When Someone Steals Your Branding

One of the biggest problems with being a “service provider” is the you deal in intangibles – a world removed from the confines of the physical.

When you’re selling the intangible, the manner in which you describe and SELL your services is equally intangible.

As a result, many professional service providers rely on creating catch phrases to describe what they do  and how they do it.  They build their own personal “brand” around such “catch” phrases.

I have a client who did exactly that.  She literally crafted a unique term which richly describes exactly what she does and she created a thriving business providing those services to business owners.

Fortunately, and I do breath a HEAVY sigh of relief around this one, she did make the minimal investment and actually REGISTERED the domain name for this unique term around which she’s built her personal brand.

However, while she registered the domain name containing these keywords and even launched a blog on this domain name, she hasn’t had the time or desire to begin populating her blog with content – so the blog has sat for a while, sporting as its only content the “Hello World” post that comes standard with every brand new WordPress installation.

This weekend, this client did a Google search on her keyword term and saw something which made her physically ill and with good reason.

Someone else is ranking #1 on her beloved keyword term.

To make matters worse, this competitor was a client of hers from several years ago.  She worked with him as he was launching his own consulting business and he, in turn, decided to return the favor by offering services under her branded term.

The dirty thief stole her brand!

In her email to me, the pain was evident.  Here was someone with whom she had “performed her magic” and now he was not only offering “her” services but he was doing it using the keywords she thought she “owned”.

Unfortunately for her, he published an article on a PR4 site and now his article is beating her empty blog for her beloved keyword term.

It’s hard enough when you’re an expert in your field – bearing all the battle wounds and scars that come with earning such a distinction – to watch someone launch a competitive service.

It’s harder still when you’ve actually BUILT hundreds of boats to watch someone who read your book on “How to Build a Better Boat” promote their seminar on the subject.

If you let yourself – you can drive yourself insane with that kind of stuff.  “It’s obvious he’s never even HELD a hammer in his hands!  Look!!!  Not a single callous!  Who does he think he is?”  Who does he think he’s fooling?”

Well, he’s fooling everyone who’s never built a boat and signs up for his seminar – that’s who he’s fooling.

He may have read your book – but I’ll bet that even he would rather face the high seas in the craft YOU built rather than the one he keeps meaning to build.

I’ve had more than my fair share of “clients turned competitors” over the past 12 years.  One of the things I embrace in my life is trying to learn important life lessons from mistakes – preferably the mistakes of others!!!

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #1:  IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

I don’t care how innovative your product or service is, if it’s even moderately successful you should expect imitators.  Someone is going to do it faster, cheaper and better if you’re not actively involved in learning how to deliver your goods faster, cheaper and better.

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #2:THE VALUE OF BEING FIRST DIMINISHES OVER TIME

There’s a lot of value in being first with an idea – but if you don’t stake your claim then someone else will.  Bill Gates wasn’t the first person to create a way for computers and “regular” humans to communicate more efficiently – but he was the first to promote the idea to business owners.

As I said earlier, the one bright spot to this story is that my client registered the domain name containing the keywords of her personal branding phrase back in 2005.  She didn’t trademark it – but at least when the branding thief tried to steal her thunder – he couldn’t steal the domain name.

Unfortunately, being first with this phrase is losing it’s luster.  Now there are competitors who are taking this phrase and running with it.  Because my client owns the domain name – when her competitors use the term, they will be promoting HER blog – but that only works if she can get the blog populated with content.

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #3: BUSINESSES ARE EITHER GROWING OR THEY’RE DYING

There is no such thing as being “stagnant” in business.  As I stated earlier – if you’re not actively involved in making your products or services better, faster and cheaper – then your business is not growing but is in the process of dying.   How long it takes for the final bell to toll is simply a function of the size of your business.  If you’re a US automaker, that death can take decades.  If you’re a small one person show – that process can take just a few months.

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #4: WHEN YOU’RE SELLING INTANGIBLES – IMAGE IS EVERYTHING!

When you’re selling professional services – image is EVERYTHING!

