combatting brand pirates

How to Combat (and Capitalize On) Brand Pirates

RJ Licata, Sr. Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Brand pirates (attention competitors) are usurping brand narratives and outcompeting brands online, causing major loss of consumer attention.
  • Owned assets — brand-controlled content and infrastructure optimized to deliver on consumer needs — mitigate the damage brand pirates cause.
  • Optimizing your assets reclaims attention from brand pirates and can use their presence online to push your competitors out of the market.

Brand pirates — the non-traditional competitors hijacking your story and stealing consumer attention — are a problem. But they can be dealt with, either by outcompeting them or flipping the script and using them to your advantage.

The best approach to reining in brand pirates is to optimize all of the digital properties your brand owns, based on what your audience wants.

When you create this infrastructure of content, you take back attention, seize control of your story, and develop a proactive defense for your brand. In this article, we’ll look at how this approach uniquely addresses the problem of attention competitors.

Know your competitors

The first step is understanding who you’re actually competing with online. Across the pirate categories — grey area competition, content hubs and publishers, affiliate sites, social media, and review platforms — brands must audit their digital landscape to identify who is stealing their consumers’ attention.

For example, Bank of America might identify the following attention-loss sources:

  • Grey area competition: Allstate,,
  • Content hubs:,,,,,,
  • Affiliates:,
  • Social: @HumphreyTalks on TikTok, @mrmoneymustache on Twitter, r/finance, r/banking, r/personalfinance on Reddit
  • Reviews:,,,,

These are just some examples, an extensive audit would reveal much more. Brands are no longer just competing for conversions against traditional competitors in their market space.

They are now competing with myriad third parties for consumer attention and online real estate. Understanding who is stealing attention from your brand, and how they’re doing it, are the first steps to reclaiming that attention.

brand pirates graphic 2

How owned assets solve the brand pirate problem 

Brand pirates work in different ways to siphon attention from your brand and dictate your narrative. Owned asset optimization (OAO) provides a unified strategy that addresses:

  1. Market share — The total ownership of the digital search space. An asset-first approach considers, holistically, the entire attention economy. Starting by learning what consumers are searching for, then creating content and consumer touch points to show up and connect more frequently with consumers through search.
  2. Narrative control — Rightful ownership of your brand’s story. Holding attention and market share is critical, but telling the right brand story and protecting your brand narrative is equally important.

Here’s how an asset-first approach solves the unique issues each type of brand pirate creates:

Grey area competition: market share

Grey area competitors are typically blogs or content hubs owned by large brands that are adjacent to your brand. Their offerings aren’t in your lane but their informational space has crossover with yours — also known as content grey areas. Because of this, grey area competitors primarily impact online market share.

The asset-first approach and its search intent-powered insight:

  • Identifies a brand’s grey area competitors 
  • Reveals what audiences are looking for online
  • Informs what value to provide to these audiences
  • Creates the asset infrastructure needed to target the content grey areas
  • Provides the structure and consumer touchpoints needed to win the attention in content grey areas

With grey area competitors identified and a holistic approach ready to attack the grey areas, a brand can dominate the space, build trust with the audience early on in their journey, and be top of mind when consumers inevitably consider that brand’s particular offering.

Reaching into these related spaces is a major source of audience growth and brand equity, helps to lift marketing ROI, and fends off direct and indirect competitors.

Content hubs and publishers: market share and narrative control

The concern with content hubs and publishers is similar to grey area competition in that these entities also take up valuable market share.

The difference is that this includes media sites, and that means narrative control comes into play. Media sites, which garner massive trust, can so easily derail a brand’s story, damage reputation, and cause long-term problems.

The asset optimization solution leverages one of your brand’s most powerful owned assets — your blog — turning it into your own brand-controlled content hub. 

A fully optimized blog produces consistent, high-value content powered by search intent data. It provides the venue to solve audience problems and lets you hone in on research stage awareness. It also lets you tell your own story and dictate your brand narrative — when done right, it’s capable of outcompeting large media sites.

Brands losing to content hubs are ceding large swathes of online real estate, and the consumer attention that comes with it. Instead of letting publishers steal attention, brands can compete with a performance publishing outlet of their own. This protects the brand’s online presence and directly reclaims consumer attention.

Content hubs and media sites aren’t all bad, and they often publish positive content for brands as well. The issue is that even when the coverage is good, the brand itself misses out on growing direct trust with their audience. 

