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What is Brandjacking? How to Safeguard Your Business

Explore effective strategies for safeguarding your business against brandjacking threats. Understand the concept and secure your brand integrity proactively.

In today’s digital world, your brand is your identity. Protecting your identity, and in turn, your brand is an inherent concept. However, with the rise of technology, increases of scams and fraudulent activity are evermore prevalent. Businesses must be aware of breaches to their brand, or brandjacking, and how to combat these violations with the evolution of technology.

Brandjacking is the unauthorized use of a brand for negative or fraudulent purposes. This can include impersonating a brand identity, name, or logo to spread false information, increase personal gain, promote a competitor's brand, or engage in scams. Brandjacking can significantly harm a business’s reputation and lead to customer mistrust.

This blog post delves into the different types of brandjacking, including domain hijacking, social media impersonation, and counterfeit products, how brandjacking occurs, safeguarding practices, legal measures, and crisis management strategies.

Defining your brand and what it means for your business is key to turning a profit. The last thing that businesses need is other individuals hijacking their own ideas while promoting competing brands online. Brandjacking comes in many different forms, used singularly or in combination, to deceive customers and exploit a brand. To protect your brand online, businesses must be aware of the common types of brand hijacking.

Domain hijacking

Domain hijacking occurs when an individual or a whole entity takes control of a company’s domain without their permission. This can occur in various ways, such as changing the domain registrar, administrative content, or DNS (Domain Name System) systems to gain access and hijack the company's brand.

If successful, domain hijackers can gain illicit profits, spread malware, promote competitor's brands, and ruin a company’s reputation. Users and businesses alike can protect themselves against domain hijacking by using strong passwords, enabling two-step authentication, and regularly checking for domain renewals and status.     

Social media impersonation

Impersonation on social media involves the creation of a fake account or accounts that mimic powerful brands to deceive or manipulate users. Impersonators will research and present themselves using the brand’s persona, resulting in damaging effects.

In today's digital world, a strong social media presence with a large following leads to greater trust. When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he initiated the ability for users to pay $8 per month to receive the blue checkmark attached to their accounts, a symbol that was previously reserved only for celebrities and brands verified by Twitter. Musk’s idea of inclusivity backfired and powerful brands paid the price. It became far too easy for brandjackers to create fake profiles with a verified status and post misleading content.

One example is with the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly & Co. A user created a fake account impersonating this company and tweeted that “insulin is now free”. The tweet sparked thousands of likes and retweets before Twitter removed it six hours later. The damage was done and Eli Lilly lost billions in value as their share prices dropped the next day, tarnishing their own brand name.

Social media impersonation can also promote scams and phishing schemes. They commonly ask followers for their financial information to purchase non-existing products or services, quickly ruining the brand's reputation. The brand's marketing department should regularly monitor all social media accounts for impersonation, use strong passwords, and educate followers on how to identify official brand accounts.

Counterfeit products

Counterfeit products refer to the imitation of fake goods that closely resemble well-known products of a brand. This type of brandjacking refers to scammers producing and selling unauthorized products and profiting from the brand's reputation. Counterfeit products result in harm to both the business and the brand's intended audience.

Counterfeit products can range from everyday items to luxury pieces. Brandjackers often use deceptive marketing strategies to sell these products. While counterfeit products popularly affect corporate and retail brands, they can cause harm to other types of branding as well. Selling and profiting off counterfeit products can be used hand-in-hand with other types of brandjacking, by either creating fake websites, hijacking domains, or impersonating the brand image on social media.

The basics of branding are to help businesses connect with their audience, make a difference, and earn additional value. Brandjacking can jeopardize all of that, resulting in multiple consequences for businesses, specifically within their marketing department.

Once a brand’s identity is tarnished, further consequences begin to snowball. Without consumer trust, brands incur financial losses. The luxury fashion brand, Louis Vuitton, is particularly known to suffer losses from counterfeit products. Handbags, watches, wallets, and other accessories that mimic the brand’s style and logo have inundated cities worldwide.

Brands have the right to protect their identity. Louis Vuitton has launched countless legal battles to curb brandjacking, but counterfeit products continue to flood the markets. Brandjacking can lead to significant legal ramifications if considered carefully and with ample time.

