COVID-19 continues to be a growing concern. Spreading globally, countries are closing their borders, and provinces are scrambling to find the “right” level of new-normal, with shut-downs and shelter-in-place restrictions.

One person called it “the defining moment of our generation” and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. And while many of us are juggling personal responsibilities and worries, we’re also struggling to keep our businesses afloat in what are definitely uncertain economic times.

While it’s difficult to write about what’s happening right now – from a business perspective – without sounding like you’re trying to “news jack” or publish click-bait, the reality is that in today’s “always on,” 24/7 digital world, it’s harder than ever to shift our mindsets from “pandemic” to work.

But what if we saw an opportunity to improve ourselves in all of it?

Perhaps now more than ever – to make sure we don’t spend these next few months with our heads in the sand when it comes to our businesses.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

So many business owners I’ve spoken with are all starting to take a hard look at how they work. Third and fourth-quarter planning has been thrown out the window. Messaging has been tweaked and softened. Campaigns and launches have had to be re-worked or scrapped altogether.

For many small business owners and start-ups, this kind of unexpected disruption is tough. Most entrepreneurs don’t have significant war chests saved up to ride out this type of financial upheaval.

And that is exactly why you should have both arms wrapped tightly around your businesses – and use this truly bizarre time to hit the pause button on the panic – take a deep breath and take a good hard look at your brand. Because during times of crisis, protecting your brand online is more important than ever.

Scammers, Scammers, Everywhere!

It’s a sad but true fact that when disaster strikes, the scammers aren’t far behind. And the COVID-19 situation is no different.

  • Canadians are being cautioned to not click on “text scams” trying to exploit people applying for the new emergency aid benefit.
  • Another text scam appears to be from the Red Cross, offering free face masks or hand sanitizer – when you click, they ask for (steal your) credit card number to pay the shipping fees.
  • There have even been phone calls from people saying they represent a government agency letting you know you’ve tested positive for COVID-19!!

Both Canada and the United States are teaming with IT security groups and internet providers to attempt to quell the surge in digital scams:

  • The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is working to take down fake coronavirus sites.
  • The U.S. Justice Department got an order closing a website selling a fake virus vaccine.
  • And social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are attempting to isolate and remove fake posts.

Your Priority NOW Should be Protecting Your Brand

Google is searched more than 63,000 times per second – every day. And your brand is vulnerable online anywhere people can interact and engage with you.

Now imagine one of those fraudulent websites, fake social media posts, even an email phishing scheme had YOUR name and branding all over it! 

Copycats abound, even when all is right with the world. And they will and do steal other people’s ideas and branding to increase their sales.  The result for you? Lost sales, increased marketing costs, potential loss of your good name; all of which can happen and end up costing you way more than the act of protecting your brand online at the outset will.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you – it can. Especially when people are at their most vulnerable (and yes it should make you AS MAD as it does me – people’s true colours really shine in times of crisis – the good AND the bad)!!

So, I wanted to make sure that anyone launching new online products, services or businesses (or maybe you’ve already launched but skipped this part!) have all their ducks in a row when it comes to trademarks and overall brand protection during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Because there will be a “beyond.” No matter how upside-down everything feels at the moment, let’s make sure your business makes it through to the “right side-up” in one piece. The old adage holds true: This too shall pass.  

How to Protect Your Brand Online

  1. If you’re planning to offer something new (or something old in a new format), pick a unique name for it. The name should be memorable and distinctive. By distinctive, I mean it’s not descriptive or generic. The best names are coined or arbitrary words that are easy to pronounce and remember.
  1. Search that new name! The last thing you want to be faced with now is a trademark infringement claim or a cease and desist letter. Once you have thought of a new name (or better yet, a short-list of possibilities), search common sources of existing trademark and trade name rights to ensure that it (or something similar) isn’t already in use in a competing or related field. I’ve previously written a blog on searches you can do yourself for little to no cost.
  1. Apply to register the name as a trademark as soon as possible. A Canadian trademark application will reserve your right to use the name across Canada, and it can also be used as the basis of a United States trademark application, which performs the same function south of the border. As a Canadian applicant, you can create your own user accounts and file trademark applications with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you need some help, there are lower-cost online providers like the one I launched a few months back – Markably – to help you with preparing and filing these applications. In addition to trademark applications, you should also register all similar and available domain names and social page names, to keep them out of the grasp of others.
  1. Label your new name with a “TM” symbol to tell the world that it is your trademark. Once the name is a registered trademark, you can change that symbol of an (R).
  1. Monitor your online channels for any unauthorized use of the name by others, and if their adoption of the name was after yours, you can and should demand that they stop.

Again, I want to reassure you that we WILL see the back-end of what is an extraordinary global event. This WILL end. 

And though everything right now feels slightly surreal, it’s also a time when you can invest in everything you’ve worked so hard to build – and focus on your business to keep it safe from scammers or fraudsters. And please, if you need advice, reach out to me directly. I would love to help.