Brand Protection is an aspect of online marketing that is often overlooked. To be clear, reputation management is not what I am talking about in this post. What I’m talking about is the strategy of using paid search and/or SEO to crowd out competitors who are using the brand name of your company or product as part of their online marketing efforts. The truth is that in certain industries, brand protection is an essential component of a healthy online marketing strategy and if you are not working to crowd out competitors targeting your brand, you are losing customers. The more upsetting news is that those potential customers are low-hanging fruit and are relatively easy to get back by allocating even limited resources from within your overall online strategy.
How common is brand-hijacking and what does it look like?
The short answer is fairly common. In fact, competitor’s brand name keywords are built into nearly all (correctly set up) paid search and display advertising campaigns. The bad news for you is that those campaigns work; and they work well. I know because we run them in the e-commerce space. The other bit of bad news is that most companies don’t even know that companies are targeting their brand keywords.
Here is a screenshot of a very basic search I just did for a major products brand – Ford. Brand-hijacked results are circled in red.
You’ll notice that Chevy was able to sneak their competing Silverado into a decent paid spot for that search term. According to Spyfu, Chevy is heavily targeting almost every competitors’ branded keywords using Adwords paid search – something to the tune of ~150k/month. That is bad for a company like Ford which is undoubtedly spending resources (~850k/month in Adwords according to Spyfu) toward online visibility. They are clearly not positioned correctly. It should be noted that qualityplusford.com is actually a local dealer who is outranking the Ford.com site as well.
How do you know if other companies are targeting my brand names?
You can quickly find out who is hijacking your brand by performing a search for your brand. Open an incognito window, set your geography and perform a search for your company or product name. That should return both paid and organic sites that are targeting those terms in that geography. Here is a step-by-step guide that we put together on how to perform that search in a way that is free of any personalized or history-based influence.
How vulnerable is your brand?
That depends on your competition, their level of sophistication, your product, industry, saturation, sales funnel, and market share. The main takeaway is that if your competition (direct or indirect) can get an ROI by devoting resources to appearing for your branded searches and your company is not doing anything to lock your brand down, then you are vulnerable.
What are some of the industries where online brand protection is important?
One example is an industry such as cosmetics. This is a 56 billion dollar a year industry. The products are often purchased online, there is a low-cost per new customer acquisition and the buyers repeat purchase many times once they are acquired. The things is, big brands may not care if someone purchases their product from the official online store or from a third-party. Here is why they should care – E-tailers that are spending money to steal branded search traffic away from the brand itself are the ones who have actually acquired that customer. Once a customer has signed up for a third-party seller, that seller can push sales, coupons, incentives and emails to those customers and sell them other brands besides the one they hijacked the customer from in the first place (in this case Lancome). Each brand hijack is represented by a red arrow. That is a lost customer and revenue for the brand.
This could be true for any similar product with a low cost of acquisition and repeat purchases over a lifetime such as power tools, hotel rooms, etc.
The challenges facing wholesalers is slightly different. Online (often unauthorized) retailers can take business away from your wholesale customers by competing your product’s brand name and the price they are charging online. Many products fall victim to this cycle via Amazon’s Product Platform and the paid advertising associated with it. Often, the wholesale customers aren’t even aware that they are being undercut online. The end result is strained market share for your wholesale customers and a completely unregulated market for your product. Aside from new clients, brand protection that directs visitors to your company’s wholesale product pages can help squeeze out unauthorized vendors, ensure pricing uniformity, and help protect your customers.
An example of a company on the other end of the spectrum is a monthly retail service provider (Comcast, AT&T), marketing/consulting service providers, or SAAS companies. In each of these industries there are often brands that are well-known and leaders in the space. The screenshot below is an example using one of our competitors, FindLaw, probably one of the best-known and largest website designer for law firms. You’ll notice they do absolutely no brand-focused Adwords advertising in my geography (which is the 6th largest concentration of lawyers per capita in the U.S.)
What does a well-balanced brand protection campaign look like?
Here is the search result for “Geico Insurance”. You’ll notice that they have structured data markup for their Adwords ads that includes pages on their site. This takes up space. They also have a knowledge graph entry with an attention grabbing photo. That takes up space. They also have structured markup that displays pages underneath their organic search result. Then they have local listings, indexed Twitter integration and finally Yelp pages for local Geico dealers. The first non-Geico result organic result is in the 10th spot. This is how you do it.
Geico has leveraged markup and the weight of its online properties to crowd out the competition. They are also most likely running up the bid price for competitors by throwing a decent budget at their own branded keywords. The other thing to keep in mind is that bidding on your own branded keywords is cheaper than a competitor because of your site’s quality and relevance scores in relation to your branded keywords. This makes it very expensive for the competition to appear those keywords. They can either throw a lot of money at it to appear for longer stretches right below you and try and capture as much traffic as they can at a lower click-through spot or they can burn through their budget trying to appear ahead of you.
In the Geico example, it is highly likely that Geico’s competitors are devoting major resource to targeting Geico keywords in organic and paid search (you can see the degree to which by checking the second page of results). Kudos to Geico for staying one step ahead by running up their paid bid price and crowding them out.
The bottom line is that regardless of your product or industry, if your product is able to be purchased online, someone might try to hijack your branded search. Lock it down.
For more information about what a healthy brand protection campaign looks like and how your company can lock out competitors, I invite you to give us a call.