How to protect your brand in a growing landscape of cyber threats

Brands of all sizes and across all industries are being affected by the growing threat from cyber criminals.

As the online landscape evolves, cyber criminals are becoming bolder and their methods of attack more sophisticated. As a result, it’s critical for organisations to develop, implement and continually assess a proactive online brand protection strategy.

To understand the level of risk that companies face, you just need to take a look at the latest cybercrime statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Statistics show that 51% of all incidents of fraud were cyber related; with one of the most common types of fraud being non-investment fraud, which relates to things like online shopping.

Cybercrime, be it the sale of fake goods or online fraud, has a tremendous impact on a brand — more than just affecting revenues directly, these activities impact on reputation, customer loyalty and the brand as a whole.

But just what can brands do to ensure they are protected from these threats?

Attain global visibility

Before a brand can understand the scope of the threat posed by online counterfeit sales, it must expose and quantify the problem.

Counterfeiters operate over a wide array of online channels; all of these, including online marketplaces, eCommerce sites, message boards and the rest, must be monitored and analysed.

Counterfeiters depend on technology to drive sales volumes so approach the monitoring challenge with the same tools and leverage technology to form a complete and accurate picture of the counterfeiting challenge that your brand faces.

Monitor points of promotion

While it’s obviously important to identify and shut down distribution channels, it’s almost certain that counterfeiters will regularly seek new sales venues. So it’s just as critical to monitor the online promotional channels used by these criminals.

Counterfeiters use the same effective promotion techniques employed by legitimate marketers while leveraging the powerful, highly recognisable brands built by experts.

The key to maintaining your brand reputation and customer trust lies in your ability to effectively mitigate the risk posed by cyber criminals

Using paid search advertising, links within social media, black hat SEO tactics, cybersquatting and spam, they successfully steer traffic to their illicit offerings, and diminish the marketing ROI of legitimate brands. Monitoring for these promotional efforts is critical — and enables our next best practice.

Take proactive action

Counterfeiters obviously encounter more success when left to operate unchallenged; they’re also known to shift their energies to more passive targets when brands visibly fight back.

Once a brand understands where the greatest threats lie, aggressive action is the best strategy.

Fight online counterfeit sales holistically

Online counterfeit sales are easier to address when the entire enterprise participates. That means brand owners should set up a cross-functional task force to address the issue in a coordinated, holistic manner.

Stakeholders — and, therefore, recommended participants — will vary by industry and enterprise, but can include legal, marketing, risk management, loss prevention, channel sales management, manufacturing, supply chain management and other functional units.

Because fighting online counterfeiting requires attacking both promotional and distribution channels, this group needs to address more facets of the problem than seen in the physical world.

Let online intelligence inform offline defence measures

Because offline measures — physical investigations, factory raids and other activities — can be costly and time-consuming, it’s critical to know where they should be focused.

Online intelligence can help identify the most egregious infringers, so that offline defensive efforts can be focused where they’ll be most effective.

Act swiftly — and globally

Perhaps even more than it affects legitimate business, the proliferation of international trade offers tremendous benefits to online counterfeiters.

While a domestic seller or manufacturer may seem like an easy first target, brands have learned that it’s more effective to launch global anti-counterfeiting initiatives — and to get them underway expeditiously.

Prepare by ensuring your trademarks are registered internationally — especially in China, which observes a 'first-to-file' policy that grants registration to whoever files first, even if it’s not the true brand owner.

A global effort doesn’t preclude addressing markets that target a specific country exclusively. In some cases, this will require competent language translation resources for monitoring, detection and enforcement.

Most companies rely on third-party brand protection solution providers for this kind of expertise.

Educate your customers

Your customers can be an important ally in minimising sales of counterfeit goods with all its associated costs. Educate your customers about the risks of buying from unauthorised sources, and recruit them to join in the effort by reporting suspicious goods and sellers.

The Authentics Foundation and its consumer site, dontbuyfakes.com, have useful resources for consumer education.

Also, many brands provide form or email-based mechanisms for reporting suspected infringement. When offering such tools, be sure to reinforce the benefits of buying authentic goods from authorised sellers.

The key to maintaining your brand reputation and customer trust lies in your ability to effectively mitigate the risk posed by cyber criminals.

A key part of this mitigation is developing a comprehensive online brand protection strategy that addresses all threat areas. In addition, it should be a strategy that evolves and adapts to changes in your business and the market so that it keeps pace with cyber threats as they too evolve.

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