Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection, Michigan State University
Many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) face substantial challenges when seeking to implement anti-counterfeiting and brand protection strategies. In 2016, I wrote an article about these challenges, laying out ten testable propositions designed to guide future research and help SMEs identify some essential ‘next steps’ in their strategy development and implementation processes. Today, I revisit those propositions and assess them in light of the continually shifting challenges of brand protection in the 2020s.
SMEs that perceive the protection of intellectual property as essential to the protection of the firm’s identity are more likely to utilize intellectual property rights protection laws.
The heart of this proposition is its purposeful connection between a firm’s intellectual property and its identity. This is still very relevant for SMEs and I think that research exploring this connection would support its assertions.
Collaborative approaches to brand protection undertaken by partner SMEs will lead to more efficient and more effective brand protection strategies.
The value of collaboration goes beyond simply managing resource constraints. This lesson is as clear today as it was five years ago. However, the increasingly global and virtual nature of product counterfeiting schemes make collaborative approaches even more necessary as they help SMEs to efficiently address and mitigate risks.
Brand protection partnerships between SMEs and their larger business partners will lead to higher levels of supply chain guardianship than could be realized through the individual efforts of the involved firms.
While this proposition is still relevant, recent trends in brand protection and anti-counterfeiting services, e-commerce platform activities, and pending legislation may offer more promising anti-counterfeiting solutions. However, where integration within a larger firm’s supply chain is useful and valuable for both businesses, such a strategy should be pursued.
SME brand protection partnerships that are based upon an alignment of each company’s brand protection needs will be more effective than partnerships based upon other criteria.
Given the technology driven changes to product counterfeiting schemes that have developed over the past five years, it may be appropriate to revise this proposition to better clarify what are a company’s “brand protection needs.”
SMEs with greater human resource flexibility (i.e., more employees, the ability to hire employees dedicated to brand protection) will find less value in partnerships with other SMEs than firms without this flexibility.
Through this proposition, I was asserting that greater human resource flexibility leads to more internal options, which could reduce the value of external partnerships. I now believe that if I were to test this proposition, I would find my initial assertions to be incorrect – SMEs with greater human resource flexibility may find more value from partnerships because they are able to dedicate more employees to partnership activities.
SMEs that align brand protection duties with existing employee roles and responsibilities will be more successful in their brand protection efforts than firms that are not able to create such alignment.
Since the publication of this proposition, the human resource constraints faced by SMEs have grown and it has become increasingly difficult for some firms to reallocate employee efforts away from core functions in favor of brand protection activities. As such, it is likely more the case now than in the prior five years, that firms that are able to align brand protection with traditional business functions will have more success than their peers.
Employees with longer organizational tenure are more likely to perceive the integration of brand protection roles and responsibilities as a positive job role change.
I believe that it is still the case that longer tenured employees will, in general, be more likely to see brand protection-related changes to their roles in a positive light. However, I would now temper this assertion with the caveat that an employee’s role, and their initial level of satisfaction with the business, will have a great impact on their willingness to undertake additional brand protection related duties.
Employees that exhibit higher levels of Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs) are more likely to perceive the integration of brand protection roles and responsibilities as a positive job role change.
This proposition is just as valid today as it was when originally written five years ago. Research has consistently found that highly engaged employees come to see the business as an extension of themselves and their coworkers as family. When highly invested and engaged employees understand how impactful product counterfeiting can be to a business, they are more likely to take on additional roles to protect the business from harm.
SMEs that use outside experts will have greater knowledge of brand protection laws, general counterfeiting activity, and anticounterfeiting solutions than firms that do not use outside experts.
The proliferation of freely available information on the Internet and through partners such as e-commerce platforms, industry associations, and groups like the World Trademark Review and the National Intellectual Property Rights Center have come to be incredibly useful resources for small businesses. As such, it may no longer be the case that those firms who work with outside experts will have greater brand protection knowledge than other firms.
SMEs that partner with law enforcement and customs organizations will be more effective in identifying and prosecuting counterfeiters than firms that do not partner with law enforcement.
This proposition is as true today as when it was first laid out. SMEs should always seek out partnerships with law enforcement and customs organizations as a way to enhance their effectiveness against violations. While the substance of this proposition has not changed, the practice of implementing its tenant has and likely will continue to change in the coming years.
The organizational challenges SMEs face when seeking to implement brand protection solutions are intertwined, as constraints, such as a lack of access to financing, can influence the organization’s ability to appropriately respond to counterfeiting threats. Yet, it is not necessarily true that resource constraints will mean that smaller firms are doomed to be unsuccessful in their anti-counterfeiting efforts. The success of anti-counterfeiting activities within resource constrained businesses will be heavily influenced by the firm’s ability to efficiently allocate organizational resources to brand protection efforts.
See Jay Kennedy’s expanded reflections on his 2016 Brand Protection Propositions with additional insights.
THE BRAND PROTECTION PROFESSIONAL |SEPTEMBER 2021 | VOLUME 6 NUMBER 3
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