yeah, that's essentially what an FNSKU barcode is. You can work with your manufacturer to just label that over. I believe that Amazon right now they want the FNSKUs to be labeled over the UPCs, because they want to reduce confusion. At least that's as of a couple of months ago. You never know, you should check always.
Nick: But yeah, that's essentially what an FNSKU is, and that's how you would get it. And once again, that's tied directly to your account, so that you have a separate bin, away from people who are just doing commingled.
Liz: Right. And somebody asked, "Do you still need a trademark to get Brand Registered, and if you do, do you see Amazon changing this requirement?" And we did cover that earlier, but just to reiterate, there is a program-
Joe: You do need a trademark, to get Brand Registered, because that's one of the main things that they're asking. Because that is the tie you have to intellectual property is having a trademark, registered. Now they're making that process easier, and a little bit more streamlined, and I haven't yet used the IP Accelerator personally, but we have heard some good things about it. Amazon accelerating some of your acceptance into Brand Registry, through that program. Do you guys have a different take on that?
Nick: No. Yeah, I mean, no, I agree. You need a trademark, at the bare minimum. Some, I definitely recommend the IP Accelerator program. We've heard as quickly as six to eight weeks you're able to get your trademark settled. And also get Brand Registry, which is pretty unbelievable, because like you said, it takes six to eight months normally. The other method that I've heard works well is you could get a trademark in let's say UK, or in Germany, and then you can apply that Brand Registry over to the other accounts, as you're waiting for the application to go through in the US. And then, while it might not give you access to all the advertising capability, it will give you access to enforce your brand.
Nick: So, there're a couple of different things that are happening. Again, this might be irrelevant information next month or two, but for now this is what's working in terms of the legal loopholes, that allows you to get Brand Registry.
Liz: And we had two people comment that the IP Accelerator, one person said, "The IP Accelerator has been really amazing for us so far", and that they were able to get Brand Registry in seven to 10 days. And I think about last year and the year before when people were telling me, "Yeah, I've applied for trademarks, probably be about 10 months from now." And that's, it's such an amazing change, and it's really a testament to Amazon's commitment to brands getting their trademarks, getting Brand Registry, and doing things the way that best services the brand, but also best services Amazon customers, because they're "customer obsessed," so...
Joe: And I will say though, there's the court of Amazon, and then there's US courts, and especially some of the things that I'm talking about in terms of material difference, in those strategies, you need to have a registered trademark, because that's what it's making a connection to, is if you can establish differences between unauthorized and authorized sellers, it can constitute as trademark infringement. And so, you've got to have a trademark, if you're going to make a trademark infringement claim. And so while Amazon might be willing to say, "Yeah, we'll kind of let you in while it's in process", to have those full protections, you've got to have it actually fully registered. So, just some things to think about, like why it's important to start the process sooner rather than later.
Liz: Somebody asked, "Besides listing authority of brand protection and various ad types, what are other benefits to Brand Registry?" They're trying to explain to brands why it's important. I think Nick, you touched on that, earlier.
Nick: Yeah. I also think another thing is in a sense you kind of gate your brand, and so, especially if you are a private-label brand for example, you can create, you can give people the ability to be a registered agent, so that they can work with your brand. So those are different things they can enforce on your behalf, whatever it might be. But yeah, I mean I would say that those should be more than enough reasons, for why Brand Registry is important. Also getting access to the latest programs, and in some cases, getting interest from Amazon for having an exclusive one-to-one account manager. I think they look at all these things to really verify that you're legitimate.
Nick: I think, I believe, and this is all conjecture, but I believe that Amazon is really prioritizing brands, in the next three years. Especially ones that exist outside of Amazon. Their vision I believe is to be the ultimate e-commerce layer. And I mean at this point brands don't really have a choice, they need to find a way to interact with Amazon, and so Brand Registry is their first step to engaging those brands, and showing that they're serious about having authority. So, it's a no-brainer. If you're a brand and you own a trademark, I mean this should be par for the course.
Liz: And somebody else commented that another benefit is that it allows you to create your own Brand Store.
Nick: Right, there you go.
