Ensuring Your Brand Is Protected Online
Your company’s brand is one of its most valuable assets. The associations that customers and clients make between your product or service and the brand you’ve established can, in many cases, make all the difference between success or failure in business. For something as intangible as the concept of a brand, built on emotional connections and accumulated goodwill, it certainly carries a lot of weight for your bottom line. Some of the biggest brands in the world account for up to 70 percent of their value through their brand name alone.
Because brands are so intangible and so valuable, they’re also very vulnerable to misuse by others. The wide-open online marketplace has been a great boon to commerce in many ways, but it also makes it exceedingly easy for fraudulent use of established brands. From dilution of marketing efforts to wasted marketing spend, up to what essentially amounts to outright theft, the potential for damage to your brand and your bottom line is a danger of which you need to be constantly vigilant. Let’s take a closer look at exactly why, and then explore some ways you can fight back.
Message dilution: Whichever online marketing methods you use, you’re in control of the message. Once illegitimate use of your brand occurs — ranging in ways from counterfeit ads to bogus search engine optimization methods and beyond — the focus and effectiveness of your messaging takes a hit.
Wasted marketing spend: With that other confusing messaging out there, customers lose trust in your brand — they don’t know what’s legitimate and what’s not. If customers are unable to tell the difference between your brand and a fraudulent imitator, your marketing efforts are likely to fall on deaf ears.
Bottom line implications: Whether indirect (like the above two examples) or direct (in cases where brand scammers might siphon sales from you by sending online buyers to counterfeit sites to make purchases), a compromised brand will eventually hit you where it hurts the most — on your balance sheet.
So what can you do about it? Fortunately, the “bad guys” don’t always have the upper hand. Here are four easily actionable tips for protecting your brand online:
Start on the inside: Whether you’re a one-person or 100-person operation, it’s critical to establish a brand guide and stick to it. This way you can be sure that you and all your employees are using the brand properly, representing it effectively and not inadvertently diluting your message. An improperly used and managed brand is one that’s becoming weaker, making it a prime target for purposeful misuse and fraud.
Appreciate the scope: Internally, recognize that abuse of your brand shouldn’t be ignored or underestimated — it can have a major impact on your success. Externally, realize that the vastness of the Internet means that possibilities for methods of misuse of your brand are nearly endless. It’s not something to address in your spare time or when a problem arises — brand abuse should be constantly monitored, and protection should be treated as an integral part of your marketing plan.
Have the law on your side: One of the strongest ways to protect a brand is to register it as a federal trademark, maintain it properly and defend it vigorously. A registered trademark not only gives you a much stronger case should you need to involve the courts to put a stop to brand fraud — it also serves as notice to potential scammers that you’re serious about protecting the brand you’ve worked hard to establish.
Be in the know: Brand fraud has no end in sight — it’s too easy and too lucrative for scammers to give up on profiting from the good name of others, and they’ll always try to be one step ahead. Stay up-to-date on the latest methods and channels of online fraud. A good start is to stay on top of how your potential customers are making purchasing or service decisions online, and where and how they’re consuming advertising and marketing messaging. That’s where the scammers will flock to, and it’s where you need to be, too.
Josh Gerben is the principal of the Gerben Law Firm, PLLC, a firm that focuses specifically on trademark law for business owners in Dallas and other cities throughout the United States. You can visit his Trademark University to learn more about how to protect your brand online.