In today’s constantly shifting cyber landscape, it is vital that an organisation updates and evolves its online brand protection strategy, to deal with the changing nature of the threats posed and the cyber criminals behind those threats. While brand protection programmes are heavily influenced by the environment in which the business operates and the nature of the organisation itself, importantly, external factors such as the expanding social media space, and the rise of generic top level domains (gTLDs) must also be taken into account.
Developing and implementing such a plan may be daunting, but no brand can afford to be without one as the main aim is to effectively mitigate the risk posed by cyber criminals, counterfeiters and those who infringe on your brand. By addressing five main areas, brands can gain a clear view of the threats faced and how to mitigate them.
1. Create Brand Guidelines
More often than not, brand guidelines look at the physical environment and usage of logos and imagery. While this is still important, those guidelines don’t necessarily translate to the online space, especially as it changes so rapidly. As a result, brand guidelines should include specific online rules that address both internal and external audiences.
Internally, these guidelines need to include content, registration of domain names and social media profiles, and social media behaviour.
The ever-important issue of content creation needs to be addressed, specifically who creates the assets, who is responsible for approving them and where are they managed, locally or centrally?
Registration Of Domain Names And Social Media Profiles:
The brand guidelines need to be very clear about who in the organisation is able to do what. This also applies to working with third-party organisations, such as a marketing agency, that may also register names on behalf of a client. In this case, who controls the domain name? And what happens to ownership once the working relationship is over? The same principle applies to employees; if anyone can register a domain name or social media profile for a sub-brand or marketing campaign, there is the danger that if that employee moves organisations or roles, the documentation, log in and renewal details may be lost.
Social Media Behaviour:
It is reasonable to assume that employees have a social media presence of some kind, with profiles on one or multiple platforms. If these employees are explicitly associated with the brand, there needs to a clear directive on what they should or shouldn’t say, and what personal information can actually be included on these sites. In addition to having a detrimental impact on the perception of the brand if something negative does happen, too much information (such as address, date of birth, office location, etc.) that is publically available can pose a security threat.
When it comes to external stakeholders, brands need a policy that governs partners, vendors, distributors, affiliates and other third-party organisations that are associated with the brand.
There should be clarity on what partners can and can’t do, for example, use the brand name within a domain name, marketplace shop or marketplace seller, especially where there is the potential for confusing messaging around who customers are actually getting the product from.
Much like the internal guidelines, the plan needs to detail what partners can post on social media particularly when it comes to embargoed information around product launches, etc. The policy should also include the ins and outs of how and when partners can sell through social media platforms, apps and marketplaces.
Logos And imagery:
When third-party organisations are associated with a brand it is key that all messaging and graphics are consistent with that brand. As a result, brands must ensure they are being used appropriately.
2. Monitor Social Media
One of the biggest opportunities for business is, without a doubt, social media. Its viral nature, accessibility, and reach make it ideal for marketing, sales and engaging with customers. However, it is a double-edged sword as it also poses one of the biggest threats to business. Businesses need to register on social media sites, regardless of whether the platforms are giants or minnows , and proactively monitor across them in multiple languages for brand abuse, customer issues and any negative sentiment that needs to be dealt with.
This monitoring should include sentiment analysis, rogue or fake sites selling your product, employee abuse, sites linking to unindexed sites in the Deep Web, and identifying fake profiles both for the brand and staff.
3. Manage Affiliates
Working with affiliates can certainly add value to an organisation. However, it’s important to keep in mind that affiliates have their own aims – such as maximising their own revenue. As a result, it’s critical that rules and policies are in place to deal with any infringements by affiliates, but they also help and support them in a synergistic way.
This area should deal with the specifics of tools such as AdWords. To avoid driving up prices and competing for the same keywords, part of the brand guideline document should detail an AdWords policy in terms of what can and can’t be bid on. For example, bidding on the brand name in the text rather than the title of the advert, and including words that could erode brand equity, such as cheap, sales, outlet, etc.
4. Focus On High-Value Targets
Part of a successful online brand strategy includes understanding who these individuals or companies are, what sites they own, if and how sites, apps and social media profiles are linked, and where they are impacting the business most and in which regions.
5. Secure Your Assets
The online space is an ever-expanding one, and it’s vital that a brand protection strategy covers all different avenues, and not just the traditional websites and marketplaces. Organisations need to consider everything from apps to social media platforms, even those that are relatively new. Again, part of this step includes registering on these sites and having the knowledge to do so in different regions.
An online brand protection plan should also look at factors, including:
- Domain security and record locking to protect against breaches and cyber criminals
- Extending registration times on mission critical domains as long as possible
- Review user accounts for systems where staff have left or changed roles
- Use multi-factor authentication for accessing domain infrastructure
- Understand what the domain portfolio looks like to reduce unneeded domains
Brands face a host of threats in today’s online environment. Developing and implementing an effective, multi-layered online brand protection strategy can be challenging considering the size and scale of the environment, the number of stakeholders involved, and the constant barrage of threats. However, by focusing on areas like social media, partners, domain registrations and creating brand guidelines, organisations can evolve a strategy that copes with current threats and is adaptable enough to deal with the changing landscape.