10 ways to avoid brand abuse and protect your online reputation
Charlie Abrahams, Vice President, EMEA at MarkMonitor
The Cambridge Satchel Company recently ramped up its online brand protection efforts by taking action to address the myriad risks of counterfeits, copyright infringement and cybersquatting that have plagued the brand since its rapid success.
The story of the brand’s growth was featured in the Google Chrome advertisement series ‘The Web is What You Make of It’. Unfortunately, in the same way the web has revolutionised the way brands engage customers and drive their business, it is also the growth and anonymity of the internet that has made it easy to sell fake and pirated goods.
Some of the most successful global brands are amongst those businesses commonly targeted by online counterfeiters. The Cambridge Satchel company, built by British mum of two, Julie Deane, grew from an initial £600 investment in 2008 to over £8 million turnaround in 2012. The fast-growing and forward thinking brand has since put an online brand protection strategy in place to protect both its customers and its revenues against the growing number of counterfeit and fraudulent sites.
Nearly 7% of worldwide merchandise bought online is counterfeit, and it is not only the brands themselves that have to be on their guard. When a consumer is a making a purchase - whether it is the latest luxury bag or their dream designer dress, they too need to be extra wary and use their common sense when shopping on the web.
As online brand protection specialists, we work with many brands like the Cambridge Satchel company. We’ve put together ten top tips offering advice that could help other brands to minimise the impact of brand infringement on online marketing, channel management, customer service and product quality and safety - and safeguard their reputation and revenues.
1. Define your priorities
Proactive measures can reduce brand abuse significantly. It’s all a matter of understanding the "who, what, where and when" of the brand abuse you’re up against. A great place to start is by reviewing the intelligence provided by your brand protection programme. Understanding - Who are the top offenders? What are the common tactics used by fraudsters? Where is abuse taking place and which infringing websites receive the most traffic? When does infringement peak? - will help to prioritise your efforts and maximise results.
2. Act early
Evidence shows that early detection and action substantially increase the success of brand protection efforts. Rogue site operators are much more likely to comply with requests to take down infringing domains when the infringement is detected early, before they invest significant time or money building the site and driving traffic to it. Timely detection - and ongoing vigilance in monitoring rogue sites - leads to better enforcement results.
3. Focus on rogue networks, not single operators
Targeting rogue site operators one by one can be time consuming and ineffective. A more effective approach is to identify networks of rogue sites, which can sometimes be in the thousands, operated by a single individual or group. Start by examining the Whois records for registration information and examining IP addresses for similarities that link the sites together. Performing these searches manually is time and resource intensive so look for a suitable technology solution to help you.
4. Monitor social media
It’s imperative to include social media in a brand protection strategy as the reach, transparency and viral nature of social media make it ideal for scammers who want to exploit the value and power of established brands for their own gain. Register your brand on leading social media sites in all the countries in which you do business. Monitor these sites for impersonation or fraud so your fans and followers can engage with your brand safely. And when you detect instances of malicious brand infringement and fraud, be sure to use the enforcement tools provided by these sites.
5. Monitor your affiliate and reseller channels for compliance
In digital channels, resellers and affiliates provide a multiplier effect driving new customers and traffic to your site - and helping you to generate incremental revenue. However, when affiliates go astray and bid on branded keywords, they are essentially intercepting traffic intended for your brand. That means a higher cost-per-click (CPC) for you as well as unnecessary affiliate commissions. The solution is to develop a clear policy for use of branded keywords, make sure affiliates and resellers understand these terms and conditions and monitor for compliance. These actions will help you maintain harmony with partners, while keeping your margins healthy and your overall brand strong.
6. Establish clear ROI metrics
Smart brands measure the success of their brand protection programme just as they do other digital marketing initiatives. Start by defining concrete objectives for your brand protection program and identify the metrics you’ll use to measure performance and ROI. Track key performance indicators such as compliance rates, number of recovered domains or product de-listings.
7. Prepare your brand for the launch of new gTLDs
The launch of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) will dramatically increase the size of the domain namespace. As a result, defensive registration practices of the past will need to be reconsidered. Attempting to register every variation, misspelling and typosquat in every new TLD will quickly become cost prohibitive.
Cast a critical eye on your domain portfolio and drop domains you no longer need. Candidates for elimination include those domains associated with expired promotions, outdated products or locations where you no longer do business. By paring down your domain portfolio, you’ll free up resources to take action in the new namespace. And if you’re in a legal role, be sure to familiarise yourself with ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse.
8. Lock your valuable domains
Domain name hijackings, social engineering attacks and other types of domain name security breaches are on the rise. That’s why your company should identify its most valuable domain names and, where possible, lock them at the registry level. Registry locked domains are impervious to hijackings, erroneous name server updates and social engineering attacks.
9. Brand protection begins before the product launches
Your brand protection efforts start well before your product is launched. In fact, you should build brand protection into your entire product lifecycle. For example, coordinate trademark registration efforts with domain name registration efforts to multiply your brand defenses.
10. Sync your brand protection strategy with your global business strategy
Brand protection efforts need to be expanded as more consumers around the globe turn to digital channels and scammers take note of these new behaviors and respond accordingly. Identify the leading geography-specific marketplaces, auction sites, search engines and social media sites. Define a scalable brand protection strategy so your company can easily adapt and respond to country-specific channels.
The nature of brand abuse in the digital age requires a new approach to brand protection. With brand abuse running rampant online - and new problems cropping up at every turn - a company-wide, coordinated approach to protecting a brand is vital. By applying these ten strategies, you will be able to minimise the impact of brand infringement and safeguard your reputation and revenues.
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