Investigations & Intelligence: The importance of data organization and collaboration

  • Brand Protection
Investigations & Intelligence: The importance of data organization and collaboration

Intelligence and investigations enable your business to identify high-value targets and to build detailed profiles on network operators. Key to a successful approach, however, is how you organize data and your team’s ability to collaborate.

In part one of our Intelligence and Investigations series, we discussed the nuances between targeting individual bad actors versus wider networks and shared best practices on gathering online and offline intelligence.

In this piece, we explore how to organize the data that you collect and how to foster a collaborative approach to ensure your targeted action is effective. As with part one of this series, insights and quotes are from our Investigations and Intelligence webinar panel: Claire Hendey, Unilever; Joshua S. Hopping and Helen Saunders, Incopro; Michael Fuller, IP Services Inc.

Part 1: Data organization 

Once you’ve found valid data, the next step is to organize and make sense of it. There are four different dimensions that affect how you organize and store your information and intelligence. 

  • How you physically record it

Store data electronically to make it easier for you and your team to search, retrieve and share it. 

  • Single data storage location

Keep all data in one place rather than siloed across multiple locations. Many businesses use case management systems to centralize storage of their information and intelligence. This is about making data easier to retrieve and share later.

  • Use of data warehouse

Big spreadsheets of thousands of line items won’t work well in case management systems. This type of data is better placed in a data warehouse – designed to take large data sets that need to be cross-referenced. 

  • How you work with and visualize data

Finally, you want to make sure that you can manipulate data efficiently and create different views of the data. This helps you to think laterally about what you’re seeing and form connections. An example of this is Network Analysis technology – it’s far easier to see a network of connected infringing entities a diagram than it is in rows of data. 

Unilever’s perspective on the value of data organization

“When we work with our providers, they become part of our ecosystem. This is a hub for our Brand Protection function and houses our case management, online data, global trademark portfolio coverage, customs recordal information and more.”

– Claire Hendey, Global Brand Protection and IP Operations and Systems Manager, Unilever

An unstructured list of infringers with no context is not useful for Unilever. For Claire, it is therefore critical to enrich the data and extrapolate the issues into strategic impact areas (such as protecting consumer trust in Unilever brands, protecting consumers from harm etc.). It allows Unilever to make an informed decision on how to act and whether to investigate bigger networks.   

Unilever expect the matters to be worked on and communicated about within the system, utilizing Corsearch’s Brand Protection platform to build on what the business holds in its case management system. Claire’s team uses both environments to build a detailed case against high-value targets and bad actor network, with eyes on the whole data flow to utilize for high-impact action.

The private investigator perspective on the value of data organization         

Michael Fuller, Investigations Department Manager, & licensed Private Investigator, IP Services Inc., states that data organization is key to success. His clients expect him to maintain accurate and accessible case files. Centralizing the data so it can be used and shared is Brand Protection investigations 101.

The value Michael brings to his clients by leveraging historical case work is paramount, keeping the client informed. Michael states that by making the connections to historical targets who disappeared 6 months ago only to resurface, investigators can add critical value to a target by demonstrating their commitment to continuing their nefarious business practices.  

Part 2: Collaboration

Brand owners have a number of issues to tackle and time is limited. As such, it is vital for brands owners to collaborate 1) internally – between Brand Protection teams and other stakeholders across the business and 2) externally – between other brand owners, relevant Brand Protection organizations, and authorities. This collaboration ensures consumers are protected and the business sees maximum return on investment from their Brand Protection strategy.

When targeting troublesome bad actor networks, collaboration between brand owners, law enforcement, investigators, and border authorities is crucial to take effective action.

Unilever’s perspective on why collaboration is essential

Internal collaboration

Traditionally, Unilever’s global teams were siloed. This limited the impact of Unilever’s Brand Protection activities, with Claire admitting that it made the business slow to act. Collaboration between teams and improved communication was therefore essential.

Claire states that Unilever’s Brand Protection teams, supply chain, marketing, and IP teams now all work together as task assignees in the business’ internal system to gain valuable input and clarification on actions and ongoing cases. 

Results of a poll of Brand Protection professionals (September 2020)

External collaboration

Unilever’s wider external stakeholders and third-party providers –such as outside counsels and investigators — now work in their ecosystem to share and collaborate on the same data and intelligence. 

Claire states that total collaboration benefits all parties. Third parties are briefed on Unilever’s strategic mission and utilize this to present a picture of the issues back to the business using all the available information that they have. 

Previously there was little integration between online and offline. Unilever now uses the power of data to make larger, connected takedowns. External collaboration is important for the offline space. Claire states that Unilever harnesses its relationships with law enforcement agencies and Interpol/Europol and non-for-profit organizations such as REACT as they have a large combined global influence and can facilitate on the ground action against bad actor networks.

Collaboration between brand owners

“Cross collaboration with other brand owners’ groups is key, such as INSYNC’s initiatives.”

– Claire Hendey, Unilever

Collaboration between brand owners represents an opportunity to share insights, best practices, intelligence and high-level data. Through this approach, businesses can target the largest bad actor networks operating online that are exploiting multiple brands and businesses. With combined resources and expertise, brands can take these networks down and protect consumers from harm.

Together, brand owners can also lobby for the changes needed from search engines, social media giants and e-commerce platforms to reduce the incidence of high-risk infringements and make it difficult for bad actors to hide.

Results of a poll of Brand Protection professionals (September 2020)

The private investigator perspective on why collaboration is essential

“As an investigator, we are vested in our client’s successes and are committed to ensuring we protect their interest and support their brand protection initiatives. Communication between the brand and the investigators is very important.”

– Michael Fuller, Investigations Department Manager, & licensed Private Investigator, IP Services, Inc.

Often, investigators are brought into an investigation after other measures such as warning letters, cease & desist letters, and phone calls have been exhausted by the brand. Knowing if the target has previously been contacted or approached, investigators can often leverage the information to better position the investigation for success. 

Additionally, if investigators know what the deliverables looks like for the brand and how the brand measures their success, they can strategize and plan accordingly.  It is very common for a brand to need multiple test purchases from the same seller – Michael states that by knowing this information ahead of time allows, he can better position subsequent purchases for success and gather the necessary intelligence to begin online and offline action against bad actors

Key takeaways

An ‘Ecosystem Focus’

  • A lasting impact is only possible through a holistic approach that considers online and offline activities by IP infringers  
  • Research into bad actor networks and investigations are key to this approach 

An ‘End Game Focus’

  • Knowing your end game (I.e. the primary motivation) helps direct what information you need to gather and how to organize the data 

Brand Protection: Better Together 

  • Collaboration is crucial
  • Internal, external, between vendors, etc.  
  • The more we work together, the better we can address this growing issue of online brand infringement

Investigation services

Corsearch’s Investigations Services team provides actionable data and intelligence in your pursuit of both individual targets and commercial-scale operators. The team works with a worldwide network of test purchase partners to deliver the evidence needed to remove these bad actors both online and offline.

Find out more about Corsearch’s Investigations Services team and explore our reporting options below.