CMOs have a lot of irons in the fire. Driving demand, launching products and promotions, gathering market requirements, monitoring the competitive landscape, and optimizing the marketing mix may seem like plenty -- but overlaying each of these responsibilities is our role as guardian of the brand.
The advent and growth of the online world has permanently altered these functions, and none quite so much as brand stewardship. In fact, the online world brought a new dimension to traditional brand stewardship, namely brand protection.
Why? Scammers, fraudsters, and outright criminals realize, as we do, that the best way to draw web traffic is with a well-known brand. They've mastered the art and science of web design, SEO, search advertising, and web promotion. They've built professional-appearing websites and applied best practices in ecommerce. Adept at optimizing their own online marketing mix, they use ecommerce and online auctions to reach individual buyers, and B2B exchange sites to reach those looking for bulk purchases.
Why be content with the local street corner when the whole world can be your marketplace on the internet?
Couple the reach of the internet with its anonymity and there is an irresistible money-making lure for scammers. All they need is your brand to pull in the traffic, and they're in business. Your business. Your traffic is diverted, your ecommerce revenue is affected, your customers are disappointed, your reputation suffers, and your brand bears the brunt.
Taking an active role in protecting your brand online has never been more important for the CMO. It's a big topic, and an important one. Here are five areas you can (and should) address right now.
No. 1: Fighting traffic diversion
Traffic diversion is at the heart of online brand abuse. Scammers and fraudsters use online marketing toolkits that look similar to that of a legitimate marketer. Much of their work focuses on search, with their methods falling into two broad categories: Boosting search results by combining SEO and cybersquatting, and the practice of using trademarked terms to which the squatter has no rights in a domain name. The second category is taking advantage of search advertising, especially now that some of the major search engines have loosened restrictions on use of branded terms in ad copy and keywords.
Traffic diversion dilutes your marketing investments, cuts your response rates, and steals conversions right from under your nose. Your shopping carts are lighter than they should be, and the power of your own brand to drive traffic and build business online is being used against you.
The numbers are sobering. Industry-wide, $13 billion is spent on search marketing. HitWise found that 14 percent of branded searches go somewhere other than the brand owner's site. Put these facts together, and we find that up to $1.8 billion of the industry's search budget is being diverted.
Do the math on your search marketing budget and see the effect that traffic diversion is having on your marketing dollars. Factor in the conversions to buyers or sales leads that you would have seen on that traffic, and you'll see the amount of revenue that is being lost. Traffic, customers, and revenue that by rights should be yours are being diverted.
With increasing demands for accountability and marketing ROI, it's essential to address the problem of traffic diversion. It may be the single most important thing you do this year.
No. 2: Keeping ecommerce channels clean and compliant
Sales of counterfeit and grey market goods are growing online. Our estimates peg the size of the counterfeit market online at $137 billion. This hurts more than a brand holder's bottom line -- it damages consumer confidence as well as brand loyalty and may even open the door to product liability issues. How much is your brand (and your revenue) at risk? To find out, try thinking like today's price-conscious shopper. Go online and search for "cheap brand X," or "deals on brand X" where brand X is your very own.
You'll likely see results from online auction sites, B2B exchanges, and individual ecommerce sites. How many of these are legitimate outlets for the sale of your brand? How many are actually selling your brand rather than a knock-off or a competitor's brand? If you have an affiliate program, are those sites obeying the rules? Are they compliant about using your logo or representing their relationship with your brand?
Counterfeits are nothing new; manufacturers of quality products have always sought to protect their good name and value. But before the internet's rise, scammers had only the local street corner, the sleazy section of town, or a flea market to sell their fake wares. Advertising, if any, was limited to word-of-mouth or an ambiguously worded ad in a local paper. But online is different. Scammers have the world as a marketplace. Just as legitimate businesses use the internet to expand markets and realize economies of scale, so do the scammers.
This widespread abuse can seem overwhelming, but it's a problem borne of technology that can in turn be solved by technology. Technology can locate the offenders, prioritize the most egregious cases, and even help you automate and track enforcement actions. Visibly defended brands become less desirable targets for scammers and counterfeiters. Make fighting ecommerce abuse a priority.
