How to Protect Your Brand(s)

As I have stated elsewhere, your brands are valuable assets to your current and future business success – a fact supported by research showing that the majority of customers prefer to purchase products and services from brands they know and trust (Nielsen, 2015).

It’s no surprise, then, that companies invest resources in building their brands. But it’s just as important to proactively protect your brand. You don’t want to be spending a fortune on recovery efforts after your brand has been compromised.

In that vein, here are some of the most important ways to keep your brands safe.

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1. Seek legal protections. Make sure you have registered your brand names and logos with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov). Copyright your most important and distinctive product/service descriptions, computer code and other original work (videos, images) at the U.S. Copyright Office (https://copyright.gov). And if you have unique methods and techniques, consider pursuing patent protection for those (https://www.uspto.gov). If you operate beyond U.S. territories, you will need to seek legal protection for your brands in all markets in which you operate or plan to operate (see WIPO). Hire competent legal support for anything more than the simplest tasks here. The cost is not worth the aggravation and distraction of trying to do this all on your own. You should also be using a good nondisclosure agreement (NDA) as a regular matter of course. An NDA is a great way to shield your company from having business partners, contractors and customers compromise your brand’s unique and proprietary processes/practices with competitors. And to prevent serious loss of your intellectual property if a competitor poaches any of your employees, you should have your employees and freelancers sign the NDA as well.

2. Vigorously defend your legal rights. Just because you may have registered your legal rights doesn’t mean you can move on and forget about them. You have the obligation to defend those rights, lest the U.S. Patent and Trademark office or U.S. Copyright Office determines your lack of effort constitutes a forfeiture of your rights. Do this by monitoring new trademark applications and look for unregistered infringements against your rights, like other companies in your space using your or a very similar name or logo. Develop brand guidelines to ensure employees and partners are not creating ambiguity around your registered rights that may end up hurting your ability to defend those rights. You may even consider publishing brand usage guidelines on your website so that external users of your brand marks and content understand how to use what you allow to be used, as well as what you do not allow. You may also want to seek extra protection of your Web content (e.g., images, videos, text, audio) through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), but take care not to fall to the temptation and use DMCA to remove negative brand comments – you should deal with those properly. DMCA services are available at https://www.dmca.com.

3. Acquire related brand “real estate.” Besides the domain for your company, you should purchase all reasonable variations and point them to your company domain, including .org and .net versions of your .com domain. You don’t want someone scooping those domains up and watering down the salience of your domain, or attempt to sell them to you at an exaggerated rate. You should also claim all relevant social media handles and directory listings. Services like Knowem and Yext make this easier and strengthen your brand with search engines as well.

4. Bid on your own name. Although search engines like Google do not allow your competitors to use your brand name in their pay-per-click ads (report them to the search engine if they do), they can legally bid on your name. Therefore, you should consider allocating a bit of budget to protecting your name and keywords on search engines to keep competitors from showing up in the top ad position on Page 1 when someone is searching for your brand.

5. Monitor the competition. For insights on what online marketing strategies your competitors are pursuing (organic and paid search, most profitable keywords they are using, etc.), utilize any number of available services like SEMrush or SpyFu. Also, do some detective work every so often and check out how you look to a prospect by searching your brand and competitor brands by using an anonymous proxy site. Set up Google Alerts for your competitors to track press releases and mentions around the Web.

Protect your brand-building investments by following these steps.

Your brand is probably your most valuable asset. Treat it as such.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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