Lee Odden

A Brand is Worth Protecting

Companies large and small spend significant proportions of their revenue on branding efforts as well as those things that influence customer perception of brand like product development, support and customer service.

While there is debate about who “owns” a brand, the company or it’s customers, partners and employees, it can be agreed that there is tremendous value and equity in a company’s brand. Something of value is worth protecting especially when it contributes to the livelihood of all the employees of the company and their families.

In the past week I’ve presented on online reputation management both for Public Relations and and Direct Marketing audiences and it’s reminded me of how important it is to protect a brand whether it’s new or established.

Not long ago I came accross a few web sites using the same and similar names to our own trademarked name. Upon contacting one company, it turned out they were no longer a company and ended up selling the domain name to us – a mutually beneficial outcome.

Another situation proved to be a bit more concerning. The same individual had multiple versions of the same site on different urls, some redirecting with 302. Some were on domain names and others were domain names pointing to a frame with the actual site was hosted on a third party domain. With the cheap price of hosting these days, who does that anymore?

Many of the pages used keyword stuffing and it was obviously a network of sites to promote a SEO consulting practice as well as promotion of their clients.

Maybe it was not exactly against search engines terms of use and webmaster guidelines, but it was/is certainly very sloppy and unprofessional. These pages/sites use multiple identities including a name very similar or exactly like our own.

What impression would a prospective client get when Googling your company and finding sloppy, near spammy web pages from some other company/individual that include references to your trademarked brand name?

It’s concerning enough that a name very similar to our trademark was being used but the use was inconsistent and in a way that hardly contributed to the brand of those promoting it, let alone our own. A company’s brand and trademark(s) are worth protecting for the sake of employees, clients, prospective clients and the future of the company.

To enforce trademark use at large like some big companies do is one thing, but to protect the brand experience of your potential customers in a situation so sloppy like the one above is reasonable by all definitions.

In our case, we contacted the subject individually for a reasonable outcome without success. The follow up was done via attorney which has made some progress towards removing trademark references. We continue to monitor and will address each situation individually.

It’s important that any company that is investing in it’s brand make the effort to monitor their company, brand, product and executive names online. Free services like Google Alerts and RSS feeds of search results are a good start for collecting raw data. For advanced analysis and measures of influence and sentiment, premium tools like Radian6, BuzzLogic, Collective Intellect, Cymfony and Converseon are the next step.

As for the situation described above, I am not listing this company/consultant or linking to the numerous live and archived examples we’ve taken screen shots of because I have no interest in further promoting them or having them benefit from all the work TopRank puts into promoting the search marketing industry via speaking, blogging and publishing articles.

What I am interested in is hearing from our valued Online Marketing Blog readers about copyright, brand protection and trademark enforcement situations experienced online. What situations can you share that describe others’ use of your branded names and what did you do about it?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Comments

  1. This is a very interesting issue that I would like to hear more about. I have yet to run into this problem, but it seems like there needs to more public awareness surrounding this topic. I liked the visual aid you used to help display your information to the reader. This blog is always nicely written and I can’t wait to read more of your work!

  2. Great post Lee. Reminded me of something going on in my industry for a while. There’s a company that has the reverse keywords of my brand (xo versus ox). I was in the bar at a conference once when a guy came up to me all annoyed saying he’s been paying my company every month for years and I don’t even give him the time of day. You should’ve seen his face when I let them know it wasn’t my company he was paying. He’s now a client. The lesson for me was to never take our brand status for granted, and continually educate our clients, as well as potential clients potential clients, as to who we are and what we do.

  3. Michael, that’s a great story!

    We’ve had something similar where some other company in Oregon was doing snake oil SEO and when people Googled them, our site was #1. Calls came in mistaking us for them, but at least one turned into a client.

  4. Kevin Joy says:

    Nice article Michael. For a change, an article has been written about online reputation management which deals primarily with the impact to customer experience created by a variety of illicit activities. I need to point out though that the companies that you listed deal only with monitoring online discussions and not the traffic diversion, unauthorized association and other types of schemes you referred to. That takes a whole different set of tools to both find and then filter the data retrieved and then to have the capabilities to take action against the source.

  5. This sounds like a simple thing to stay on top of, but we had a client forget to renew her domain. Granted, her focus was on her offline business activities before we started working with her (she didn’t think the internet mattered for her biz). So, while she had grabbed her business name URL, she didn’t build a site, or focus on it. After a year had passed, she slacked off on her Web site. But as here offline business grew, and people started searching for her on the web, and someone not so nice was paying attention. An individual snagged her URL (her name, which is the company name) and now it is an ugly, linky, spammy page. We had to get different URLs and do lots of SEO work to get around that page. The owner of her namesake URL wanted too much money.
    So, while we are all familiar with the Web and using the internet is akin to breathing, there are still people out there for whom this stuff is all new. They are people with successful businesses and brands. But things like this still happen.

