You’ve heard it before. There are dozens of vendors and solution providers fighting for your online brand protection budget. Most will promise you they do much more than taking down infringing content. The pitches and promises range from claiming to detect IP abuse on 100’s of different global platforms to ‘expert’ knowledge and capabilities that will eradicate all your brand abuse problems on everything from social media to domain names to marketplaces and even the dark web. It's enough to make your head spin!
The current state was inevitable when stepping back and thinking upon my 20-year career developing and implementing online brand protection solutions for many of the world’s biggest brands. In the early 2000’s vendors aggressively moved towards being a collection of ‘Managed Services’ rather than technology-driven SaaS solutions. Part of this was because early entrants in the space were born out of the domain name management industry. In addition, the domain management space was a more mature space at that time with an already established high-touch services component. Outsourced managed solutions can and will do almost anything and everything you desire. However, as a manual-driven solution, the underlying technology the client is paying for is hidden from view and not even used in many cases. Let's look at some of the solution elements that have become almost synonymous with all manner of providers offering online brand protection in one form or another.
We cover hundreds of major platforms globally
Undoubtedly accurate in most respects, as many providers cover a massive laundry list of search engines, marketplaces, and social platforms. However, this points to one of the most glaring weaknesses throughout almost all solutions. They try to be all things to everyone. In the process, they build solutions that are very broad (from a coverage standpoint) but also highly narrow in terms of actual technical integration and even know-how. Is it even possible to build harvesting systems and train expert analysts across such vastly different platforms, geographic IP laws, and language barriers? In reality, no solution provider is great at everything. In my view, the days of the ‘Enterprise Brand Protection’ provider are coming to an end. Brands now need deep expertise in different areas, not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our solution uses ‘Clustering’
Ah, the myth, the legend of Clustering, Networks, Linking (whatever name you want) is a significant component of what the industry has been telling brands they must have. Connect bad actors across platforms! Yes, sounds very helpful - and it is when it works. But, unfortunately, bad actors are more sophisticated than ever. You can still only connect data that is visible on a platform. Best case, these highly intensive data collection efforts result in meaningful, actionable intelligence only a tiny fraction of the time. They often take many hours of manual analyst work to clean, verify, and prep. More importantly, do real threats to your business like highly sophisticated counterfeiters make a habit of using the same listing content or username across multiple accounts? Weigh the cost/benefit carefully before funding a significant element of your program based on something with a highly infrequent yield.
Our technology is AI-driven and uses ‘Machine Learning’
Again, ensure you understand precisely how your vendor uses AI and/or Machine Learning and how it will benefit you specifically. Will it save you hours of review time? If so, how much time will it save and how well it works? When detecting infringements, AI/ML tech can undoubtedly make this more efficient. But, the very nature of online brand enforcement means people must still make complex enforcement decisions.
Our global services team covers dozens of languages No, it doesn’t. No vendor has the breadth and depth of personnel to read and interpret, let alone translate infringing content in dozens of languages. More likely, their team may cover a handful of core languages and rely on translation tools. This is another reason to think of using specialists in different markets, or at a minimum, make sure your vendor can provide a dedicated analyst within the market of concern.
We have APIs on all platforms for both detection and enforcement
APIs are easy to verify. Many, if not most, platforms do not have published API documents for public usage and implementation, especially not reporting IP infringements. Most larger platforms like Amazon, eBay, Facebook, etc., definitely have APIs. Still, upon close inspection, I can tell you from experience that they aren’t intended for brand protection purposes. In most cases, vendors would be violating platform terms & conditions by using them this way. In almost all instances, solution providers ‘scrape’ data from platforms and do it on a massive scale. That is until platforms start fighting back, blocking vendor IP addresses, and launching countermeasures like captchas. Fighting back is inevitable. When platforms do fight back – as I have seen firsthand – the results are very disruptive and costly for vendors, resulting in actual service outages.
In the end, and this is universal as far as I can tell over my two decades in the space, solution providers all want to be a one-stop-shop for everything. So while being the swiss army knife of brand protection certainly sounds great, it comes with fundamental limitations.
Building a SaaS platform that can harvest and manage data from hundreds of different platforms, all with different technical architectures, and most importantly; platforms that do not want their data scraped, to begin with, is a daunting task for even the largest most sophisticated technology companies. Add to that the complexity of enforcement actions, and the various approaches of clients and brands, and what you wind up with is a massive system designed to pull in huge amounts of data and requiring astronomical amounts of human analysis.
Instead, consider insourcing, especially for critical platforms that impact revenue and matter most to your business. In the end, the overall cost of bringing onboard a mid to junior level employee, which you can train, and deploy elsewhere as needed, provides considerably more value to your business. But, more importantly, you won’t be training a new vendor analyst every 6-months!
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