Brands are assaulted from all angles online. Brandjacking, the ruse that uses your brand images, names, and other identifiers to trick your customers, involves techniques such as search engine manipulation, PPC (pay per click) scams, cybersquatting, counterfeits, piracy, phishing, malware, domain kiting, and traffic diversion. This kind of online fraud is more common than most enterprise CMOs want to think.
According to MarkMonitor’s report, “Brandjacking Index: 2009 – The Year in Review,” more than 400 brands worldwide are attacked each month. Targeted phishing or malware scams and online sales of grayware or counterfeit goods will cost businesses over $135 billion in 2010, and cybersquatting will reign as the most common form of brand defamation, reeling in more than $1 billion for cybercriminals this year.
Fred Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor, told me that 1 in 7 searches that include a brand name end up with the user going to another site. That’s nearly 15 percent of searches going to someplace other than where they were intended, with little way of the searcher knowing.
The “Brandjacking Index,” published quarterly, is a definitive source for the Anti-Phishing Working Group (AFWG). It reports that 2009 was the highest year yet for phishing attacks, clocking 565,502 assaults against brands, a 62 percent increase over 2008. According to the report, there were just under 600 attacks per brand, which is the highest number ever.
Part of this is because of the expansion of phishing attacks, but that figure is also the result of fewer banks, because so many went under. In other words, there were fewer targets to hit, and remaining targets were hit harder.
Online marketing budgets are severely compromised by these criminal activities via lower click-through rates, close rates, and lost product sales due to counterfeiting and piracy. There are other ramifications: When a bank customer gets taken, for example, that customer will never consider online banking again and may even close accounts from fear of a recurring offense. Enterprises also see collateral damage to customer service ratings when a customer attempts to return unsatisfactory goods. In a nutshell, brandjacking affects advertising, traffic, product sales, and reputation.
Some, but not many, midmarket businesses are tempted to turn a blind eye to some forms of brand assault like counterfeiting or search engine and marketing scams, figuring that it’s just the cost of doing business; but few ignore phishing, because of its effect on customers and fraud losses.
Still, some brands are just not approaching phishing as efficiently as they could -- namely, not using professional-grade tools because they think solutions are too expensive, too complicated, or the results are not measurable. However, the use of professional tools can deliver just the reverse. It can show the business the actual size of the problem and the hard-cost impact on the brand. It will deliver great ROI for companies that approach it diligently.
Some brand protection companies offer managed service options for brands that don’t have the resources to dedicate themselves to a 24-hour defense. These managed service offerings provide automated 24/7/365 customer support systems that deliver oversight, know-how, and experienced eyes to jump in, analyze the brand abuse results, and find the most serious perps -- those who are diverting large amounts of traffic or selling a high volume of goods.
Many of these fake sites will come down relatively easily with an automated “cease and desist” order, but firms must know the fraudsters are there and how to deliver the notice. There are “shut down and stay down” services that contact the ISP or registrar that is hosting the counterfeit site, point out the offending site, ask them to take it down, then maintain oversight to ensure it stays down.
Can your enterprise afford to look the other way or treat protecting your brand as a hobby? Run an analysis on what you stand to lose. If you can afford to gamble that revenue away in this economy, I have an online poker site for you to visit.
— Alyson Behr is founder of Behr Communications, a company focused on marketing business communications development.