Liz: And that's kind of an awesome awesome thing, to see. I'm a geek, and I just sort of look at different Brand Stores on Amazon, and think, "Ooh, that one's nice", or, "I would've done this differently." It's just me, and what I do in my free time. It's ridiculous. Somebody also asked, there are two questions around Brand Registry and changing a name or a logo. How does that work, if you want to change your brand name or change your logo? Does being Brand Registered help? Does it hinder? Do you have to reapply for Brand Registry? What's the deal with that?
Joe: Well, under Brand Registry you can have multiple brands registered, under the same sort of overarching account. I think it's like when you first go in and they say, "You can register up to 10 different brands." And so, if you're going to change your brand name, again this is usually attached to a trademark, that you've filed, and so, if you're changing the brand name and that's different from the trademark that you filed, you might need to do a new trademark for that new brand name, to get that brand also registered. Now you could keep the old products under the old name, until you've got the trademark filing completed, or you've gone through the IP Accelerator program with your new name that you want. Because oftentimes people have different, brands have different product selections, with different brand names, and those each have trademarks associated with them. So, I don't know if that was perfectly answering the question that's being asked, but, you don't want to just change your whole name kind of willy-nilly. That's going to... Yeah.
Nick: Yeah, it used to be the case that it was pretty easy to change this. I don't think, I believe based off of what I've heard, from people who've been doing this actively, that Amazon is making it more difficult for people to do this. And I think for good reason, because that could create a lot of potential fraud. Again, there're a lot of Chinese black-hat people that could just change a brand name and now it's an indecipherable brand. My guess is that Amazon is making it a lot harder to do that now, to prevent any kind of bad stuff from happening. But I mean what I think it's worth calling is, it's worth calling a team member in Amazon, and if you guys aren't doing this, definitely try to get a hold of the catalog team in Costa Rica, and a trick is just to try to speak Spanish initially, and they'll transfer you usually to a team in Costa Rica that's way more capable. And yeah, and those people are the ones who have a lot more authority, than let's say the ones based in India or the Philippines.
Nick: So that's what I've found to be the case. Again, it really depends on who you get, and the kind of store that you created. So I personally don't think it's really effective when you're just doing cases, because they're just going to try to move through those quickly. My recommendation is actually to get someone on the phone and explain your situation for why you legitimately are changing your brands.
Liz: So there're some questions around that too, and I realize that we've sort of jumped into the Q&A portion, without any further ado, but that's what this is all about, is sharing information. So, we had somebody say that their brand is registered on Amazon. Over the holidays they were bombarded with sellers from China listing against their listings. They bought a ton of test buys, Amazon was really slow to move against those sellers, and they also had very little luck legally because the sellers were outside of the US. So, what do you do in that situation?
Joe: Sure. So, I guess it's one of those things. Again, playing cleanup versus prevention. Unfortunately there's nothing you're going to be able to go back and do for the holidays. That's a really unfortunate scenario. I would suggest, now's a good time to be exploring the Transparency program. If you're dealing with Chinese counterfeiters, this is a really good initiative for you. You don't have to do all your products; you can select some of your most popular SKUs to do it with, and it's essentially creating a barrier. How it works is, once you get enrolled into the program, then your products get scanned for these transparency codes at the warehouse level. And so, if these counterfeiters don't have your codes, well their products get rejected and often will get flagged and investigated, because the assumption is they're probably counterfeit.
Joe: Now it doesn't work great for a brand that is, they say you have to label all your products. Like if you label that SKU, you'd need to label all the units of that SKU, so they can track from the supply chain, all this product, so you can't go, "I'm going to send these thousand units to Amazon, and label them, and these thousand units to other places, and not label them." That won't work; they'll kick you out of the program if they figure out you're doing that. But it can help create that barrier, so that these Chinese guys can't list against your products, they can't send counterfeit inventory into FBA; it'll get rejected. So, now is the time to be working on that, and yes, it is really slow when you're having to do test buys, and wait for something to show up from China, if it ever does.
Liz: Well, and with their test buys, she actually said that they didn't ship the product; they were using fake USPS tracking numbers.