I have complete and total sympathy for my client.   She was actively involved in PRACTICING her craft rather than promoting her image.  I get it.  She had more clients than she could possibly handle and has been struggling for the past two years on ways to expand her practice without sacrificing the quality of the work done.  Since so MUCH of the practice is predicated upon her “magic” – this has been a difficult undertaking.

She was busy practicing her craft rather than protecting her image.

Now, she’s discovering that even though her practice was full, she still should have been out there “protecting” her brand.   She’s discovering that a thief has been quietly working to steal her “thunder”. While she’s been struggling to protect the integrity of the services provided under her name – someone’s been stealing her “branding” term.

In my client’s defense – she knows what terms are important to her and she is aware that she needs to protect her “online stake” in those terms.  That puts her MILES ahead of many, many business owners today.

So now I’ll ask – what do YOU do to protect your branding?  My mind goes to registering domain names and launching blogs for protection…. while my client is contacting a trademark attorney.  Are there any other tactics I’m missing?

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Kathy – This has happened to me a few years and the person I confided in beat me to buying the domain.

    It’s hard to stop someone from stealing your tagline. If you TM your logo and the tagline is in there, I guess that helps. But doing that is a long and expensive process.

    I suppose, what your client really needs to do is get some content on her blog and show why she is better than those who are trying to copy her. It should be fairly easy for her to show that she can actually build those boats, as opposed to just writing about it.

  2. says

    Kathy,

    I am so sorry for what happened to your client, but everything you said is true. In today’s world, businesses need an on-line presence, which means taking the time to develop it and keep it up to date. Great post :~)

    Saras last blog post..Is the term Lurkers a bad word?

  3. Kathy says

    Betsy- YOU CRACK ME UP!!!

    Cath- With friends like those – you don’t need enemies!!! OUCH!!! And of course, she does need to get content on her blog – ah, but extracting that has been like pulling TEETH! sigh!

    Sara – Thanks!!!

    Alik – I think we can ALL relate to this – and if you can’t, then you haven’t been providing services very long!

  4. says

    Kathy, I feel so bad for your client and all of her hard work. I hope she will set aside some time to start placing some articles on her blog.

    A few weeks ago I wrote a Valentine post on my ministry blog, “Show Some Love to Your Ministry Volunteers.” Believe it or not, one of my fellow church members cut and pasted the entire post (pictures and all) and put it on her Facebook Notes. There was no indication that I wrote the post AND she posted a link to HER website.

    I know this isn’t the same thing that happened to your client, but I say this to say that I know how your client feels. Except, after I calmed down, I called my “friend” immediately and told her to remove it, which she promptly did.

    Valeries last blog post..Happy Birthday To Me

  5. Kathy says

    Oh Valerie – I know how YOU feel. Fortunately, your “friend” removed the note – though it would have been nice had she linked it to YOUR blog instead!!!

    On a positive note, when someone steals your content – at least you know it’s GOOD!!! Remember, imitation (and thievery) are the sincerest form of flattery!!!;)

  6. says

    Hi Kathy,

    This sucks and I feel for your client. Unfortunately these things happen and like you already stated, coy cats do flatter us but they are annoying at the same time.

    Your client needs to build content fast and then a get a ton of links to her blog with her “trademark keyword”. This will quickly outwit her competitor since most likely he probably hasn’t got any links and only ranks for the high PR article. Let me know if I can help. I’m happy to link to her when she is ready.

    Monika Mundells last blog post..Make More Money With Freelance Technical Writing

  7. says

    I found you via Twitter. I’m so happy I clicked over. What I’ve done with a brand I’m working on is exactly what you said, buy the domain names and register the blogs. Ahhh, I can sigh a bit of relief now.

    katie schwartzs last blog post..SHEBREWLICIOUS, BABY

  8. Kathy says

    Katie,

    WELCOME!!! Glad you found something soothing here. (Not everything around here is for everyone!)

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this cautionary tale. We can’t just do great work – we also have to promote our brand early and often, with a web presence and with traditional marketing tactics.

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