The Internet is possibly the best invention that man has ever made. Some may argue it is the wheel, or the combustion engine but try telling that to the billions of people who use it every day to run their lives, or the millions of companies who are able to compete for business on a global scale even if they are a one-man band operating from a small room in their studio apartment in the most remote area. Huge investments in mobile technology and infrastructure is today delivering the beauty of the World Wide Web to thousands of new users, of all ages, races and religions on a daily basis. The Internet doesn’t discriminate – it is available to anyone with the means to connect to it.
Never has the barrier to entry for firms, big or small, been so low. The opportunities that the Internet offers are clear to see in every walk of life. Today, we can communicate with family on the other side of the world in real time and virtually zero cost. We can watch our favourite TV shows, movies or live sporting events from the palm of our hands. We can order our weekly shopping at 3am in the morning for delivery before breakfast.
Whilst the Internet has delivered huge potential and opportunities, it has also produced huge threats and risks for us all. Today, the media is full of scare stories of cyberattacks, data breaches and stories of woe. For individuals, we are constantly being told to safeguard our personal details. One of the greatest success stories of the Internet age is the emergence of Social Media networks. Starting with the primitive GeoCities website, the Millennium madness caused by Friends Reunited, MySpace and Bebo, through to today’s must use apps SnapChat, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. But the Daddy of them all is Facebook. Ten years ago it was a website used by students at colleges in California. Nobody, not even its founder, Mark Zuckenburg, could have predicted its growth. Today, the website is actively used by one in every five people in the world. Over a billion people log on every month. In our quest to become more engaged, we will often accept requests to become “friends” with people we barely know. We will intentionally, or more often than not unintentionally, share the most personal of details with people we have never met before. Herein lies one of the fundamental threats posed by the Internet. Freedom of information.
For brand holders the problems go far beyond the threats of data privacy. An estimated $1.8 trillion is lost every year in black market or counterfeit items, $14.62 billion in Australia alone. Fake websites, rogue mobile apps, spoof social media accounts, IP theft, counterfeit goods, stolen web addresses, diverted web traffic and general brand abuse are just a few of the threats brand owners need to actively monitor and defend against online. Building a long enduring and beloved brand requires vigilance and a commitment to ensure that no one undermines your brand’s integrity.
There have been many examples of brands having their reputation tarnished and irreparably damaged because of the actions of third parties. Every counterfeit good that is sold somewhere in the world will dilute the brand value of the real item. Buyers of counterfeit items are generally drawn to them because they want the experience of buying the real deal but have no intention of paying the real price. Whilst in some areas of the world, people buy counterfeit because that is all they can afford, in most developed economies it is a lifestyle choice.
We all want our customers to be advocates of our brands. To do that we need to build trust. Trust that the products we sell or offer are genuine, fit for purpose and will deliver the benefit that they say they will. Trust that the online experience they will receive will be safe and secure. Trust that they know they are dealing with the real deal and not a stranger who is only interested in extracting personal data for malicious purposes.
Creating a brand protection strategy is the starting point to building long-term trust and consumer advocacy. Understanding what threats already exist on the Internet, defining a mitigation strategy and planning on how to take advantage of the opportunities on the Internet are the three key steps to keep any brand One Step Ahead.