Joe: Yeah, it's, there's all kinds of shady stuff happening-
Liz: Not good.
Joe: That's where especially for small brands, we see Transparency kind of like a brand gating. Now, brand gating, for the most part, is non-existent, except for a few cases, where it requires people to show invoices. Even then that's not full proof. People kind of touted that as the magic easy button. It's not, and... But this, we have seen success. We help brands, have helped some brands enroll in the early days before there was a big initiative, and opened that up to all sellers, Brand Registered sellers, but we've seen some positive benefits, and again their team, if you do have hijackers, that we've seen where their team is helpful in getting some of those off. If you're kind of doing, still in that process of cleanup.
Liz: You guys are asking some really great questions, and you guys are giving some really great answers. It's just so frustrating, when you're trying to run a business, and you've got so many obstacles in your way. Joe, you touched on this, but we've got somebody who says that they've faced hurdles, such as certain ASINs will get enrolled easier than others, however others won't if they're set up under the account name like Kleenex tissues, because instead of Kleenex, which is how the brand appears, so, I guess if they're trying to do a variation of the brand itself, Nick, you might be able to speak to this too, but they're having trouble getting certain ASINs enrolled in Brand Registry. So how do you tackle that?
Nick: Sorry, can you repeat that? So you, trouble getting ASINs enrolled in Brand Registry, that's the issue?
Liz: Right, so if they were set up under the account name Kleenex tissues, just using Kleenex as an example, where the brand is Kleenex, then that ASIN, they're having a hard time getting that ASIN enrolled.
Joe: I too, I've seen that. What happens is if the brand name that's, when you create the listing, right? it just says, "What's the brand name?" And if you say, "The brand name is Kleenex", but the trademark that you're registered under is "Kleenex tissue," if there's a discrepancy there in the name of the brand, on the particular listing, we've seen that cause issues when you go to say, "Hey, what are all your ASINs, that are under your brand?" And you list out these ASINs, and if there's ones that the brand name on the listing doesn't match up with your, the trademark that you submitted in your brand registry application, it doesn't really have anything to do with your store name. You could have a different store name, it's the brand name on the listing, matching the brand name that your trademark is registered on your Brand Registry application. And so, then you've got to go through the process of adjusting, and it could be a bit of a headache, but it's not impossible, getting that brand name on the listing adjusted, to what your actual trademark name is. And so, we've seen the process of doing the flat file uploads can sometimes do some of that, updating the brand names, or it can be helpful to get an associate, a knowledgeable one, that's going to be the hardest part, to actually help you work through that process.
Joe: But we have been successful with that in the past.
Liz: So what happens if you have a brand, and it's actually trying to Brand Register but an unknown entity has already registered the brand without the brand's permission?
Joe: Yeah, that's another tricky one.
Joe: We've seen there is actually a big stink at the USPTO, Trademark Office, where there were people trying to game that system, to basically get their name as the, their contact information on the trademark listing, so for instance Brand Registry is going to send a verification code to whatever the contact name is on your trademark application. And so, it's really shifty stuff. I would say that first and foremost, make sure somebody in your organization didn't set this up accidentally already, before you. We've seen some of that happen, like somebody worked on it six months ago, and now they dropped it, and now they're kind of having to come back and get that. But check your trademark, your filings. We've seen where they will, some companies will have a trademark, a similar trademark name, or the same trademark name in a different product category, and then... So I think just trying to show evidence that this is your trademark name, and this is in a particular product category.
Joe: Just check your listing, make sure you're registered on the USPTO site, and make sure none of that was changed, without your knowledge. And yeah, it can be kind of a Seller Central nightmare to get some of that. But it's, what you said the other day Liz was, perseverance...Keep trying till you get it done.
Liz: Perseverance, persistence, and prayer.
Joe: There you go.
Liz: Three P's of selling on Amazon. We're running close to time. Well we had somebody ask this really interesting question about, if a listing was created with a secondhand UPC code, bad, and now they want to change it to a legit GS1 UPC code, is there a way to do that without losing sales history and reviews?