Affiliate sites: market share

Affiliate marketers and content hubs are often one and the same, but there are some unique ways an asset-first approach deals with affiliates. The difference is that affiliates can actually create some value for brands, pushing clicks to transactional pages and featuring brand offerings. 

It’s not all upside though. Affiliates charge money for listings, take fees on sales, and steal attention because they tend to rank so well in search. Users often trust them because they appear unbiased or independent.

Despite this, the popularity of affiliate marketing for brands still grows, with a staggering $17 billion market value expected in 2023.

The goal isn’t to get rid of affiliates. Instead, it’s about reducing brand reliance on affiliates and tipping the balance in favor of the brand. This is achieved by:

  • Increasing investment in creating high-performance owned assets that rank in search
  • Outperforming affiliates with these assets
  • Capturing audience attention and building brand trust directly
  • Decreasing investment in affiliate programs

After establishing high-ranking assets to take attention back, your brand can selectively work with affiliates to block out other unwanted, less positive, or controllable competitors. Affiliates are brand pirates but they can be strategically deployed as barriers to entry against your competitors as well.

Review sites and platforms: narrative control

There are two main review types to be concerned with:

  1. Review sites that provide expert insight on various products
  2. User-submitted review platforms

An owned asset approach helps build more control over the review narrative and allows brands to influence the conversation.

Expert review sites

When review sites cover various offerings they source claims and material from wherever that information is readily available, and that isn’t always a brand’s preferred story. Brands that don’t have the assets to deliver that information and do it consistently across their digital assets, lose the ability to influence the narrative of expert reviews.

If you don’t have the information readily available, a third party will — but the brand should always be the direct source of truth in order to mitigate erroneous reviews or incorrect claims.

With a fully optimized asset network, your brand can provide consistent, rich detail, claims, and narrative about your products and services. If each asset a potential reviewer visits provides an exceptional experience and valuable information, it ensures accuracy and can color the review in a positive light. 

Plus, when your controlled assets dominate search results they crowd out brand pirates who are telling the wrong story, guiding reviews to the brand instead of third parties.

User review platforms

The uncontrollability of user review platforms is a fact of life, but owned assets can help achieve better overall ratings on platforms. 

Creating an amazing experience that consistently delivers value to consumers across your digital real estate can mitigate acutely negative reviews. If a dissatisfied consumer post-purchase reaches out for help, your assets provide the requested value, and that positive micro-moment might just bump a 2-star to a 3-star rating.

You can also build brand-controlled assets where customers can leave reviews, giving you more insight into their needs and challenges. Or, create assets to funnel customers to when they are most happy with their purchase, ensuring more and more positive reviews.

Social media: narrative control

Social media includes all of the platforms (YouTube, Twitter, etc.), social users, and influencers that post to those various networks. 

Brands don’t actually “own” their social media accounts, nor the followers they amass. These profiles, unlike a corporate site or blog, are subject to platform moderation.

Still, brands can control what they post, what they spend, and how they position themselves on social media — and how their socials feed into their broader asset network.

Social media content is displayed prominently in search results and the volatile nature of this content cedes brand narrative control. Video content posted by third parties ranks highly as well, potentially allowing all sorts of negativity and misinformation to appear. 

Optimized brand assets condition search results to be more brand-friendly despite the Wild West mentality of social media. Plus, when your brand’s social accounts are aligned with your other assets, regularly posting valuable content, you can crowd out the social chaos and start to influence user-generated content.

Influencer volatility

Brands that invest too heavily in social influencers, who are valuable, also take on unnecessary risk. Like affiliates, influencers sell access to attention. The problem is, influencers are out of your control and often prone to controversy and scandal.

How many brands have had to cut ties and sustained reputational harm from bad influencer behavior? The risk is ever-present.

Controlling your online space through your assets lets you rely less on unpredictable influencers because:

  • Your assets use search intent data to meet consumer needs and connect with them directly
  • The content across your assets (social posts and videos, too) provides value and increases narrative control
  • The “authenticity” influencers sell is less important when your assets communicate and connect authentically to the audience. 

The money saved on influencers can be prioritized towards optimizing owned assets. Owned assets are a sustainable, predictable way to connect with consumers and grow your business.

Final thoughts

Stopping the damage caused by brand pirates who hijack your narrative and take away market share is a vital step. It helps reconnect and build authentic relationships with your customers. Just competing with your product competitors misses a huge swath of the public. It also limits the accessible market for your brand.

When you make your owned assets the unifying strategy of all your marketing efforts, brand pirates lose the leverage they’ve developed. And that’s just one of the ways owned assets set brands up for dominance.

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