By Andrew Schydlowsky
In an increasingly commoditized global economy, where often the only thing a business has to distinguish itself from the competition is its unique brand, companies have begun to more fully appreciate the importance of enhancing and safeguarding their brands.
This helps explain why the concept of “brand safety” has become one of the most discussed topics in the advertising community. But the problem is the current conversation defines brand safety far too narrowly.
What the industry means by brand safety
As Advertising Week defines the term, brand safety refers to the effort by companies (or their advertising agencies) to control where their ads are placed, to ensure the company’s products and messaging don’t appear alongside media content that is offensive, harmful, or otherwise inconsistent with the brand’s values.
If you’ve heard about the recent trend of businesses pulling their advertising from YouTube, due to those ads being placed alongside videos promoting terrorism or depicting violent and offensive content, then you’re already somewhat familiar with the current brand safety discussion.
As Advertising Week also explains, companies are correct to worry about such placements of their brands, because reputations are fragile. A strong, trusted brand can take significant time and investment to build and just one public misstep to ruin. But it’s for this reason—there are many potential threats to a brand, not just ad placement—that I believe the brand safety discussion needs to be broader.
What the brand safety discussion is missing
To get a sense of how many ways a brand can be harmed, consider how the following incidents might affect your personal perception of a given brand or company:
- You read a series of negative online customer reviews about a product.
- In researching a product, you discover online retailers advertising it for deeply discounted prices—something you don’t see with any of the product’s competitors.
- As you read a product’s listing on an online marketplace, you find the page loaded with typos, misspelled words, and claims about the product that sound suspicious.
- You order a product from a marketplace like Amazon, but when it shows up, you can tell something’s not right—in fact, it may be a counterfeit.
This, I believe, is what is missing from the advertising community’s talk about brand safety. Protecting a brand requires a much more comprehensive approach than just implementing controls to make sure an ad for a family-friendly product doesn’t end up beside an online article about a sex scandal, or on YouTube next to a video uploaded by ISIS sympathizers.
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For a manufacturer, brand owner, or any business interested in safeguarding the brand it has worked so hard and invested so heavily in cultivating, brand safety should also encompass a broader strategy: monitoring every way the company’s name and messaging appears across the internet, as well as publishing and enforcing guidelines for how and where retailers are allowed to sell your products.
Here are just a few examples of what I would suggest:
1. Monitor your product reviews and ratings online
The public perception of a product or brand is often harmed, not by something the manufacturer itself has done, but instead by the way its resellers are representing the brand and treating customers. If you’re a manufacturer or brand owner that sells through resale channels, one of the fastest and easiest ways to discover a problem in your reseller network is to monitor your products’ customer reviews and ratings all across the internet—on e-commerce websites as well as on product marketplaces like Amazon.
Reading through these reviews, you might discover that your average star rating is trending downward, not because of anything related to your product, but because customers are experiencing lousy service and support from your retail partners. In some cases, if gray-market retailers you don’t have a relationship with are getting their hands on your products for resale, you might learn that some of these retailers are misleading or outright defrauding your customers, all under the guise of selling your products.
2. Develop an authorized dealer network
As I stated earlier, a lot of the risk to a product’s brand reputation comes from rogue retailers that use dishonest methods to get their hands on the company’s products, and then resell them without regard to the brand or the customer experience.
To deal with this, one smart strategy is to set up an authorized dealer network, an opt-in program where resellers have to apply and pass your company’s screening before they can officially sell your products. With an authorized dealer network, you can instruct your wholesalers or distributors on which retail companies they may sell to and where, and restrict them from selling inventory to anyone not on that list or selling the product at deep discounts online when they shouldn’t.
This will make it much more difficult for these rogue, gray-market retailers to get your inventory in the first place, which will help you cut down on lousy buying experiences your customers may have. Because every reseller in your authorized dealer network knows they have something to lose, they will also be more likely to be on their best behavior when representing your brand.
3. Draft and enforce reseller pricing guidelines
Finally, one of the most important aspects of safeguarding your brand is to create a set of guidelines for how you want your resale network to advertise and sell your products. In most cases, this will mean drafting a minimum advertised price (MAP) policy or a resale policy, and then putting in place processes to monitor your resale channel and respond quickly to violations.
Brand safety and brand protection are definitely business goals worth investing in. But as I hope I’ve convinced you here, the approach requires a lot more than just preventing your ads from sharing the screen with terrorism videos. Brand safety means knowing how all of your products are being advertised, sold, written about, and represented online at all times.
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