Nick: Yeah. So, this one is really tricky. I think you could do this through Brand Registry, I would suggest contacting them. Another thing that we did, actually yeah, no, I would recommend just contacting Brand Registry honestly. I don't think what we did is necessarily kosher, I wouldn't recommend it. So, yeah, I mean, maybe you can contact me separately.
Liz: You can email Nick.
Nick: Right, yeah. You can email me. But yeah, definitely I think this is going to be more and more problematic as Amazon prioritizes GS1 barcodes. We were talking about this yesterday Liz, which is a lot of people are making the mistake of buying barcodes from GS, from Nationwide, or all these resellers on eBay. Do not do that. Amazon is actually looking at the brand, and so what you need to do is get a letter from the original buyer, saying that you are authorized. And so there're different ways to do that, just to hint at whatever it is that you want to do. But if you can get that authorization from the owner of that original GS1, which you can look up, on the GS1 website, then you'll be authorized and you can send in that letter with a signature, in the agreement, and then send it to them, and they'll whitelist it.
Liz: GS1 is actually very aware of the Amazon space, they're very aware that there's education needed, and there's assistance and support needed, and they're rolling out a new program, and I'm actually going to have some more information about that soon, so, and I can, if you need help, I can connect you to the people at GS1 that are actually deep in it, and working on this to help make solutions for Amazon sellers. So, it's good, it's good that I think that there's an overall greater awareness of the Amazon marketplace in third-party sellers than there used to be. We're seeing news articles now on BuzzFeed News and Vox, and Verge, and Business Insider and Consumer Reports, and I think that the consumers are understanding now that they're not just buying from Amazon, so I think that gives you a good opportunity, when you have a brand, to actually get your brand out there, and proudly, in a completely TOS-compliant, white-hat way, promote yourself, and come up with a plan to protect yourself as you expand, because you could be the next big company, you could be the next Nike. I mean, you could.
Liz: We did have somebody ask, and I think this is probably the last question we're going to be able to do. I know that some of you still have questions pending. I'm going to send these questions to Nick and Joe. They're going to get back to you, on the answers. But one person said that they make their own product, and they're kind of little. When should they start thinking about Brand Registry? And I kind of think I know the answer to this, but I'll let you guys answer.
Liz: Right now.
Nick: Yeah, get a trademark now. Do it. I mean, yeah. Absolutely.
Nick: Here's also why:I also recommend this because the brand name that [inaudible 00:49:46] just decided in your head, or maybe you've even labeled your product with, which you haven't registered, may not be legal. Right? It may be the case, and we've done this where we've applied for trademarks, and we're like, "This is a great name", blah blah. We couldn't find anything on Google. We go to our attorney, and then boom:he says no we can't. There's already a trademark that exists, even if a product doesn't exist, in a similar category that we just can't do anything about it. So I personally recommend that as you're creating these brand names, you should do the trademark in tandem with that, because you just don't want to go through a situation where you're going to have to go back, and then change everything all over again.
Nick: So that's my recommendation:do it now.
Liz: Let's just do one or two more. We've got some special offers for you. We've got some cool swag, like T-shirts like this. And actually I have on my eComEngine socks, but I don't want to show you those right now, but I'm totally, I drank the Kool-Aid this morning. But if you schedule a demo of this on any of our tools, you can get some free swag. Which is cool. And we've got four software tools to choose from, so, I actually have talked to a lot of sellers who've discovered unauthorized sellers on their ASIN, and counterfeit situations by monitoring their product reviews. It's, product reviews are a wealth of information. And I talk a lot about how to get them, and how not to get them, and all that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, if you actually read those things, they can tell you a lot of things about what's going on with your account. They can tell you if you've got counterfeiters, they can tell you if there's actually something wrong with your product, or if there's something wrong with your listing, so, I highly recommend that in the atmosphere of promoting a brand, protecting your brand, creating your legacy, you need to pay attention to what customers are saying about your products, because that's ultimately what Amazon cares about the most, as a customer-obsessed company, as they say.
Liz: And I put air quotes because they put it in quotes. And I was not making fun, because I like that they're customer-obsessed; I think that sometimes I wish they were a little more seller-obsessed. But...
