From Deliveroo to Klarna, there is now a greater need for more rapid digitisation and the adoption of consumer tech. According to Dealroom’s latest report, Europe is the fastest-growing major region by venture capital investment – outpacing both the US and China – with start-up funds growing to €49 billion in the first six months of 2021 alone. With all this growth and excitement, start-ups through to multi-national organisations need to consider brand protection as an essential factor to their success. This starts with the very basics of registering your brand as a trademark, through to protecting it from any bad actors trying to piggyback off your good name.

To help with this process, our latest article covers the basics of why brand protection is important and includes a handy downloadable e-book with different brand protection essentials and a checklist to see how vulnerable your brand is to abuse or misuse.

So let’s start from the beginning – What is Brand Protection?

If you’re reading this article, it is likely that you probably know what brand protection is. However, for the record, brand protection is a strategy that includes security measures to safeguard against pirates, counterfeiters, and infringers of intellectual property. With it, you can defend your company’s image, reputation, and profits.

Why do I need brand protection?

If your company is successful, at some point, your start-up business will develop a good reputation. And as you become an easily identifiable household or industry name, consumers or businesses are more likely to purchase your well-established brand. However, as your popularity grows, so do the consequences, such as the increasing number of counterfeit criminals who aim to capitalise on your brand name. It is therefore essential to safeguard your assets and critical data by using various brand protection tactics.

What tactics do counterfeiters use to misuse your brand?

Brand misuse is a blanket term. This refers to an outside group exploiting a brand’s intellectual property to take advantage of its reputation. Counterfeiters use many tactics to misuse your brand’s good name, these can include:

  1. Link Manipulation
    Link manipulation is at the heart of many brand exploitation efforts. Bad actors slightly manipulate and register domains to direct users to phony websites. Attackers use several tactics, including:
  • Misspelled URLs. Also known as typo-squatting or URL hijacking
  • Internationalised Domain Names(IDNs) can trick users into clicking links that look real but use international characters in place of English characters.
  • Hidden URLshide the actual, malicious URL under plain text that might say “click here.”
  • Top level domain and country code top level domain abuse takes a legitimate domain name and adds an incorrect top-level domain. A top-level domain impersonation of “example.com” might read “example.ca”.
  • Link manipulation is often used in tandem with other methods of brand exploitation, listed below.
  1. Website Spoofing
    Bad actors can build spoofed websites that look exactly like yours. Same coding, colours, images and branding. Using manipulated links, unsuspecting users are duped into downloading malware or giving away their personal credentials. They can of course be also duped into purchasing fake goods.
  1. Email Spoofing
    With email spoofing attacks, an attacker sends an email that appears to come from a legitimate brand. Again, the email generally asks the recipient to click a link that leads to spoofed website, or that downloads malware. By using your brand name as the carrot, the recipient might end up revealing their personal data—or their employer’s.
  1. Vishing and SMShing
    These are phishing attacks that use voice and text messages to dupe the recipient. Again, the message generally contains a link that takes the user to a spoofed login page designed to steal the person’s credentials or the voice message will normally ask you to transfer some money or similar.
  1. Social media impersonation – social media is fertile ground for brand exploitation. For example, the infringer can create a fake social media account in the name of your company, make it seem credible by posting or commenting on messages, and even adding links to a fake website. Or impersonators may simply aim to tarnish a brand’s reputation.
  1. E-Marketplaces – like social media impersonation, online marketplaces are rife with fake accounts selling counterfeit goods. We also found unauthorised use of brands that lead to the dilution of the trademark rights.
  1. Search Engine Phishing (pay per click ads) & mobile apps – this can take on two forms where the bad actors can either:
  • create malicious webpages designed to appear in search engine results. These fake sites often use domain spoofing to impersonate real brands. To get users to click, the search engine ad or link may offer free or discounted goods or even job opportunities.
  • bid on your brand’s keywords in order to compete with brand in the search engine results. This not only leads to brand dilution, but also costs you more money per click as the competition for that keyword is higher.

Why is brand protection important – what are the Impacts of brand infringement and/or counterfeits?

The issues caused by infringers targeting your established brand go way beyond a few people making money by exploiting your brand’s IP. The impacts of IP infringement and brand misappropriation are far more severe:

1. Decrease in sales

Fake products will usually sell at a fraction of the products listed on your website. Even though they are typically made from cheaper materials, most counterfeit products are uncannily identical to the original products, and us humans find it hard to resist a bargain. Ultimately, this is going to affect your sales figures and your bottom line.

2. Negatively affects your reputation and consumer trust

Any brand, big or small, works hard to set up a reputation for themselves in the public eye. But, if the brands are targeted by infringers, that reputation has a risk of being put into jeopardy. Whether that is their nice new bag falling apart after a week or more serious issues, such as medication causing harmful side effects or car replacement parts causing fatal accidents, this can have a massive impact on your brand’s reputation and consumer trust in your brand. Potential customers might end up avoiding your brand for others that are more reliable, trustworthy, and appear to be proactively fighting counterfeits.

  1. Brand dilution
    As mentioned above, with infringers bidding on your brand keywords, or claiming to sell your branded goods, companies need to be even more careful not to have their trademarked brand diluted. For example, search engines auction off trademarked keywords for the display of adverts to the highest bidder. Although increasing the popularity of the product, this makes the keyword more generic, as displaying adverts unrelated to the trademarked keyword dilutes them.

4. You Lose Partner Trust

When counterfeit products arise, it is not only sales and customers you risk losing – you could also jeopardise your business partnerships. Distributors might perceive counterfeiters as replacements, as they can offer virtually the same product at a lower price. Some may also mistakenly assume that you are disloyal by creating products with another partner, even when you aren’t.

5. You Consume Resources

Fighting back against infringers is a lengthy and expensive process. The process can take a considerable amount of time and pull resources from other departments that could be used on other, more urgent assignments.

How to Implement a Strong Brand Protection Strategy

It is important to note here that not every brand deals with the same level of abuse, so brand protection strategies need to be tailored to a brand’s unique requirements.

Sometimes, these pesky infringers are typically persistent, so you have to look at brand protection as an ongoing process that doesn’t end when you manage to take down one fake reseller. To safeguard your content, products, and services, it is advisable to work with a professional to create a multi-layered approach to combat all the different tactics counterfeiters will employ to stay in business.

Download our brand protection e-book now to learn about our top 6 tips to brand protection as well as a handy checklist to assess how vulnerable your brand is to abuse or misuse.

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