The Brand & Reputation Management session at SES New York 2009 took a deep dive into the ORM abyss. Coming from both legal & search marketing perspectives, the panel answered questions crucial to any business including:

  • Can I use a competitor’s trademark when advertising?
  • What is considered defamation & when should I engage professional legal help?
  • Why shouldn’t I use my brand as a verb?
  • Should I let others use my trademark?
  • How do I manage damaging messages in the SERPs? Swimmin’ with the Big Fish

The panelist table was jam packed with a good line of paper name tents. Search marketers Kristjan Mar Hauksson, Lee Odden, Paul Elliott looked at things from a search marketing standpoint,  Mark J. Rosenberg from a legal sense and Lela Phommasouvanh integrated both. The session was moderated by Jeffrey Rohrs the VP of ExactTarget.

The information from the panelists was awesome, check out what they had to say.

Using a Competitor’s Trademark in Ads
Be careful when making brand comparison ads with a competitors brand there is always the potential for your own message to become diluted. Attaching a competitors brand to your ad may spell trouble if the ad receives confused clicks from individuals searching for your competitor’s brand.

When to Engage Professional Legal Help
What’s the difference between unauthorized and permissible use of a brand?

OK: Opinions and commentary are permissible and protected by the 1st amendment (the food and service was atrocious!)

Not OK: False or misleading information = defamation (false statement: I counted 7 rats in that filthy restaurant)

Defamation law suits are rising due to the ease at which online content can be generated and dispursed via blog, reviews & social communities. Don’t jump the gun! When you make a stink because of a false claim you may be causing more harm to your brand than help. Evaluate the author and his or her influence. Do they have influence with your stakeholders? How credible are they? Assess the reprocussions before reacting.

Don’t Use Your Brand as a Verb
From a trademark perspective do not use your brand as a verb, you want your brand to be exclusive & distinct. If your trademark is associated with similar products under the same category (Rollerblade, Jello, Band-Aid, Thermos, etc.) than your brand will most likely end up taking the fall in the SERPs when negative content is directed towards the generacized trademark, regardless the involved brand.

Letting Others Use Your Brand
When allowing others to use your image and/or trademark, policies should be in place governing how it is displayed. It is imperative to preserve your brand identity in all mediums and control how your brand is seen by others.

Drowning Damaging Messages in the SERPs
Grab the low hanging fruit. Set yourself up with Google local listing and various digital assets that fit your brand. Begin ongoing general promotion and publicity of news and press releases.

With a high authority site devaluing your brand, build up surrounding reviews and content to bring the value back up. A negative review surrounded by nine other positive reviews is important to alter the quality perception of the negative review.

Reputation Management Case Study
Paul Elliot shared an excellent example of how reputation management can drastically assist a company.

National City Bank: commonly refer to their brand as National City Corporation and this was what the SEO reflected in the meta tags. When search engines (SE) would crawl the site there was really only one instance of the brand name National City Bank and it was located in the footer.

An angry customer who happened to be a webmaster had a poor experience with the company and decided to take it out on the web registering the domain name, acquiring a hefty link from dmoz and several others. The site began ranking second in the SERPs. What did Paul and his team do?

– Provided recommended meta tags, titles and descriptions to reflect the National City Bank brand name.

– Aggressive link popularity development program to increase high quality links.

– Began ongoing generation of promotion and publicity, including news, press releases, sponsored content and articles.

– Identified any and all violations or unethical online behavior on the disgruntled site.

The Outcome
– Disgruntled site had their dmoz link pulled after having found its involvement in purchasing several porn links.

– Disgruntled site is no longer discoverable via direct brand search.

– Meta tags, titles, etc., reflect the brand identity throughout the site making SE’s happy.

– Jefferey Rorhs owes Paul Elliot a steak dinner for betting he couldn’t pull it off.


Head in the Sand
With prospective and existing customers,  journalists, competitors, investors and potential employee candidates all online, you want to keep your reputation clean and accessible. Many companies fear the negative messages floating around out there and often ignore it when possible.

These negative messages should be viewed as another way to engage users. Becoming aware of the messages published about your brand will also allow you to identify evangelists and brand stewards. No matter how you slice it, the strength of the brand relies heavily on the ability to manage the reputation.

  • Sam Michelson

    I was at this session and was dissatisfied for a few reasons.

    The lawyer was so concerned about people misusing brands as verbs – he didnt realize that this is the sign of being a market leader. The fact that people “google” instead of “yahoo” your name – is a good thing for Google. The legal dept can deal with the legal aspects.

    Also – i asked the very first question at this session – I asked whether the various companies charge based on success – I was shocked not by the fact that they dont but rather by the response “you cant control what Google does”.

    I disagree – we have tens of clients and its hard as heck but we do our best to help the client own the top ten and later teh top twenty. And we work based on success – we set goals and are paid when we meet the goals.

    I would like to see a more aggressive approach in this field.