Liz: MarketplaceOps, if you use the promo code ECOMENGINE you can get 20% off on Pixelfy.me, and that can help you kind of supercharge your off-Amazon marketing, and drive traffic back to Amazon, which is super cool-
Nick: Yeah. So Pixelfy is just a great remarketing tool that allows you to do a lot of the things I talked about, which is building your audience, having those unique QR codes that you can generate. And we have some great resources on how you can do that, so feel free. You can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Definitely sign up, it's 30 days free. And in terms of MarketplaceOps, like I mentioned we help brands scale and accelerate on Amazon, so if you guys want a free consult, feel free to reach out to us. Just go to marketplaceops.com, or you can shoot me an email at email@example.com.
Liz: And if you're super super cool you can join his Facebook group too. Right? And then Joe, you've got a consultation, that you're offering, right?
Joe: Yeah, and I know this isn't going to be for everybody, but if you're struggling right now, or you think you have a problem, especially, maybe you're not sure if it's counterfeit, you're not sure if it's authentic, that sort of thing, you've got problems with resellers, we'd love to do a free audit. We can give you some recommendations, in terms of around that strategy, legal strategies. We evaluate those for companies, and help them with the implementation of that, if that's something that they see there's a need. So we want to, we're offering to do that for free. It takes a little bit of work, but we can put that together in a nice report, and get it back to you, so, feel free to reach out to us, there at our website.
Liz: Definitely, and those of you, I'm still, if you've got a question pending, and we haven't had a chance to answer it today, and I apologize for that, well I'm going to still send your questions to these guys so that they can answer it for you, but if you're having a situation with a counterfeit seller, or you're having a situation with an unauthorized seller or on your listing, this is a great opportunity that Joe's offering you, because you can sort of get to the bottom of what's going on with your account. And Joe's website is Brand Guarde, B-R-A-N-D G-U-A-R-D-E, .com. And you're firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe: That's correct.
Liz: So Joe, J-O-E.K-O-V-A-C-S, @brandguarde.com. And I'm Liz, L-I-Z, @ecomengine.com. So if you have any questions about this webinar, future webinars, if you didn't get your question answered today, and, or if you didn't have time to submit your question, send it to me. If you have registered for this webinar, you will get a recording. I really thank Nick , and Joe Kovacs for all of their wonderful thought leadership today, and we'll see you guys next time, at the next eComEngine webinar, and don't forget that we're going to be at the Prosper Show. So later on on social, I'll be sharing a coupon code for that too.
Liz: But thank you, Nick, thank you Joe. You guys rock. And everybody out there, remember these guys; they can help you. They can help you be more successful, and they can help you be more protected.
Liz Fickenscher is the Industry Liaison for eComEngine and works with sellers and industry partners to identify pain points, understand the changes within Amazon's TOS, and provide helpful information to the seller community. Liz attends industry trade shows, speaks publicly, manages the affiliate program, and hosts the majority of eComEngine's webinars. She is happy to moderate this webinar and its fabulous speakers.
Nick Young is a leading expert in the field of Amazon growth and launch strategy. As the confounder of MarketplaceOps, Nick helps major brands grow and scale their presence on Amazon, applying his own knowledge and experiences from having a built a private label brand that grosses over $30M annually. As a partner of the online community Seller Tradecraft, Nick has also helped thousands of others begin their own Amazon journey. It's through this community that Nick has created Pixelfy.me, a leading marketing platform built for Amazon sellers to build and retarget, and market towards their audiences.
Joe Kovacs is the founder of Brand Guarde, an agency specializing in helping companies solve challenges with unauthorized resellers, MAP compliance and distribution control on third-party marketplaces like Amazon. He has consulted with businesses ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to help solve these challenges. To date, Brand Guarde has helped brands identify and remove over 10,000 unauthorized sellers. He is passionate about helping brands develop the right strategy, policies, and tools to take back control of marketplaces and focus on building their brand again.
You can watch the webinar above or check out the show notes below for the recap and a full transcript.
Originally published on February 5, 2020, updated April 3, 2020
This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.