Brand Aid for A Manufacturer's Online Property

Service providers vie to scour the Web and safeguard your brand. Here's an example of how it works at KitchenAid.

A reputation is a fragile thing—especially on the Internet, where trademarked images are easily borrowed, corporate secrets can be divulged anonymously in chat rooms, and idle speculation and malicious commentary on a blog can affect a company’s stock price. Brands are under constant attack, but companies such as BrandProtect, MarkMonitor and NameProtect (now part of Corporation Services Company) are stepping in to offer companies some artillery in the fight for control of their brands and reputations.

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Brian Maynard, director of marketing for KitchenAid, a division of Whirlpool, had a rather unique problem. Like the classic Coke bottle and Disney’s Mickey Mouse ears, the silhouette of the KitchenAid mixer, that colorful and distinctively rounded wedding registry staple, is a registered trademark. KitchenAid had experienced some problems on the Web with knockoffs and unauthorized uses of the mixer’s image, but getting a handle on the many and varied online trademark infringements seemed daunting. Maynard knew that historically, corporate brands that were not well-protected and policed by their owners had been ruled generic by the courts—aspirin and escalator are two examples. So when he received a cold-call from BrandProtect, he was intrigued.

BrandProtect uses a technology platform that functions like a giant spider, mapping the Web and identifying what’s going on its darkest recesses. The mapping technology is combined with a filter and human analysis component that identifies and returns actionable data to its clients on illicit activities that may adversely affect their corporate identity. Depending on the client’s chosen service level, those activities can include any of 22 categories of infractions—from phishing to counterfeiting, misuse of corporate logos and trademarked product images, domain infractions and employees blogging about corporate trade secrets. Staying ahead of the many ways that a company’s brand can be compromised or diluted online is a challenge that Kevin Joy, vice president of marketing for BrandProtect, compares to a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.

Clients like Maynard receive an e-mailed report every Friday that outlines any activity BrandProtect uncovered that week. The client then decides which items require further action. BrandProtect also sends out the initial cease-and-desist letters. Maynard’s only critique of his experience with BrandProtect is a mild one. “I feel like we sometimes get more information than we have the capacity to deal with right away,” he says. “A report will come in with 400 items when somebody in my group could only get to 20 in a week.”

But the many successes have made the relationship worthwhile. Recently Maynard was impressed by how quickly he was able to resolve a case of domain infraction. A small vendor that works with KitchenAid was experimenting with registering URLs such as shopkitchenaid.com and buykitchenaid.com for marketing purposes. That Friday when Maynard received his report, he noticed the new URLs, recognized the name of the owner and called his contact at the company to explain that any URLs containing the name KitchenAid had to be owned by the company. Maynard says his contact was shocked by how quickly KitchenAid had gotten on top of the issue.

This story, "Brand Aid for A Manufacturer's Online Property" was originally published by CSO.

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