Most discussions about digital marketing tend to focus on things like SEO, social media, mobile, content marketing, and other tactics designed to build your brand and expand your company’s reach. These are all viable tactics, and to the extent that they’re relevant to your company, you should consider adding them to your marketing mix if you haven’t already.
But one very important question gets lost in almost every discussion about marketing today: How will you protect the brand you’re working so hard to build?
Brand Value: Your Company’s Biggest Intangible Asset
Brand value is estimated to account for about ⅓ of the stock market value for companies in the S&P 500 Index. If ⅓ of your company’s value were traced to the brands that it owns, it would likely be one of your greatest intangible assets. Certainly, any shift in its value to the negative would be something that should be avoided. Not just by marketing. But by any executive charged with the financial well-being of the company.
The Missing Ingredient: Brand Protection
As you know, the marketing team is responsible for managing every aspect of its company’s brands. This includes keeping them safe from harm. Yet, in the understandable rush to build their brands, most marketing professionals forget to devote the needed time and resources to fortify their brands against the many threats they face in today’s digital marketplace.
In this post, we’ll discuss what some of these threats are, and how you can start taking steps today to protect your brand from becoming their victims.
Answer These Questions to Check Your Brand Protection Preparedness
When you hear the term “brand protection,” you probably think about trademarks, copyrights, and other legal tools to keep your company’s intellectual property safe. And although these are certainly important components of a broader brand protection strategy, they do nothing to address many of the most common threats facing your brand right now.
To understand what I mean, ask yourself these questions:
- What processes do you have to monitor your customer reviews across the web and respond to feedback?
Brands that sell through distribution:
- What is your company’s strategy for preventing unauthorized sellers from acquiring and selling your products online? (Do you have any such strategy in place?)
- What processes do you have to monitor the web for grey-market sellers, counterfeiters, or other retailers selling your branded products despite having no relationship with you (and, often, in ways that might violate your brand or resale policies)?
- How do you train your in-house employees to deal with violations they find in your resale channel? (Do you have any such staff training in place?)
- Do you have a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) or other reseller pricing policy? And if so, are you effectively and consistently enforcing it?
All of these questions raise important issues about threats to your company’s brands, threats few marketers and entrepreneurs spend much preparing for, or even time thinking about.
But if you give these questions just a moment’s thought, I’ll bet you can see how failing to aggressively and consistently address issues such as unauthorized sellers, reseller pricing violations, and mounting negative reviews can significantly damage your brand over time.
With those threats in mind, here are some brand protection strategies you should implement as soon as possible.
Four Important Steps to Protect Your Brand Online
1. Establish an Authorized Dealer Program
If you sell through a resale channel, unethical retailers or grey marketers pose a serious and ongoing threat to your brand.
That’s because if these sellers get their hands on your inventory (which they often do using some sort of scam), they’re far more likely than your honorable retail partners to mislead customers or otherwise create a lousy buying experience for your products. And even though you had nothing directly to do with these lousy experiences, they could still harm your brand’s reputation.
To combat this problem, create an Authorized Dealer Program where you have a clear application process, establish which retailers have permission to sell your products and supply supporting assets, often through a dealer portal to successfully enable them
2. Create Distribution Agreements that Limit Where Your Wholesale Partners May Sell Your Inventory
Authorized Dealer Program will help you limit distribution “leaks” only to the
extent that everyone in your network knows where they are allowed to sell and
where they aren’t.
This means you should also craft agreements with your distributors or wholesalers, demanding they sell your inventory only to those sellers on your approved list—and establishing serious consequences for violating this agreement and selling to unauthorized parties.
You will also need to train your in-house employees—your sales department, eCommerce team, customer support reps, etc.—that they may release your inventory only to the dealers on your approved lists. Innocent mistakes or even intentional shenanigans from companies’ own employees are a common source of distribution leaks that lead to brand damage.
3. Draft and Publish a MAP Policy
To this point I’ve been focusing on the risks of unauthorized retailers acquiring your inventory and reselling it in ways that could hurt your brand. The truth is, your legitimate resale partners can also do things that cause your company serious brand damage.
For example, what if one of your authorized retailers decides to undersell its competitors by significantly dropping its advertised prices of your inventory online? The retailer knows that savvy shoppers can easily do price comparisons on the web, and the company might be able to lure new customers this way—even if they sell your products at a loss.
If your other authorized resellers see this happening, and also notices your company failing to act, they might feel compelled to drop their own prices—if only to offload the rest of your inventory.
Now you’ve got a price war, and online price erosion sends a dangerous signal to the market about a brand and even the health of the company behind it.
For these reasons , your company should prioritize developing a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policy, or a different type of reseller policy that might be a better fit for your company’s situation. You should then roll this new pricing policy out to your entire resale channel.
4. Deploy an Automated System to Monitor the Web for Rogue Sellers, Pricing Violations, Bad Reviews, and Other Brand Threats
Finally, few if any of the steps I’ve outlined to this point will do you much good if you don’t also have a mechanism in place for keeping a constant eye on the digital landscape to spot threats to your brand.
If you’re not monitoring for it, you might never know that a couple of your wholesalers are selling your inventory to unauthorized 3rd party sellers. You might also fail to make the connection between these rogue sellers and the terrible customer reviews piling up across several online marketplaces.
And you almost certainly won’t realize this: Because your wholesalers are violating your distribution agreement, and because the shady retailers buying your inventory from them are then misleading end-user customers, and because those customers are writing angry reviews and giving your products 1- or no-star ratings, you’re also losing some of your most trusted and lucrative retail partners.
So, to prevent this snowball effect that can lead to major brand damage, you’ll also need a system in place to help you monitor the entire web at all times—24/7/365—to look for the many ongoing threats to your brand. Threats like:
- Rogue sellers listing your products without your
- Your official resale partners violating your resale
or branding policies, whether it’s misusing your IP or violating pricing
- Counterfeiters selling phony versions of your
products under your brand’s name
- Retailers selling knock-off versions of your
- A growing trend of negative customer reviews
Ideally, your automated brand protection solution will then help you take the appropriate next steps if it encounters any of these problems. This could mean issuing automated warning notices to violators, documenting the offenses for potential legal action, sending alerts to the right people within your company when a one-star review comes in, etc.
Brand Protection Is a Must-Have in Your Marketing Plan
As I hope this article makes clear, building your brand without a well-thought-out plan for protecting that brand at all times is a dangerous gamble.
Any one of the threats I’ve outlined here—an online price war among your resellers, a rogue seller diverting customers from your authorized retail partners, etc.—can cause major harm to your brand’s reputation, a loss of public trust, and damage to your relationships with key retailers.
That’s why I strongly advise that you begin taking the steps I’ve outlined above. But whichever strategies you decide to implement, the most important takeaway I want you to get from this post is that it’s time to give brand protection the attention and resources it deserves in your marketing plan.
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