5 Ways Affiliates, Vendors & Agencies Rip You Off with Trademarks

When I talk to a lot of companies they show me their reports and a lot of the time their agencies, vendors and Affiliates are abusing them by using their trademarks and taking credit for sales and make up for a lack of profit on their ROI.  It happens with comparison engines, media buyers, Affiliates, social media agencies, PPC agencies and almost everyone else.  When we pull out the use of the trademarks, with a few exceptions, we actually see the value they added or if they caused a loss.  We are also able to figure out if they are worth continuing with or if the company should find a new vendor.  Here are 5 things to look out for from your agencies and partners in different channels to see how they may be using your trademarks and pretending they are adding value.

1.  Trademark bidding

This is probably the most common and well known version.  People who type your trademark and extensions like url + coupons already knew about you, were checking out, saw an ad you paid for, etc…  This adds no value to you for sales that came in which is why they need to be removed to see the actual value.  By removing them from the vendors below, you can see if the actual sales driven is the most cost effective use of your marketing budget and if you should continue to work with them.

PPC agencies – Have them remove all trademarks, extensions and misspellings from their reports and give you a trademark report separate.  Now take the total amount spent, the total sales and compare it to the revenue generated.  You’ll also want to compare the average cost per sale and revenue to other channels to see if it is worth continuing with all campaigns or moving part of your budget to a different channel so that you have your most profitable PPC campaigns running and you can invest the rest of your money in a more profitable channel.  You may also want to create a metric called average revenue per sale.

This is the cost per sale divided by total revenue from that channel.  This shows you how profitable you are off of each campaign, keyword, engine, network or device on the engine or as a whole for PPC.

Affiliates – This is easy money with zero work for Affiliates.  It doesn’t send you any new customers or traffic and in my opinion steals from you.  The only time it is acceptable is if you own a generic url and you have competitors bidding on every other space (even then you have better alternatives that are much more cost effective).  You may allow one or two partners to bid on the term, but make sure that they aren’t bidding on the url (unless all of your competitors are), extensions like coupons or discounts and that they are also not linking to your site (because this could cause your own trademark ad to be blocked) and also have more sales coming in off of generic non trademark terms.  Allowing them to only bid on trademarks is ripping you off.  Make them have to have at least 2 non trademark sales per every trademark sale if they want to do this.  By allowing them to bid on your trademarks, you are also going to stop content and value adding Affiliates from promoting you, just as a warning.  The real solution is to find a couple of cheap PPC companies and have them bid on the trademarks for a flat fee so other Affiliates cookies aren’t over written and you aren’t being ripped off or having your competitors have access to your customers.

2.  Social Media Agencies and Affiliates with your Social Media campaigns

This is one that is insane to watch.  Companies are so obsessed with building a community that they forget to ask their social media marketing companies what they are doing and forget to measure actual revenue per fan, follower, engagement, etc… and what was actually value adding.  If the company is using your email list, your trademarks and your accounts to grow your fan base and drive sales, that isn’t always value adding.  Here are some things to look for, ask and watch out for.

Twitter – If they are using your trademark as a hashtag, they are going after people who already know about you or are already shopping and asking questions.  By using your trademarks as hashtags they are taking credit for these people who already knew about you.  Let your customer service take care of the questions and issues with social media and make them drive new sales without using your trademarks.  If they add in words or hashtags like coupons or sales, they are now possibly hurting you by reducing your margins with the discount, bonuses, commissions, etc…  You want to make sure you are managing them and making sure they are not taking credit for people already talking about you, following you, looking for you and that they are adding value from real campaigns, efforts and their own followers.  Anyone can send out coupons from your own accounts or talk about a product and drive sales.  That does not add value and you should not be paying for it.

Facebook ads, Twitter ads, etc… – This is something that I see on a regular basis.  Social Media Marketing companies showing how much they grew their clients likes and followers by spending their money on ads on social media sites.  That is a joke and something that should instantly tell you not to work with them.  Anyone can spend money and get likes or fans.  The real question is did they do it without using your brand, how much money did you get back from these new fans and followers and was it more than you would have made with other channels?

