Why Intelligence and Investigations Are Key to an Integrated Brand Protection Approach

  • Brand Protection
Why Intelligence and Investigations Are Key to an Integrated Brand Protection Approach

Online and offline intelligence is critical to Brand Protection success, enabling your business to root out high-value targets, to discover network operators, and to examine specialist focus areas outside the usual scope of your Brand Protection team.

With expert insights and quotes from our investigations and intelligence webinar panel: Claire Hendey, Unilever; Joshua S. Hopping and Helen Saunders, Incopro; and Michael Fuller, IP Services Inc., we share the latest best practices and explore how these are key to producing actionable data in your pursuit of bad actors.

Part 1: Networks vs Individual Infringements 

Targeting bad actor networks is key to a lasting reduction in threats.

It’s no secret that there are multiple threats facing brand owners on a daily basis. With the meteoric rise of e-commerce, it has become even more important to think through the strategy deployed to protect your brand and consumers. 

When developing a strategy, a key question that must be answered is whether your business focuses on individual infringements or, instead, finding and targeting entire networks. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

Tackling individual infringements

Using Brand Protection technology, brand owners can bulk enforce on hundreds of infringements at a time. With this type of enforcement technology, brand owner may question why they should invest time and resources into locating and researching networks.

Targeting individual infringement can be effective at removing highly visible infringements quickly to ensure that non-legitimate products do not end up in the hands of the consumer. However, for some brand owners this will feel like playing a game of whack-a-mole and is unlikely to have the desired high impact.

Taking a network approach

Claire Hendey, Global Brand Protection and IP Operations and Systems Manager at Unilever, states that her business focuses on many Brand Protection areas and approaches regions individually. E-commerce penetration is as low as 5% in some regions, with some countries not fully digitized.

Claire asserts that Unilever are still heavily invested in the offline investigation space as it is still essential for larger, more impactful takedowns. For Unilever, taking an investigative approach to Brand Protection increases the chances of whole supply chain impact.

“This is why we invest in locating and taking down networks. We can now look at the data and make informed decisions to ensure we maximize the return on investment.” 

– Claire Hendey, Unilever

Michael Fuller, Investigations Department Manager, & licensed Private Investigator at IP Services, Inc., notes that businesses are often aware there is a counterfeit or grey market problem with their products. However, determining the scope and size of the problem poses a challenge. The business may only be aware of a single bad actor or that a suspect product has been identified on a marketplace. 

“As Brand Protection investigators, we tend to start our investigations using the details provided by the client and expand our focus as the investigation evolves. Uncovering a network often starts by focusing on an individual.”

– Michael Fuller, IP Services Inc.  

Part 2: Intelligence Gathering 

Where and how to find actionable data that delivers impact.  

There is a vast, almost unlimited volume of data online. Businesses must consider how to obtain this information at scale and ensure that they can prioritize based on what is relevant to their brands.

It is critical to think about what your purpose is as this will help with where to look. A couple of examples to illustrate this: 

  • Is your team looking to gather data at scale to detect the largest bad actors?  If so, you need to look broadly and deal with vast amounts of data. You’ll be gathering information such as usernames, item descriptions, social media posts etc.  This helps you to gather a broad range of data points to delve into. 
  • Your team might be focused on one bad actor, in which case you might want to delve deeper into information about a website, a company or an individual, so you’ll use more focused open source intelligence tools. You might also use closed/paid for services to gather this information. 

Structured vs unstructured data

Structured data that you find on e-commerce sites such as Amazon or eBay is laid out in data fields where you get consistent and well-organized information. This is great for building data tables and visualizations later because you don’t have to do too much to clean up that data and start analyzing it. 

Unstructured data, such as social media posts, is another matter. This is harder to deal with as you need to extract key information from it and impose some form of structure on it. This means you may need to invest more time and resource to evaluate the data and instigate intelligence-led action.

Data reliability

Finally, evaluating the data and determining its reliability is essential – your business needs to know what it can trust.

You need to be careful to make sure you know how much reliance you can place on data from different places.  For example, a telephone number on a suspicious website might be there just to lend legitimacy to it – the telephone number on a company registration document is likely to be more reliable. 

Your Brand Protection team must think about where your data is coming from before you decide how much weight to place on it. Infringers will leave footprints behind them – patterns in data can help make it more meaningful. There is also a need for corroboration – making sure multiple sources tell you the same thing is also key. 

You need to let the intelligence you’ve created guide you to the most meaningful and impactful targets that will drive the reason you’re interested in networks of bad actors. 

Bad actors who are knowingly engaging in brand infringements are unethical and they often hide their activities behind a scheme and bank of lies to hide their identity, the authenticity of the products and protect their illicit gains.

“Simply put: Bad actors don’t want you to know who they are and as little as possible about their ‘business’.”

– Michael Fuller, IP Services Inc.

As a private investigator, Michael is challenged with weeding through all the details of an investigation, vetting out the facts and presenting his clients with the highest level of confidence in their reports that in which bad actors, business details and locations are identified.

Investigators look for collaborating evidence from multiple search tools to match identifying information such as addresses, phone numbers and online profiles. They then make phone calls, send emails, and aggregate all the details to determine the confidence level that we have accurately identified the culprits.   

The difference between information and intelligence

Information or data is something that tells you facts, for example, the price of a product or the number of listings someone has on a platform. 

Intelligence on the other hand has gone through a process of evaluation and analysis to produce something that you can make decisions upon and which drives action. When you investigate and analyze threats to your brand, you are turning information into intelligence, upon which to base your actions. 

The connection between the online and offline space

“The connections come in many forms and by enhancing the data held by Corsearch, our online monitoring (OLM) provider, with a variety of other source information into our global case management system means we can take a holistic approach to solving the issues.”  

– Claire Hendey, Unilever

Claire utilizes a team of investigators who assist with activity on the ground, market sweeps, and visits off the back of online detections. They harness shipment info from Customs and port Seizures to further enhance the picture, as well as the digital voice of our consumers – this feeds Unilever’s AI and machine learning capabilities, and enabled the business to enhance and visualize global issues and perform connected global projects.   

Online and offline intelligence critical to Brand Protection success

Intelligence and investigations are core tools in your arsenal to root out high-value targets and take down network operators online and offline. We’ve discussed the nuances of targeting individual bad actors versus wider networks and shared best practices on intelligence gathering, providing insight into how your business can see greater Brand Protection ROI.

Part two in our Intelligence & Investigations series looks at the role of Data Organization – the best ways to organize, visualize and understand uncovered networks, plus maximize the opportunity posed by new information acquired. We will also explore Collaboration – the benefits of both internal and external collaboration to take down high-value targets and bad actor networks.

Stop the Source

Use Corsearch’s Stop the Source solution to build actionable data and intelligence in your pursuit of both individual targets and commercial-scale operators. Corsearch’s expert analysts harness our Network Intelligence technology and work with a worldwide network of test purchase partners to deliver the evidence needed to remove these bad actors both online and offline.