A view from Charlie Abrahams

Think BR: The top 10 online brand protection strategies

Many marketers have found out the hard way that protecting a brand online is no easy task, writes Charlie Abrahams, vice president EMEA, MarkMonitor.

Vigilance is vital for every company, as the impact of online brand abuse is both substantial and pervasive, leading to loss of revenue, reputation and customer trust as third parties exploit a brand for their own gain.

We all know that the web’s tremendous reach and economies of scale has revolutionised the way brands engage customers and drive revenue.

But the very qualities that make the web so attractive to legitimate businesses make it extremely lucrative for brand abusers to hijack powerful brands online.

Internet threats to a brand can come from anyone, anywhere - whether it’s a counterfeiter setting up an eCommerce site, downloading product images and competing with the brand for customers, or a misguided affiliate purchasing branded search terms and competing with the legitimate brand for traffic.

The worldwide web really is a web, and brands are openly exposed to an increasingly complex number of online attacks.

The perpetrators are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques so it is crucial that marketers continually reassess their online brand protection strategies. This top-ten list should help marketers stay one step ahead when it comes to protecting their brands online:

  1. Protect digital content. As more and more content becomes digital content, businesses should have a strategy in place to protect theirs. Every brand has digital content and, for some brands, it’s their lifeblood. The proliferation of mobile devices has fuelled increased digital consumption and the result is that content assets are at risk for almost every business category.
  2. Follow the traffic. The amount of online abuse targeting a brand can be overwhelming. A simple and effective way to prioritise abuses for action is by looking at the traffic volume for infringing sites. Businesses can then focus on those sites which receive the most traffic to maximise the impact of their protection efforts.
  3. Measure ROI. In today’s cost conscious climate brand protection programmes are often in competition with other internal investments, so it’s important to measure the success and assess the financial impact of the brand protection strategies. The good news is that the internet is inherently measurable. Brands can stay informed by having key areas tracked such as de-listings, recovered traffic, domains removed and overall compliance rates. 
  4. Review new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). The internet will no doubt be transformed by the introduction of the gTLDs, or dot brands. Regardless of whether a company is planning for its own proprietary gTLD, they need to be prepared to review all submitted applications which were made available on the ICANN website earlier this year
  5. Rationalise the domain portfolio. The new gTLDs should prompt companies to take a hard look at their own defensive holdings to determine whether they need all of their registrations. One of the key points to consider when rationalising portfolios and choosing which to keep or drop is how much traffic is being generated by defensive registrations.
  6. Monitor affiliates and online resellers. Affiliates and resellers may increase brand exposure and help drive sales, but these productive partners need to be monitored. Misguided partners can bid against brands on their most productive keywords and siphon away high-value traffic which leads to unnecessary commission payments.  
  7. Layer enforcement measures. For companies to get the greatest impact at the most reasonable costs the best approach is to layer enforcement measures, starting with low cost, low-touch options and then escalating problem cases to more resource intensive options.
  8. Monitoring social media is a must. Brand abuse on social media is, not surprisingly, growing as rapidly as the vast number of social network and blog sites. Specific abuse such as brand impersonation and ‘namesquatting’ is on the rise so it is critical for brands to continuously monitor and respond to infringing content and suspicious links.
  9. Recognise that it’s a company-wide problem. Brand abuse is not a legal or an IT problem, its impact is felt across the entire business - from siphoned revenues and diminished marketing ROI to increased customer service costs. Any company department that has an interest in the health of the brand needs to be involved.
  10. Seek external expertise. Brand protection is still an emerging practice in the digital world so it’s not uncommon, even for the bigger global brands, to lack dedicated, expert resources internally. If this is the case, businesses should call in third party expertise to develop and execute the most effective brand strategy.

Charlie Abrahams, vice president EMEA, MarkMonitor