  6. Lee, almost all brands are worth protecting. But many people don’t know it is a self-protection process. There are no brand police or trademark police per se (though there are good companies to assist). What some of your article and the related comments are missing, it is not about online web names. Domain law is governed by trademark law. While your own website often uses TopRank® correctly I see no emphasis that TopRank is a registered trademark of Misukanis & Odden (the registered owners). At least then a Google search would show it is a registered TM more specifically.. even if they did not check with the USPTO.
    Also, this is the kind of name we call an “early move advantage name”. You registered the name early in the evolution of a marketplace… today it would be almost called a generic (and therefore not protectable) in the search engine space services space, so you have your work cut out for you – especially because someone separately already has a valid registered trademark on TopRank in the software category. But good names are always worth fighting for!

  7. Am new to the site but it defiantly hits my wheelhouse. Protecting your brand is pinnacle. Especial on the web where ideas and position in this space are so fast moving. Your brand is your equity; you need to build your “brand equity” in as many ways as possible. The web is continuing to evolve so the need to protect continues to be expanded. One of the newer spaces we are advising clients to protect is in mobile short codes. We believe as search grows and as people by default are typing in .com names, some day in the near future the same will be happening with short codes.

    Looking forward to additional articles in the near future, as I am enjoying your site. Thank you as well for allowing me to put my two cents in regarding mobile.

  8. Hi,

    Feedback…not sure what went wrong but DIGG would not let me save your post.

    Here is there message…

    This URL has been widely reported by users as being regularly used to spam Digg’s submission process and cannot be submitted at this time.

  9. Tom At The Home Business Archive says:

    It´s hard work building up a brand, and then to maintain it is even harder.With SEO, you really do not have to buy any optimization services for thousands of dollars.All it takes is getting into blogging and using web2.0 techniques.

  10. Karan Bhatia says:

    Should one worry a lot over spammy shabby looking pages trying to cash in your trademark words? There would be lots of them burgeoning on web,but I would worry only if its happening on a magnitude which warrants attention because of prospective clients going in their direction.

  11. Carlos, Digg won’t accept any submissions from this blog. See this post for why – “Hypocrisy of Digg and Spam“. Complete idiocy.

  12. I agree completely on this Lee, even as professionals in the SEO and PR space this stuff sometimes slides by us. There is a very congested area of reputation being developed online and it is very hard to control all the permutations of how brand may be infected/corrupted/abused.

    Yesterday I wrote an article in preparation for a presentation I was doing in Seattle regarding the “Top 100 Companies to Work For” in Washington. Many of them on the list had online brand problems with a very quick check on Google.
    “Online Reputation Control, Branding, Insurance, or blind-luck?“

    One trend I am also seeing more and more of is singular professionals having brand control issues in search results thanks to companies like Namyz, Linkedin, Intelius, and many other profiling sites populating organic search with census data or purchasing names in massive PPC campaigns.

    I’m also in the strange boat of having dozens of “social media” keyphrase domains for having some like-minded trademark issues… but then again I chose the keywords in the domain for specific SEO reasons and hope everyone uses the trademarked word combinations. I also own all the trademarks, and love the fact that it puts me on the front lines of the trademark/branding/seo battle front.

  13. dhurowitz says:

    this is not only an issue for corporation but for individuals as well. You can literally loose control of you own name if you do not do some simple thing to protect yourself. It is ming numbing that you have to SEO your self to “keep” your own name on the web.

  14. A brand is something that takes a lot of work in order to ensure that it is what you want it to be. Yes a brand is worth protecting, but you must make sure that the points you want to express are done so clearly and effectively. A brand is something you will improve on over the course of its existence so take time to make sure you get it right.

  15. We have spent a significant amount of time developing our brand and it has paid off. We also specifically employed a SEO team to help reach our goals and appear within the first page of google with the keywords we wanted. It has taken time but anything worth doing does take time and the same applies to a brand.

  16. Dan Cupak says:

    Protecting your brand has always been paramount. Today’s web universe has made it even more so, and more difficult to control. With domain law based on trademark law, the often spotty history of trademark enforcement is even more problematic on the Internet. The legal system is woefully behind the curve on this one.

  17. It is tricky to maintain a brand name online and not have it subjected to copyright problems or defamation. As a company or an individual, we can’t really control what others’ action that can potentially harm us no matter how much we try to prevent it.

    I guess the best thing is to be consistent…to look out for harmful information or reviews and deal with it in the best manner possible.

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