Ongoing battle, focused defence – the changing brand protection landscape
No one disputes the importance of protecting your brand, or in having a comprehensive strategy in place for proactively dealing with infringement, abuse and fraud. But the key thing to remember when it comes to brand protection is that it is not a static goal or aspiration. Rather, it is an ongoing endeavour that shifts and transforms according to changes in the business and the changing behaviour of scammers, infringers and cyber criminals. It also takes a concerted effort on the part of a business – driven by management, legal and marketing – to protect its customers, reputation and revenue and to mitigate the risk associated with infringement.
The consequences of brand abuse and having an ineffective brand protection strategy in place can be severe – from loss of revenue and customer trust, to reputational damage and decreased customer loyalty. To understand the scale of a problem, you also need to consider its wider-reaching effects – specifically, on the economy.
Take counterfeiting, for example. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global trade in counterfeit goods is expanding rapidly. In 2016 it accounted for 2.5% of world trade or $461 billion. Looking specifically at the United Kingdom, research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research shows that counterfeit goods cost the country’s economy £17.3 billion. The report also revealed that 72,000 jobs were lost as a direct result of counterfeiting.
The fight to protect your brand online is never truly over. No matter how many enforcement actions you take, how many marketplace sites and listings you shut down or how many third-party platforms you monitor, it is never possible to eliminate all instances of infringement.
At a company level, the challenge with fighting the tide of counterfeiters, infringement and brand abuse is that brand protection itself is a broad field that incorporates many areas and a variety of threats. Brands do not necessarily have the budget, resources and in-house skills to tackle all of these elements effectively. So how do you prioritise protection areas? How do you refine protection methods and measures? And how do you accomplish this without putting the organisation at risk?
The solution is for brands to take a more consumer-oriented approach to brand protection. Brands already have a customer-centric approach to everything else they do, and it is therefore only right that they should adopt the same tactic when it comes to online brand protection. This approach sees brands focusing their efforts on where the activity proves most damaging: where consumers shop.
In order fully to understand this approach, we must first fully define the consumer.
The counterfeiting problem and the well-intentioned consumer
Counterfeiting is a global problem that affects brands of all sizes and in all industries. Rightly or wrongly, it is largely the responsibility of the brand owner to protect its consumers from the risk of purchasing fake goods. If consumers unknowingly purchase fake goods it can have a negative impact on your reputation, damage customer trust and affect your revenue.
Typically, there are two types of consumer when it comes to shopping online. The first is the well-intentioned consumer who wants to buy genuine goods, but may get duped into purchasing fakes (according to a MarkMonitor barometer report, more than a quarter of consumers have at some point unknowingly purchased counterfeit goods).
The second type of consumer is the one willing to buy counterfeits. The appetite for buying fake goods does exist, but in a small percentage of consumers – 18%, according to a MarkMonitor barometer report. The legitimacy of a product is of no interest to them: they are simply looking for the best deal. These consumers may not be a priority, whereas the well-intentioned consumers who want to spend their money on your brand absolutely are.
By focusing efforts on where consumers shop online, brands can identify and remove the most visible instances of infringement as quickly as possible. By prioritising this – while also ensuring that all remaining visible sites on search engine results, online marketplaces and elsewhere are legitimate – brand owners can protect both their brand reputation and their consumers.
A consumer-centric approach to brand protection thus aims to recapture revenue from well-intentioned customers (ie, those that are looking to purchase genuine products) by identifying the various ways in which they are being duped into making counterfeit purchases, then working backwards from there to develop a successful protection strategy.
Of course, there is a lot more to implementing such a strategy, including the ways in which its success is measured and how those metrics translate into refining your plans.
Standard measures of success
Brand owners typically use two common measures of success. The first is the number of counterfeit or infringement instances that show up on search engines and marketplaces, compared to before the brand protection plan was introduced. If the new figure is drastically lower than the original, you can assume that the reduced visibility means fewer consumers have fallen into the counterfeit trap. The second metric is the number of consumers that have unknowingly bought counterfeit items. Once again, this new figure should be compared to the figure from before the protection strategy was introduced.
The value of such figures is undeniable, but the truth is that the battle against counterfeiters is ongoing. For every site and listing successfully taken down, a new one will eventually pop up, and as new pages pop up, more consumers are fooled into making illegitimate purchases. To measure the true effectiveness of a brand protection plan, organisations should look closely at more detailed analytics.
