As experts in the field, we have called on our experience and knowledge to produce the following guide to protecting your brand online. This series of guides is intended for those brands that sell consumer products but contains useful tips for all. The first of our new ‘How To’ series looks at the threats that brands may face online.

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All brands face threats online. As more and more people shop, consume and interact online it has become more and more necessary to have a clear and defined brand protection strategy. Effective brand protection strengthens and adds value to your business. The web landscape is changing faster than ever, and a fixed strategy established 2 years ago, is unlikely to be effective in tackling new forms of threat that have only emerged in the last month or so. As a result, strategy needs to be flexible, proactive and responsive, not an easy feat.

Brand Protection starts with understanding the threats that you may face. After all we can only design an effective strategy if we know what we are trying to combat. Once this is done, we can concern ourselves with proactive protection, avoiding risks and fighting back against threats, thieves and copycats.

Online brand threats and risks come in all shapes and sizes but each and every one can detract from the value of your business – we have outlined the key threats below.

Sale and Availability of Counterfeits

The term counterfeit refers to a fake product that intends to deceive consumers by passing itself off as authentic. Usually, the product will, from first glance, look identical to the real deal. Many counterfeiters have highly sophisticated processes and are skilled at recreating logos and branding. However, the products aren’t flawless and are often made with substandard materials. The most worrisome part is that, in almost all cases, safety tests are neglected. Counterfeits deplete revenues, tarnish brand and product reputation and put consumers in danger.

Theft and Infringement of Brand Name

Building a brand identity is no easy task. It is the foundation of marketing and essential in creating a name for your product. Finding out that someone has stolen your brand’s name is infuriating. Unfortunately, this is a very common form of intellectual property infringement. Sellers see a product doing well and hope to use the name association to sell their own products. This is especially common in online descriptions where copycats will use reputable brand names to increase hit rates on their product listings.

Infringement of Trademarks

Much like brand name infringement, trademark infringement involves the unauthorised use of registered terms, fiures and/or phrases to sell products that do not belong to the brand that registered them. This can include names of product lines, slogans, logos and even hashtags. Infringers are getting more creative by the day, meaning that in many cases a letter or a word is changed to get around the law. However, this can be combated with ‘confusingly similar’ counter claims. Registering trademarks is the best first defense for brands from copycats and IP thieves.

Copyright Theft

There are two forms of copyright protection, registered and unregistered. In short, Copyright infringement is the theft of someone’s work or creation. The scope of the coverage is vast and anything from a book to a song to a logo can be protected. While registered intellectual property is often seen as the strongest form, in the case of copyright this isn’t necessarily true. In many cases, proof of creation with a date, such as a posting on a website or social media page, can be enough to have the infringements removed. If someone does not have your permission to use your copyrighted images or videos to profit for themselves, it can be taken offline.

Design and Utility Patent Infringements

Both design and utility patents can be a strong addition to a brands intellectual property portfolio. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that good ideas are often hard to come by, and so when one does, it can be heartbreaking when someone copies the concept or idea in full. A design patent can help to protect the individual pieces within a design. Whereas, a utility patent can protect the overall function of the product. These won’t be relevant for all businesses and can be costly, but in many cases, they are worth their weight in gold. If you have an invention or a unique design make sure to explore these options before coming to market.

Clone Site Scams

Clone sites are an increasingly common issue. Clone sites refer to webpages that mimic that of brands official E-Commerce sites in order to mislead consumers into entering their card details to complete a ‘purchase’. Products are often offered at too good to be true discounts of 60-70%. These sites can be used by criminals to either sell counterfeit stock or, more commonly, capture unwitting  shoppers’ card details. Whilst consumers are the worst hit by such scams, they offer a serious threat to brands’ reputations as well as the working time of employees – as they often find themselves inundated with complaints when shopper receive no order or find they have had their bank accounts emptied.  Clone Sites are often advertised via paid social media adverts masquerading as official discount sale offers.

Unauthorised Sellers and Grey Market Trading

Managing a supply and distribution chain can be a daunting process and one that gets particularly tricky with the inclusion of unauthorised sellers and grey market trading. Unauthorised sellers refer to actors who sell genuine product without the permission of the brand, i.e. outwith a distribution agreement. Similarly, grey marketing trading is also the re-sale of genuine product but into territories where the seller has not been granted permission to sell into. While not impossible, these are tricky areas to enforce – the best place to start is monitoring and identifying the individuals behind such trading. In some cases it is possible to block such trading via legal action or other procedures.

Defamation and Bad Reviews

Fake news has been everywhere recently, with tabloid papers guilty of making up catching and click-bait titles in an effort to draw unsuspecting users to their sites. However, in some cases the fake news and reviews are targeting particular brands and individuals. No-one wants to be at the end of this, especially when what is being said is false and untrue information. Defamation and bad reviews can have a serious negative impact on your brand’s value and removing fake reviews or false statements from social media and other sites is a vital part of protecting your brand.

Sale of Stolen Products

This one is very much what it says on the tin and refers to the re-sale of products that have been stolen from warehouses, freight transport or storage facilities without the knowledge or authorisation of the product owner. While you would think that there would be many a security measure to prevent this happen, it is still a common occurrence and many of these stolen products end up being sold online, particularly in private chat groups.

Misbranding by Distributors and Ambassadors

Having consistent brands across a large business or organisation is essential for creating a clear brand identity. However, ensuring that every stakeholder, distributor and ambassador sticks to this can be tricky. Whether it is monitoring the social media output of your brand’s ambassadors and consultants or ensuring each authorised trader is using up to date and high resolution imagery monitoring this behaviour can help maintain and enhance your brand value through ensuring modern and unified branding is encountered everywhere your consumers and clients interact with your products and business.

This list may seem daunting, but the reality is most brands don’t face all of these issues at once and many of them can be tackled using a small number of tactics and tools. However, we hope this has given you a brief overview of the potential threats that a brand may face. Our next blog in this ‘how to’ series will look at how brands can establish and control their intellectual property.