Protecting Your Branding on the Internet

Published in Orchard and Vine Magazine on: June 2, 2015

Branding is an important part of any business.  No matter what type of business you are in, there is value in your brand.  Maybe your orchard, vineyard or winery has a particular name, slogan or symbol which you use to distinguish your goods from your competitors.  Your customers recognize your name and they will choose to give you their business because they value your service and your product; they will accept no substitutes.  A strong brand gives you an incredible competitive advantage. Promote your brand and protect your brand.

The internet has a massive impact on branding and has many benefits.  You can personally connect with potential customers who are not in your town or city expanding your potential client base.  You can offer loyalty programs and encourage your customers to make multiple purchases. You can use your website to communicate with and distribute your product to your clients. You may even benefit from viral marketing which results from your customers sharing information about your business with their own personal network.  Simply, the internet allows you to manage your traditional customers more efficiently and promote your brand more broadly.

When you expand your branding strategy to the internet, you should make some time for online monitoring for two main reasons. First, internet branding often comes with non-traditional forms of “word of mouth” advertising such as discussion boards, consumer rating websites, blogs and review forums.  Many people use the internet to obtain product information and reviews.  Online monitoring may help you to learn what your customers think you are doing well, could be doing better or avoid a “viral” customer complaint.  Second, as with other forms of branding, there is a risk for abuse (such as typosquatting or the sale of counterfeit product) that can lead to lost revenue or damaged reputation if not identified and addressed.

An important part of branding is selecting a domain name which is consistent with your brand (for example, averylawoffice.ca is my business domain).  Remember, when dealing with domains, the registration system is first come-first served. Unlike trademarks, there is no process in place to determine a person’s entitlement to a domain or to allow a challenge to a prior legitimate registration based upon competing use. This means that there can be conflicts between businesses that have legitimate rights to the same name.  There can only be one averylawoffice.ca, but a competing business may own averylawoffice.com, averylawoffice.org and averylawoffice.net.  When registering your domain name, think about whether you should obtain other names to allow for future expansion or to prevent others from obtaining them.  You can also consider registering your domain name as a registered trademark.

When it comes time to registering your domain name, you may find that the name you want has already been registered to someone else.  If the registration is legitimate, you will need to select another name or attempt to acquire rights to the name directly from the owner.  If the registration is illegitimate, this is cybersquatting.  Cybersquatting occurs when someone registers a domain name similar to a brand name to which they have no claim and later tries to sell the domain name to the brand owner.  This is an abusive form of registration and proceedings can be brought under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.  Court actions for trademark infringement or passing off may also be considered on advice from your lawyer.

Another form of abuse, typosquatting, occurs when someone registers a domain name that is identical to a brand name except for a minor misspelling with the intent that they will get hits from people who mistakenly type the brand name.  As noted above, online monitoring and policing will help avoid negative impacts from such abuse.

Website optimization is also an important aspect of internet branding.  Metatags and keyword summaries for your website are vital to the best search engine results.  Linking to images or documents on other websites is also beneficial and should be undertaken on a case-by-case basis, preferably with the consent of the other website owner to avoid any potential claims for defamation or copyright infringement.

If you have an interactive website that can be accessed outside of Canada, it is recommended that your website comply with the laws in force in the areas where your customers are actually located.  Relevant laws may include intellectual property laws, consumer protection, product liability and defamation.  Alternatively, your website may include a disclaimer which sets out the governing law and jurisdiction (e.g. BC law) which your customers must accept to continue on to your site or make an online purchase.

Finally, to comply with Canadian privacy legislation, your business should develop a website privacy policy which sets out the personal information being collected, why and how it is collected and who has access to it.

Share this!
Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Plusone