The ideal situation
Brand owners should be able to access analytics in real time. The world of counterfeiting moves at such a fast pace that periodic tracking is only useful to a certain degree: once a new infringement has been made, you can be guaranteed that the goalposts will have already moved again.
Second, brands should be able to track all of their key performance indicators (KPIs) – including compliance, activity, volume, quantity, value and financial impact – clearly, within a single intuitive platform. By measuring each KPI individually, and then side by side with one another, it is much easier to determine accurately whether the percentage of total infringements is decreasing over time (data has proven that, with the appropriate enforcement, 80% to 85% of online counterfeiters targeting a particular brand will stop shortly after an enforcement action has been taken).
The consumer-centric approach to brand protection
When developing or reinvigorating your brand protection programme, and trying to re-align it towards a more consumer-centric approach, you should consider three main areas:
Does your brand protection programme prioritise detection and takedowns based on the most visible sites and listings?
Removing brand infringements that are most visible to potential consumers must be a priority, so you will want to make sure you are protecting people from accessing these counterfeit, impersonating or illegitimate sites. If your brand programme is not prioritising the most visible pages, you are leaving gaps that counterfeiters can take advantage of – leaving your well-intentioned consumers (and your revenue) vulnerable.
Can you look at geo-specific listings and searches? Can you track what consumers see from each country on a global scale?
What a consumer finds on a particular marketplace will be different depending on geographic location. So, while you might have a strategic plan in place for detecting and taking down infringements in the United States (for example), what about your strategy for China and Germany? Or, for that matter, every locale in the world? Of course, to be strategic, you should prioritise which regions you want to cover first and expand your regional coverage accordingly. For the regions you have identified, it is essential to monitor and detect infringements using local IP proxies globally. You want to be able to prioritise infringements based on what your local consumers are seeing, as this will make a significant impact on the effectiveness of your programme. This is key to ensuring you are taking a consumer-centric approach to your brand protection programme.
Can you identify high-value targets and look for digital trends? Are you tracking repeat offenders?
It is key to have cutting-edge technology that connects the dots across all digital channels, including websites, online marketplaces, social media, mobile apps and email. Once you have identified a bad threat actor, you can investigate and gain actionable intelligence that helps to bridge your online and offline brand protection initiatives. Use the data and intelligence to work closely with law enforcement, including through litigation, on-the-ground investigations and factory raids.
The consumer-centric approach in practice
Brand protection is a massive endeavour, but it need not be a losing battle. Rather, by taking this consumer-centric approach, brands can take that fight to where it is most needed.
To put this approach into practice, consider the context: about 91% of people do not look beyond the first page of search engine results, and about 70% of consumers do not go past page one on online marketplaces. When it comes to search advertising, the first ads on the first page receive significant attention, while only a fraction of users will click on the first ad of a second page.
Bringing this back to the well-intentioned consumer, research also shows that these shoppers rarely go beyond the first few pages – called ‘visible pages’ – on search results or marketplace listings when looking to buy. They are likely to change the keywords they are using and search again.
As a result, the ideal approach is to focus efforts on these pages in search listings, marketplaces and paid search ads, so that they are as clean as possible from counterfeit, pirated and grey-market listings. This way, you can protect the well-intentioned consumer from buying pirated or counterfeit products, while recapturing revenue and ensuring maximum return on brand protection investment.
Brand protection is an evolving, ongoing challenge for organisations. It remains a critical element that businesses must get right in order to safeguard their customers, their reputation and ultimately their bottom line. Importantly, the scope of brand protection is increasing dramatically and instances of infringement and abuse are widespread. While it is impossible to stop all infringements, brands can take a targeted approach to their protection strategies – including working with third-party experts such as MarkMonitor to refine their strategies and adopt a more consumer-centric approach. In this way, brands can focus their protection efforts where they are most needed – at the customer level – removing visible infringements and claiming back lost revenue as a result.
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Vice president, marketing
Chrissie Jamieson is a highly experienced strategic marketer with a strong focus on the business intelligence, brand protection and domains sector. As vice president of marketing for Clarivate Analytics, Ms Jamieson leads flagship brand MarkMonitor. She is responsible for strategy, direction and lead generation, managing the marketing and communications, public relations and telemarketing teams.