By Andrew Schydlowsky
When you hear the phrase “brand protection,” what comes to mind?
Having spoken to hundreds of manufacturing-industry professionals and brand owners about this topic, I can tell you that most businesses assume the concept refers primarily to trademarks, safeguarding a product’s intellectual property, and preventing counterfeiters. Those are certainly important steps to take, but they represent only a small portion of what it means to protect your brand.
What Is Your Brand, Exactly, and Why Is It So Valuable?
The reason so many businesses misunderstand brand protection is that their concept of a brand is far too narrow. A brand is a lot more than just a company’s products or intellectual property. It’s also more than marketing campaigns, a product’s unique packaging, and the color-scheme of the company’s website. In reality, your brand is the sum-total of the public’s perception of your company and your products.
What do people think and feel when they encounter your products or hear your company’s name? Does the public trust your company? Have you built such positive relationships and goodwill with customers that they’ll go out of their way to find your products, and even pay more for them, rather than buy from one of your competitors? The answer to those questions—that’s your brand!
This is why millions of Apple customers willingly, even eagerly, pay a premium for an iMac or iPhone, even though there are many less expensive options. It’s why parents can confidently take their kids to a Disney movie without worrying the content will be inappropriate. And it’s why we start our web searches at google.com. These companies have repeatedly delivered on their promises and, as a result, they’ve earned our trust. That’s what creates a strong brand and loyal customers.
4 Ways You Might Be Failing to Protect Your Brand
Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to damage or even destroy a brand than it is to build one. One negative media story, a single business decision that upsets customers and weakens the public’s trust, or even allowing the wrong retailer to sell your products—all of these missteps can hurt your brand’s value.
In other words, your business can’t afford to view your brand too narrowly, or you risk making serious brand protection mistakes like these.
1. Failing to control your supply chain and resale network.
Often what harms a company’s brand isn’t the result of anything the company itself does directly. It’s how that company’s supply chain partners—its distributors, wholesalers, and retailers—conduct their businesses and treat the company’s customers.
Are your distributors selling your inventory only to retailers or other distributors your company knows and trusts? Or are they careless about where they distribute your products, maybe even selling to shady retailers who will violate your company’s branding and pricing guidelines when they advertise your products online?
One step to effective brand protection is to implement policies—such as an Authorized Dealer Program—that give you better control over and visibility into what happens to your products as they travel through your distribution channels.
2. Failing to develop and enforce a reseller pricing policy.
One of the fastest ways to ruin your brand is to allow any retailer to advertise and sell your products for any prices it wants. That will quickly lead to a price war among your retail partners, particularly online where it’s so easy for savvy shoppers to compare prices.
As customers start seeing your products’ prices across the Internet going down, down, down, you can expect your brand’s reputation to head in the same direction.
Which is why one mission-critical element of any brand protection strategy is to draft, publish, and aggressively enforce a reseller pricing policy—a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policy, for example. This can help you avoid resale price erosion, angry retail partners, and the many other problems that can result when resellers don’t have to adhere to a price floor for your products.
3. Failing to monitor your product reviews at all times.
Another threat all brands face today is negative reviews. According to research cited in the New York Post, 97% of online shoppers say customer reviews influence their purchase decisions.
With that in mind, can you see how much harm your brand could suffer if a slew of lousy reviews start amassing alongside your products on sites like Amazon.com?
It’s also important to keep in mind that negative customer reviews might in many cases not be complaints about your products at all, but instead about how customers felt misled or mistreated by the retailer who sold it to them, or about how frustrating it was when the delivery company threw the product carelessly on their doorstep.
This is why a smart brand protection strategy must include online review tracking. It must also include a plan both for dealing with any issues (bad retailers, problem shipping partners, counterfeit items, etc.) that these reviews uncover, and for addressing negative reviews directly by reaching out to the reviewers directly to make things right.
4. Failing to communicate to everyone at your company the importance of protecting your brand.
Finally, it’s important to remember that no individual at your company can take sole responsibility for protecting your brand. Brand protection has to be a companywide initiative.
That means training your in-house sales staff on how to avoid letting your products fall into the hands of incompetent retail partners or even sellers who have no official relationship with your company and no business selling your products in the first place.
It also means training everyone in your organization to be vigilant about safeguarding your brand in whatever ways their specific roles will allow them to do that. (Hint: Everyone in every department will have a part to play in protecting your brand.)
And it means regularly reminding everyone at your company—including yourself—that your brand represents one of the most valuable assets your company owns, and taking these extra steps to protect it at all times is more than worth the effort.