Building and maintaining a strong brand identity is not a simple task. It was not an easy job a few decades ago, and now, as we thrive in the digital age, it has become even more complicated.

The internet, social media, mobile development — consumer expectations have changed so rapidly in the last ten years that businesses need to find new ways to adapt — and keep up.

Today, people want to be a part of an experience. They want it all, and they want it immediately, and this is perhaps the most significant change to branding: it’s in real-time, and besides finding an emotional connection with their customers, brands need to pay considerable attention to staying protected.

As businesses have moved online, so have the counterfeiters and pirates, causing significant risks for the supply chain, product integrity, as well as threats to revenue as well as the overall reputation of the brand that took time to earn.

With this in mind, a brand’s reputation is — without a doubt — one of the most important things to consider.

Research, commissioned by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), has shown that over half of customers are willing to pay a premium price for a product if it comes from a company they consider having a particularly good reputation. However, the digital age has made it more challenging to keep brands and businesses safe online.

Tremendous effort, time and budget are spent on securing product integrity through the supply chain; however online tools can help customers destroy a brands name in just a few seconds. In the age of the internet, words spread like a virus, and a single mistake can erase years of hard work dedicated to growing a reputable brand.

Cybersquatting, hacking, domain hijacking, intellectual property theft — are all potential threats for brands, and it doesn’t end there. Counterfeit products and pirated products online are an approximately 350-billion-dollar market — and it’s still a relatively new phenomenon.

Typically, brandjackers set up fictitious social media accounts or hack legitimate accounts to spread anti-commercial, misleading or provocative messages that are inconsistent with the brand’s communication strategy. These actions have one goal: damaging the brand’s reputation, and not necessarily for financial reasons, although, there are many brands out there that have suffered financial losses due to spurious actions.

Brandjackers create entire websites that look like the original ones but aren’t. A few years ago, yours truly was a lucky coffee break away from buying a luxury watch from one such 

site. As the price was quite high, I decided to ring them to confirm if I could pick up the watch in Spain, where they said they were based. When they explained that they had moved to Germany — alarm bells began to ring. Suffice to say after a little more digging around and discovering more miserable customers; I realised that the website was merely a front for nothing!

Brandjackers find ways to attract customers who find it difficult to tell the difference between the original brand’s website and the fake one. To make it believable, they add various supporting channels, including social media pages, claiming to represent the original brand. Step by step, many customers find themselves buying products from these fake websites, escalating the severity of the problem, which is one of many reasons why it is imperative to keep a brand’s identity and reputation safe.

So how can you protect your brand from theft in this digital age? Firstly, it starts by registering the brand’s trademarks. Signs, logos, imaging, letter font, numbers, slogans and even sounds (the luxury brand Hermes has a horse sound when you ring their offices) — everything that distinguishes your brand from competitors needs to be registered and trademarked with the competent authority in your country.

Then there’s content marketing. With so many businesses building an online presence, content marketing has become one of the most critical aspects to attract consumers and turn them into action takers. It’s essential to copyright a brands content, including images, written posts, and videos, to prevent plagiarists from stealing and using the material as their own,

Thinking globally is imperative: successful brands don’t merely focus on their home countries. On the contrary, they move into other jurisdictions and register their trademarks and patents, especially if the business is evolving and there’s a prospect of opening a foreign branch or division in the future which, over time, is used to protect the brand in building a strong brand presence.

Building a powerful brand presence is where brands need to invest, creating a high-level consumer experience, especially online, which makes it harder to imitate the brand’s presence for pirates. Many brands nowadays respond to reviews, comments, and messages while always keeping a calm, collected, professional and polite tone.

It’s all about ensuring customers know what to expect from the brand and how it communicates, once they do — it’s easier to spot if something is wrong or unusual.

Another check-point for every brand to consider is developing a set of digital guidelines. Having clear guidelines makes representing the brand easier, while consistency in communication helps customers to spot the possible identity theft more quickly.

Then there are visual elements: using the brand’s logo and other visual design elements 

consistently — and everywhere, from physical products to social media pages — makes the identification process more manageable.

Brands have regular checks on the main search engines from time to time, searching for your business taglines and other relevant keywords. Not only does it help to keep an eye on the market and your competitors, but it’s also an excellent tool for finding out if they are copying your brand’s visual elements or identity.

If an idea or product has the potential to become the next big thing and information is leaked before the launch, huge revenues could be at risk as counterfeiters and pirates will act immediately and flood the market before the actual authentic product is on the market.

Even after you’ve taken appropriate actions, it’s difficult to remove the stolen product or service from the market entirely. There are thousands of examples of slightly redesigned logos, slogans, and designs of existing brands, and pirates manage to pass them off as an entirely new business.