What you need to do is measure the amount of new fans and then see if you can keep track of them by name or ID and see how many turn into customers and how much money they spent.  You also need to subtract people who had been on your site already since they had exposure to you and see if the ad that was shown was branded or not.  If it was branded or incentivized the user with a coupon, don’t count it.  If it was about a topic and didn’t use your brand, it brought in someone new who was interested in the topic that your store or services help with.  That is where you get the value from and where you should be measuring the total sales from.  You should also ask your social media company for every dollar I spent, how many did I get back in return in actual value adding sales?  You probably ask all of your other vendors what your ROI is, so you should ask them as well.

3.  URLs

One common thing you’ll find are Affiliates buying misspellings of your urls.  It could be typos or variations like .co that you don’t own yet.  Another type is when they combine letters like r and n to look like an m so that they can trick your customers into clicking on their links first.  When the user comes through these urls they are usually shown an exact replica of your site or they are automatically redirected to your site through an Affiliate link.  These are current customers or people who already knew about you.  They are doing a direct type in to go to your site or something else so the Affiliate added zero value and is taking credit for someone you paid to bring in or that another Affiliate referred.  Another common thing you may find are PPC trademark bidders that copy your ads exactly and use their domain with the misspelling or typo in the url.  Other times they’ll buy variations and send people through them off the content networks so they are harder to find.  This can be tricky to catch and most companies never actually do catch these people since the Affiliates set up other sites and make the sales look legit or real.  That is why you need an actual hands on person managing your Affiliate program that can name a bunch of these types of partners instantly when you ask about them if they know any.  One other thing you need to be careful of is the user experience.  If you remove them from your program instantly, you’re customers who think they are on your site will end up on dead pages or redirects that break creating a bad user experience.  Make sure you have a plan to remove them before you act.

4.  Media Companies – Media buyers will target your site with media buys based on your trademarks (they’ll pretend they didn’t know) and serve cheaper ads while charging you a gigantic markup by taking credit for sales you would have had without them.  Other times media companies will serve trademark ads on search engine content networks to make up for missing sales since they are fairly easy to convert.  One thing you need to know before hiring a media company or buying media is the adware they are affiliated with and make sure they aren’t setting their cookies and tracking ids with popups, unders, etc… on your own site and targeting your own urls.  Other media companies will have an actual non adware network that has opt in partners, but will only target your trademarks on their network.  Then they can drive low cost high ROI sales and use cheap clicks to make the conversion rate look normal.

5.  CSEs

Comparison shopping engines will start bidding on your trademarks and urls the minute you list with them.  Then they will drive people to a dedicated page or a page with your products on them on their site.  You have to check for the products you own the trademarks for, your urls and any other trademark or product you manufacture so that they can send you the traffic that uses their sites and not the traffic that you would have had without them.  You may also want to make sure you have done your own ORM (online reputation management) so that you have the top ten listing for all of your trademarks.  If you don’t and the engines rank for your products, you could now lose customers to similar products, other vendors with the same ones and also paying again to bring the customer back to your site.  Many of the engines also own other properties so you need to double check every ad and look to see which ads are for which engines and even make test purchases to see if any of the sales are credited to the engines by these partner sites which they didn’t earn.

Your trademarks are the first things unethical marketers and unethical marketing firms will go after and take credit for.  It is free, easy money and sales that they don’t have to work for.  They don’t add value to you if the agency is taking credit for them since you are the one who already generated their interest and built the market or demand, so you should not be paying out or counting trademark sales.  The only times trademarks are adding value is with your ORM SEO and when you are trying to cover space when you have a generic company name.  Make sure you know how traffic is being driven and you separate out trademarks from value adding and incremental sales before you redo your budgets and give the wrong channel more funds than other channels which are actually more profitable.  You should also talk to your agencies and vendors before working with them about how they will split out trademark sales and show value adding sales you wouldn’t have had without them.  You may also want to talk to an attribution firm or a company like mine to help figure out what is adding value and who is not.

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