No. 3: Defend your brand in social media
We all know of successful case studies in social media and brand management. Best practices to reach the Holy Grail of customer engagement, identify influencers, and measure sentiment are plentiful. Brands have shown marked success in incorporating social media feedback into product design and strategy as well as improving customer service and brand loyalty.
But there's one angle that hasn't had as much discussion: brand abuse in social media.
In this emerging category, the abuser is taking advantage of your well-known brand to drive traffic to their page, channel, feed, or website. Sometimes it's an over-eager affiliate who doesn't understand the rules about promoting their relationship or the use of the corporate logo. Sometimes it's a "mom and pop shop" that tries to ride on the coattails of a national brand by falsely associating their local business with that brand. In some cases, the intent is more malicious as the scammer exploits trusted relationships or the name recognition of a brand to collect passwords and other personally identifiable information for further nefarious purposes.
In any case, your loyal customers can be confused or sidetracked. The fact that it's happening in less-structured social media doesn't diminish the potential damage; in fact, because of the viral nature of social media, the damage can be even more widespread than in other forms of online abuse.
Leading social network sites have Terms of Service that cover these types of masqueraders. After all, it's in their interests that their sites are safe for users, and that the community isn't exposed to deception, scams, or outright fraud. The social network sites will have a link available for reporting these abuses and are usually very quick to resolve them. And, as with other forms of online abuse, the well-defended brand is less prone to attack. Scammers will simply find it easier to identify other, less vigilant targets.
No. 4: The new landscape in domain names: Start planning now
Sometime next year, the emergence of a new type of top-level domain (TLD) will represent significant opportunities for marketers. No longer restricted to ".com" or ".biz" or the other existing TLDs, companies will be able to acquire and manage their own TLDs, such as a ".brand" or a vanity domain.
With a ".brand," web surfers and search engines will be able to find your online venues more quickly and easily -- netting you better-qualified traffic and improved ROI. You may also share your brand's TLD real estate with partners, dealers, affiliates, and even user and fan communities.
Along with this privilege comes a number of critical tasks, so you'll want to begin your education and strategic efforts right away, whether you want your own ".brand" TLD or not.
First, there will be contention for some domains, which will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. What if a famous rock band and a maker of construction components vie for ".doors" - or how about a fruit growers cooperative and a well-known European telecommunications company? What about your product category? Do you want to explain to your board of directors why your competitor got the "dot category" for your line of business and your company didn't?
Plan for substantial costs, as well. Applying for and launching a simple domain may cost $500,000, with another $350,000 in annual operational outlays. More complex domains may be much more costly.
Whether you think you'll apply for a ".brand" or not, start building your strategy now. Weigh the potential costs and benefits, and plan for monitoring ".brand" applications so you can object if someone tries to misuse your brand or lay claim to it. Once these new TLDs begin to proliferate, the opportunities for abuse of your brand will multiply rapidly, so plan to get help with automated monitoring and response.
No. 5: Traffic direction: Pair a good offense with your good defense
Fighting traffic diversion, discussed previously, will always be a necessity. But why not work aggressively to make your own online properties the easiest, most obvious places for users to go?
You can start by simply lighting up the path with a strategy for traffic direction. Show your customers how to reach your official Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social network accounts, so your customers are always sure that they are interacting with you, not an imposter. Publish this information prominently on your own sites.
Also, be sure customers know what communications they can expect from you, and give them an easy way to report imposters who send suspicious email or other messages. State clearly that you'll never ask for sensitive information, and that you follow other best practices. Making these policies easy to find and understand will build customer trust.
If counterfeits are a problem for your brand, educate your customers on what you are doing to solve the problem. Provide a means for them to help you stamp out fakes by reporting suspicious sites and stores to you via an online form.
You can also turn negatives into positives by taking advantage of domains you've reclaimed from cybersquatters. Point those URLs to the appropriate pages on your own sites, and let that formerly diverted traffic point squarely at your brand.
Bringing it all together: Your brand protection strategy
Any of the five strategies discussed above can help protect your brand, reputation, and revenue online. Combined with the others, each becomes even more effective. You'll see the fruits of your labors in more web traffic, more loyal customers, and a higher ROI for your marketing investments.