Protecting your brand from new forms of online infringements and attacks is becoming increasingly difficult. The Internet is now a wild west of content formation and brand owners can no longer control the message or as the Burger King commercial used to tout, “have it your way.”
So what should you do? Here are two video clips of my interview about brand protection produced by the Cornell eClips program. eClips, created by Cornell University, is a quality source of on-line video on leadership, entrepreneurship and business with more than 15,000 + clips. (The collection for those outside Cornell has now migrated to Prendismo.) I have posted the transcript of the video below each.
TRANSCRIPT of FIRST VIDEO
What Would You Do If Your Brand Is Attacked
The flip side [of a brand attack] is that you can’t control it. Once the snowball starts rolling down the hill it gets larger. More people embrace it; more people talk about it; it’s almost, as a Congressman discovered recently, once the cat is out of the bag, the genie is out of the bottle it’s gone. And someone else is now controlling the message. And that someone else can be your enemy really quickly because they can spread the word in milliseconds. If you attack the person who started it, you attack the attacker, the response is often even worse. And so it is very hard to control a brand attack once it gets going.
We can talk about a couple of things brand owners can do once they are attacked. But the viral nature of the Internet can be lethal to many and destroy companies. And the best thing you can do, I refer to it as the three C’s, confirm, confess and correct. If the brand attack has merit and you confirm it, then you best confess and after you confess you want to correct and you want to tell people that you have corrected and actually you want to embrace the message.
What Are Some Tools in Combating Brand Attacks
Every site has terms of service, those little terms that are referred to at the bottom of the site that no one ever reads. And often times when you read them you don’t understand because the whole terms of service industry is in its infancy. But Twitter, LinkedIn and a bunch of other social media sites have these terms. What you want to do if you are a brand owner that is frequently attacked is to establish relationships with these sites, which isn’t easy. It takes months. But if they know you as a trusted objector to certain kind of conduct which is objectionable, they will start building trust with you because they do want to have this stuff on their sites either. So terms of service are there for your protection.
Fan Sites: Friend or Foe
This [fan sites] is another example of when you don’t want to overreact because lots of times fan sites are your most passionate customers. And there are so many instances where brand owners see someone using their logo and maybe even selling their products on fan sites and over-respond.
There is a great example a couple of years ago that’s been much discussed on the Internet about Coke. Maybe about 5-6 years ago a couple of fellows really liked Coke. There are a lot of fan sites but they started one and that just took off on Facebook. It got like 3 million hits in a short time. And of course Coke found out about it. Instead of taking any kind of drastic measures, they invited these two fellows to come to Atlanta for a couple of days. They welcomed them to find out how these guys were doing as well as they were and how they were getting the kind of fan support. And Coke said to these fellows “continue, you are doing a great job.” Here’s some product; here’s some special invitations; here are certain things we don’t give to anybody because we want you to continue to do what you are doing. And as a result of course these impassioned Coke fans are even more so and everyone is benefiting.
So fan site are often to be embraced and even nurtured. Fan sites require a certain amount of monitoring. If they start selling your product at maybe even prices below what you want to charge then you have got to do something about that. You have got to be vigilant. But you want your customers to be your best spokesmen because they are trusted sometimes even more than your brand image and your brand marketing message. So if you can get people talking as they do every day about how wonderful sites like Facebook are, you’re home.
TRANSCRIPT of SECOND VIDEO
Trademarks Aren’t an Insurance Policy
What you have to do as well once you get that registration is protect it. Because if you sit on your rights they start to erode. That’s one of the situations and it’s really an interesting one because a trademark owner has got to, when it matters, stand up and say stop-you’re using my mark in a way that might cause some confusion among consumers about the source of the goods. You have got to pick your fights. If someone is putting your brand on products that tarnish or diminish the quality of your brand, then you probably should do something. Because you are selling at the price you wanting to get a product based on the fact that people think it is of quality. A Lexis car costs a lot more than the standard car that you buy but the parts that go into it really don’t cost that much more.
When and How to Respond to a Brand Attack
There is a really of spectrum of infringement you want to look at. On the far right of the spectrum where you shouldn’t do anything are sites that criticize yours or sometimes even parody yours or comment on yours. Because some of them are fan sites, some of them maybe are critical sites but they have the right so long as they are speaking truthfully, believe it or not as much as you may not like it, they have the right to comment just like any editorial does about the policies of the administration.
So you probably should not worry about those or at least spend your legal dollars on those. But on the far left of course are brands that are counterfeiting your product, are using your brand name on products that diminish your brand which of course can be pretty deadly for your market image.
Monitoring Your Brand
With so many different screens and areas to look at there really is no good answer to that. I am not saying you should give up but you can’t expect to monitor all of it. But what is going happen is if the brand attack is viral or serious enough you are going to hear about it. Someone is going to let you know about it whether it is one of your customers or one of PR people or whatever. Of course you can set up alerts that sometimes pick up information if your name is mentioned. But because the Internet now is such a wild west of content formation—anybody can be a publisher and a lot of people are. How can you possibly deal with not one or two or ten but millions of publishers? It’s hard.
Your suggestions about other methods of brand protection are welcome.