Being cold and ruthless against 3rd parties who seek to in some way damage your brand, either financially or reputation, does not mean waging world war three.
With finite resources and shrinking budgets mixed with the ever growing problem of online counterfeit, it is necessary for brands to take a strategic approach to enforcement.
Inconsistency, over-focussing on random instances of counterfeit and managing issues as opposed to strategically deploying resources to hotspots are some of the common reasons why brands online brand protection program fail (which I define as not achieving a reasonable decrease in the number of online infringements, commensurate to the effort invested).
While I have seen brands aggressively go after specific infringers, which in some cases have lead to arrests, seizures and and successful litigation, overall these efforts have failed to decrease the larger counterfeit problem or discourage new infringers from popping up.
Have a clear plan of attack before jumping into the problem
For many brands the pure volume of infringing content means that it is difficult to know where to start. Brand protection resources are having manage a ever increasing enforcement case loads and feedback I have received suggests that many feel they are just putting out spot fires and only scratching the surface of the issue.
Enforcement strategy and management are not the same. At times, some of the basic questions that should underpin online brand protection programs are absent.
Where do we focus?
How do we win?
“where do we focus?” refers to “what channels or platforms should our business be actively enforcing in?” Usually, a simple audit will identify where on the internet the biggest problem is . “How do we win” means “what takedown techniques will we deploy to maximise our enforcement outcomes”.
Like with every investment, you need to know whether your plan of attack is working? Good reporting should be a part of any program that shows the number of unauthorised sellers, listings, products on a month by month basis.
Each month represents an opportunity to review your plan attack, goals against progress. It also allows the business to review new data or issues that were not incorporated into original plan.
I recommend structured monthly meetings with the key internal stakeholders to review outcome progress, discuss any specific infringement cases, new data or changing priorities. These meetings are a great mechanism to keep your plan on track, keep everyone informed of outputs and outcomes and avoid distractions.
Remove distractions and stick to the plan
A typical brand protection manager is analytical, passionate about the integrity of their brand and cautious to a tee, but the one quality that is most common is that they are all over-worked.
The sources of distraction that causes some brands to focus on random issues are usually from senior managers, sales and marketing teams or the wider supply chain who are made aware of specific counterfeit websites or marketplace listings. When these random cases gain internal momentum it is difficult to ignore them.
To avoid feeling like a candle in the wind, having a structured plan of attack and making the wider business aware of it, combined with regular progress updates, will reduce the likelihood of random requests throwing you off plan.
I am not saying ignore internal feedback, but your monthly review meetings are the appropriate mechanisms to assess new threats and prfioritize them accordingly. This will keep your program on course to achieve its goals. If other managers or teams want to influence where resource are invested, invite them to attend these meetings.
A lack of enforcement consistency is what really impedes online brand protection programs from achieving success. The concept that anti-counterfeiting is a whack-a-mole game is the love child of inconsistent enforcement efforts and under-resourced brand protection programs.
It is true that if you take a counterfeit listing down, there is a good chance that it will re-appear days later. However, it needs to be remembered that most marketplace listings are ranked by a number factors including popularity, age and customer engagement.
When a seller loses a high ranking listing due to an enforcement action they need to start from scratch, regardless of what user ID they may use, and when the sales stop coming in because their listings can’t gain traction they move onto more profitable brands and products.
Consistent enforcement is the most potent enforcement tool against infringers, period.
Appropriate Fundings and Resources
Your goals need to be grounded and kept within your budget parameters. I wrote a post recently about dwindling budgets and increased demand for action There is increasing pressure on trademark departments to increase enforcement activity with less budget, forcing many teams to conduct international reorganisations in a bid to control enforcement costs.
A structured approach to online brand protection, including a solid plan of attack will certainly optimise your efforts, but there are obvious limits here. It is important that Brand Protection Managers are given the resources commensurate to the problem and the outcomes the business wants to see. The most effective programs that I have worked with had structure and focussed brand protection programs, but were also appropriately funded.
Being ruthless against counterfeiters does not necessarily mean being aggressive; rather it can result from being clear about your plan of attack and clinical in its execution. It is important to apply consistent enforcement effort against counterfeiters, commensurate to the problem and try not to get sidetracked by issues that stray from your agreed plan of attack. Lastly, remember to review your progress and make the appropriate pivots to ensure you are optimising results for the business.