How brandjacking occurs

Brandjacking occurs in various forms, but all have the same effect. The brand's reputation is harmed. Brandjackers can be incredibly skilled when planning and conducting a brand-hijacking scheme. From phishing attacks to domain exploitation and social engineering, it is important for companies to understand the common ways brandjacking can occur.

Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks can occur through fraudulent emails, messages, or websites that appear to be from popular brands and guide individuals to either enter financial information, provide login details, or download malicious content. Delicately crafted messages can easily impersonate brands and trick individuals into interacting with the phishing attack.

Domain exploitation

Through domain exploitation, brandjackers create domains closely related to those of the brand. There might be a slight misspelling or extra punctuation, and small changes are easily overlooked. On fake websites, content typically resembles the brand’s actual website, further tricking individuals into sharing sensitive information.

Social engineering

Social engineering occurs through psychological manipulation by instilling intense feelings in individuals. Impersonation is the first step of social engineering followed by phishers, or brandjackers, using deceptive communication and manipulative tactics to create a sense of urgency, curiosity, or fear to increase the likelihood of individuals providing their financial and private information.

Signs of brandjacking

Digital marketing teams should be aware of the signs of brandjacking to safeguard themselves properly. This includes unusual activity on social media, unauthorized domain changes, and customer complaints about counterfeits. Businesses must pay close attention to their social media accounts, regularly monitor their online presence, and listen to all customer concerns regarding their marketing strategies and the authenticity of their products. 

Safeguarding strategies

Businesses should incorporate strong safeguarding strategies to minimize the risks of brandjacking. In addition to regularly monitoring online presence, companies must secure domains and trademarks, making it faster and easier to take legal action if brandjacking occurs.

Educating employees about security risks and how to spot the signs of brandjacking are further safeguarding strategies to minimize potential damage.

Legal measures

Conducting legal measures is a way for businesses to build themselves back up after falling victim to brandjacking. Protecting trademarks, ordering cease and desist letters, and pursuing legal action are different and effective ways to combat brandjacking. These measures vary in size and scope and depend on the number of damages and business resources.

Trademark protection

Businesses can protect their own brand name and logo through trademark protection laws. If there is a company using a business’s logo without permission, trademark infringement laws protect businesses that wish to pursue legal action and claim any damages.

Cease and desist orders

Cease and desist orders serve as the first line of defense for businesses to fight brandjacking. These orders demand that the phishers stop their infringing actions before legal measures take place. Cease and desist orders serve as warnings for brandjackers and aid in the ceasing of counterfeit products and other types of brand hijacking. 

Pursuing legal action

If cease-and-desist orders are ignored then businesses can pursue legal action. Businesses can file trademark infringements, copyright violations, or domain name disputes. These lawsuits allow businesses to seek injustices and claim damages.

Pursuing legal action depends on the size and type of brandjacking, but can ultimately help protect the business’s brand and reputation while holding the culprits accountable.

Crisis management

Despite understanding the different types of brandjacking, how it occurs, and ways to take legal action, businesses are still susceptible to brand hijacking. Crisis management plans can quickly and positively reshape a business after a brandjacking event.

A successful crisis management plan develops a clear way of responding after an attack. The response plan varies for different stakeholders, but the message is clear on how the business will rebuild trust that was lost due to brandjacking.

Proactive brand protection

Further ways that businesses can protect themselves from not falling victim to brandjacking is by investing in brand, domain, and trademark monitoring tools. These services track online activities related to the company’s identity and raise any red flags that could be due to brandjacking.

With the ever-changing landscape of new technology, businesses are continually susceptible to brand hijacking. Conduct continuous security audits, stay informed about new prices, and collaborate with law enforcement if brandjacking occurs.

Businesses can safeguard and protect their brand through Mailchimp’s authentication and verification features. Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) is an email-sending identification tool to protect businesses and their recipients from spam or forgery.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) also prevents email spoofing, ensuring emails are delivered securely and that recipients can verify authenticity. Continue to monitor subscribers and audience engagement, and stay up to date on email security and best practices to reduce the risk of a brandjacking attack.

While loyalty is a trait that many strive to achieve, when trust is broken it can be forever tarnished. Brandjacking comes in many different forms and can quickly destroy loyalty, ruining a good reputation. Businesses must understand how brandjacking can occur so they can protect their brand mentions, and learn how to safeguard solutions and rebuild trust at the same time.

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