The process of successfully managing an online brand protection strategy has changed drastically in a short space of time. There is an ever-increasing number of different channels and touchpoints that must be considered, which makes it much harder to devise a strategy that is thorough and ensures effective brand protection. While the challenge may have increased over the last few years, it is certainly not insurmountable. By prioritising and focusing your efforts in the right areas, brands can continue to protect themselves efficiently and cement their positions in their respective marketplaces. We’ve compiled some top tips that will help businesses get on the right track.
1. Create brand guidelines
Brand guidelines are essential for any business looking to develop a strong and recognisable persona for itself, but many are unsure what the guidelines should actually entail. From this starting point, it is helpful to split them into two sections: internal guidelines, and affiliate guidelines.
For internal guidelines, the first thing to consider is who within the company should be responsible for creating content, and who else should be approving this. Depending on the structure of your business, this is likely to be the marketing or communications teams, perhaps with the legal department getting involved with the approval process. To best maintain brand consistency across all sites, it’s also important to consider whether content is managed centrally or locally, and who has the authority to register web domain names and social media accounts.
On the subject of social media, all brands should outline what communications channels they intend on using for marketing and promotional communications. From an internal perspective, there should also be clear instructions as to what employees are and aren’t allowed to say about the brand on their own personal social media accounts. And finally, the guidelines must help to build a culture of ‘zero tolerance’, with all employees getting involved with flagging any potential protection issues.
Affiliate guidelines are slightly different. First off, it is important to advise all partners of what they can and cannot do regarding domain names and social media accounts. Typically, third-party partners should not be allowed to use your brand name in their domain name, nor within a social media registration. Additionally, the guidelines should also clarify whether partners can bid on search keywords — and if so, how — as well as what channels/marketplaces they can sell through, and whether they can use your brand’s logo or images for promotional purposes.
2. It’s all about social
Social media is a double-edged sword for brands, serving as both its biggest opportunity and its biggest threat when it comes to brand protection. While it allows for effective promotion and communication among both customers and target audiences, it also allows individuals with malicious intent to register fake accounts that can damage a brand. It’s often easy to focus on the story you’re telling on social media, but it’s also vital to proactively monitor what other people are saying about you and any profiles that seem suspect; this is the only way to ensure true protection. In this regard, it is also worth seeing how competitors are communicating with their audiences on each channel before identifying how your brand can set itself apart in your guidelines.
If you are planning to use social media channels as a customer service tool, your guidelines should outline how this procedure works, how employees should respond correctly to queries and what they can do to escalate issues to a more senior member of staff. Finally, internal social media rules for employees should be reiterated to make sure they are reflecting brand values whenever possible.
3. Manage the affiliates
Plenty of brands rely on partners, resellers and other affiliates in order to grow their business, and so in the interests of brand consistency, it’s important that you enforce your guidelines upon each one, training them in the correct way to communicate your goods and/or services.
Crucially, the activity of affiliates should not be increasing cost-per-click (CPC) for your brand. If this is the case, businesses must ensure that partners are not able to bid on their brand name within search engine headlines — this should be strictly reserved for the brand itself to retain its top spot in the search engines. Similarly, partners must be instructed not to divert traffic unnecessarily, particularly in instances where it would make the most sense to link to your own website, product page or social media channel.
Brands are constantly evolving and advancing their offerings, so it’s only right that partners keep up. This is why brands must ensure the latest information is displayed on all affiliate websites/platforms, while also identifying whether the look and feel in each instance are in-line with brand guidelines.
4. Focus on high-value targets
The threat of brand abuse is all-encompassing, and it’s near enough impossible to successfully stamp out every single instance of counterfeiting or fraudulent activity. This is why brands should seek to clamp down on the highest value targets across the internet.
Many of these infringing listings or posts are the work of organised criminal gangs that are more agile than most brands, and so it is important to see how these listings are interconnected across multiple channels, including social media channels, online marketplaces, etc. This can help to identify how they are damaging the brand and the channels/touchpoints that need to be monitored more closely.
Brands should also take the deep and dark web into account, as these are two environments renowned for illicit activity. When any illegal instance is identified, evidence should be gathered and recorded to ensure a swift takedown.
5. Secure your assets
Brands invest millions in their online efforts, and so they should make sure that their assets cannot be easily compromised by others. On a general level, this involves policing every single potential avenue for rogue content or listings.
Looking specifically at social media, every single platform should be registered by your brand — even the ones that are barely used — before others can get their hands on them in an attempt to dupe your audience.
To further bolster security efforts, domain security, registration times on mission-critical domains and record locking should all be reviewed and updated accordingly. User access must also be double-checked to prevent any unauthorised individuals from accessing your systems, while multi-factor authentication should be implemented for access to your domain infrastructure.