December 9, 2020

The Hidden Causes, & Costs, of Brand Erosion on Ecommerce

By Josh Mendenhall / Creative Services, Brand Control

Picture this: Your company has curated the perfect design, typography, image stack, and copy to portray your brand to your ideal consumers on ecommerce. You’ve dedicated time, money, and resources to testing your product to make sure it’s high-quality and reliable.

But once you start selling your product to third-party distributors, it’s clear they don’t care about your brand nearly as much as you do. They use subpar photos, sell your product for prices under MAP, and even start selling counterfeit products under your brand’s name. Suddenly, the consumer trust you worked so hard to establish is destroyed and extremely difficult to rebuild.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this situation—called brand erosion—is common in ecommerce. If consumer trust is important to you, preventing brand erosion should be one of your top priorities. Here, we’ll discuss what causes brand erosion, its consequences, and what you can do to prevent it.

What is brand erosion?

Before we can talk about brand erosion, we need to be clear on the definition of a brand. A brand isn’t a logo, it isn’t typography, it’s not even the tone in your copy—it’s how consumers perceive your company or product.

Everything your company does factors into this perception, for better or for worse. How your product is marketed, your product listings, your creative strategy, your customer service, and, of course, the quality of the product itself all contribute to how consumers see you. Building a brand, especially one with a positive perception among consumers, takes significant time, effort, and money.

But unless you have a person or team carefully and consistently monitoring how your brand is perceived, it can be easy for this carefully-crafted perception to be eroded by negative consumer experiences and unmet expectations. Brand erosion is the decline in your product’s brand perception in the eyes of consumers.

3 causes of brand erosion

In some cases, brand erosion starts with third-party distributors, many of whom aren’t necessarily invested in maintaining the brand you’ve worked so hard to form. These distributors may be more concerned with selling as much product as possible, sometimes while sacrificing your brand in the process.

1. Price erosion

Price erosion is one form of brand erosion. Third-party distributors start to lower product prices to win the Buy Box, and in response, brands make price concessions over and over to match their sellers’ low prices. This race to the bottom decreases margins for both your company and your sellers, and lower prices devalue your product.

Let’s take, for example, Pattern partner PopSockets, which sells pop-up grips for cell phones. PopSockets sells its own products and also sells them to third-party sellers. If the third-party distributors lower the prices on their PopSockets, PopSockets must lower its prices in response in order to win the Buy Box, and the cheaper prices start to devalue the brand.

Popsockets Listing Brand Equity Example | Pattern

2. Mixed creative strategy

Discrepancies in creative strategy can also lead to brand erosion. Inconsistent design and poor quality photography can make a brand seem sloppy, inconsistent, and untrustworthy. Partners and distributors who don’t understand the importance of maintaining the brand may just shoot photography as quickly as possible without taking care to be consistent with brand photography.

Photographs with poor lighting, low-quality cameras, and unprofessional framing immediately discredit your brand. When the internet is filled with inconsistent photography of your product, the perception of the brand could be inconsistent—and that’s not a value that any brand wants. To learn more about how product photography affects your brand’s image, click here to read our Ecommerce Product Photography Guide to Storytelling Success.

POPSOCKETS

Going back to the previous example, PopSockets’ style guide states that product photographs shouldn’t be taken with two fingers on each side of the grip, but with one finger above the grip and the rest of the fingers below it. Jewelry brand Pandora states that images should show a model’s lips, but not her eyes or much of her nose. Inconsistency in small details like these, which can easily be missed when distributors aren’t focused on maintaining brand integrity, can have negative consequences on your brand’s perception.

3. Unauthorized sellers

Unauthorized sellers can also lead to brand erosion. These distributors may sell your products for ridiculously low prices, completely disregard your style guide, and possibly even sell a counterfeit, low-quality product under your brand’s name. When unauthorized sellers cut your prices and authorized sellers are forced to do the same to compete, Amazon will protect its own margin—which may mean reducing your product’s visibility and, eventually, dropping it altogether.

In the case of counterfeit products, which, along with pirated goods, amount to as much as 3.3% of world trade, your brand’s reputation can be seriously tarnished by sellers who sell low-quality products with your brand’s name on them.

And we know this could never be the case with _your _brand, but some brands cause their own erosion issues because of a lack of internal communication, inconsistent creative elements, weak or rarely-enforced style guides, or the lack of Minimum Advertised Price, or MAP, policies.

What are the other consequences of brand erosion?

We’ve already discussed quite a few of the overarching consequences of brand erosion, including price erosion, consumer distrust, and overall brand inconsistency. But the issues don’t stop there.

As you’re well aware, consumers rarely keep their negative experiences to themselves. Even just one consumer receiving a counterfeit product could cause a ripple effect if they leave a scathing review.

Many negative reviews over time lead to further brand erosion and distrust, less traffic on your product listings, and, ultimately, less conversion, as 85% of customers trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Selling or supplying counterfeit products could lead Amazon to suspend or terminate your account, withhold funds, destroy inventory in their fulfillment centers, and impose legal consequences.

Brand erosion is also synonymous with a decline in brand equity, or the perceived worth of a brand—the combination of customer opinion of a brand, their experiences with it, and the products’ value. Without brand equity, your brand loses customer trust and loyalty and the ability to charge more for your products.

It’s extremely challenging to rebuild your brand after it’s been significantly eroded. It takes a lot of dedication, persistence, and consistency to restore a tarnished reputation and lost trust, especially when there are likely countless alternatives to your product available online.

OK, I get it—brand erosion is bad. How can I prevent it?

Since there are several potential causes of brand erosion, there are also many different avenues you need to take to prevent it.

Strong, enforced brand guidelines can also help prevent brand erosion caused by inconsistency. These guidelines may come in the form of a style, photo, or copywriting guide. Before you can implement guidelines, you need to determine your brand’s identity. To help your consumers understand this identity, implement consistent marketing, consistent creative strategy, and consistent copy.

Implementing and enforcing a MAP policy can prevent price erosion and the resulting brand erosion. Joining the Amazon Brand Registry can provide you with support from Amazon and access to the Amazon Buy Box to combat price erosion, and registering your brand with Amazon keeps other sellers from selling your products without your permission.

The most important factor in preventing brand erosion may be to only work with partners who understand the value of your brand and know how to maintain it. At Pattern, one of our core values is that we’re partner obsessed—we’ll do whatever it takes to do what’s right for our partners. When you work with us, we’ll help you both build your brand and maintain it, combat price erosion, eliminate unauthorized sellers, and so much more. Use the contact form below to schedule a free consultation with Pattern’s brand experts.

More Resources
Amazon MPS Benchmark: Top Direct Selling Brands 2021
Adjusting Existing Distributor Relationships
The Opportunity Costs of No Online Brand Control
Amazon MPS Benchmark: Top Tool Brands 2021