Checking Off Your Brand Protection Back-to-School List

While kids are enjoying summer break and sleepovers with friends, parents are going online to search for deals for back-to-school essentials. In fact, eMarketer estimates that 2015 back-to-school e-commerce spending will reach $56.35 billion.  While consumers are looking for cool deals during these sweltering summer months, it is a hot time for counterfeiters to masquerade as legitimate purveyors of students' school supply and apparel needs.

Insight on how back-to-school shoppers are motivated and their purchasing patterns on legitimate sites is important for brands as they evolve their e-commerce strategies. But where brands can miss out is by overlooking customers who are searching for bargains and end up being duped by sites selling counterfeit goods. A recent study offers insight into the motivation of the consumers that are interacting with rogue sites while seeking legitimate goods.

Over the span of eight months, the brand protection team at MarkMonitor examined consumer purchase intent and demographics for online shoppers who were shopping  for fashion and apparel. The study surveyed nearly 9 million shopping sessions and focused on the search terms employed to understand shoppers' motivation. The study classified keywords such as "cheap," "discount" or "outlet" as bargain-hunting terms and keywords like "counterfeit," "fake" or "replica" as fake-seeking terms. The researchers then examined the aggregated traffic for shoppers using both sets of terms to see if the shoppers visited sites selling legitimate merchandise or rogue sites.

The study found that the number of bargain-hunters outnumbered fake-seekers 28 to 1, but that one out of every 10 deal-seekers was waylaid by rogue sites. Unfortunately, the ratio of consumers duped by the increasing sophistication of online counterfeiters was even higher, with one out of every six shoppers showing intent to purchase when visiting a rogue site. For brands, that number represents a missed source of business and loss of revenue as the bargain hunters were seeking legitimate goods but found fakes instead.

The report also found that there is some possible relief for companies weary of seeing their brands hijacked.  MarkMonitor analysts examined the bargain-hunting traffic to rogue sites in the study and divided the brands that were clicked upon into "litigating" and "non-litigating" based on public records of brands' litigation against counterfeiters.  The findings? Brands that had not engaged in litigation attracted more clicks on rogue sites than brands that had litigated actively against counterfeiters.  In other words, more bargain hunters visited rogue sites featuring brands that were not actively targeting counterfeiters in digital channels.

While not definitive, the analysis indicates that active enforcement efforts, including litigation, can be highly effective in deterring consumers' ability to find fake goods online. This is good news for brand owners and deserves further study.

In the digital world, the impact of brand abuse is instantaneous and brand luster can be hard to restore once compromised. Here are some practical tips for  marketing and e-commerce professionals  who want to prevent brandjackers from coming between their brand and their customersr:
  • Buy search keywords such as "discount," "outlet" and other bargain-related terms, and point brand-seekers to sale items on your site or to appropriate retailers. Also, closely monitor these search terms to ensure that brandjackers are not siphoning your potential customers away from your brand.
  • Monitor for the existence of domain names with these bargain-related terms such as or and recover those names that are receiving significant traffic. Point recovered domain names to landing pages that educate consumers on your company's philosophy on discounting. Today's aspirational customer may be tomorrow's loyal buyer.
  • Consider the effect that the expanded domain name system will have as new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .discount continue to be rolled out.
While these tactics won't prevent counterfeiters from targeting your brand, they can insulate your brand from some of the more common methods used by brandjackers. However, the key to an effective brand protection strategy is vigilance, effective prioritization and consistent enforcement. By taking these steps, companies will be better equipped to forge closer relationships with customers, increase brand loyalty and position themselves for a continued positive return on investment in the digital world.

Elisa Cooper is a vice president of product marketing for MarkMonitor. Over the last 12 years, she has worked closely with Fortune 1000 corporations to define and develop market leading domain management and brand protection solutions. Cooper also serves as a senior domain name consultant working with corporations on portfolio consolidations, domain name strategy and online brand protection.

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