By Robert Stolk, Co-founder & CEO at Pointer Brand Protection
Whether it’s gray trade, counterfeits, or other forms of IP abuse, our goal at Pointer is to help brands defend themselves against the constantly evolving threats they face. For the last ten years we’ve helped businesses of all sizes do that, not just through innovative technologies but by having expert people who can bring it to life. We’re here to advise, to contextualize, and to help solve the issues. This means that brand protection is as much about relationships as about software, and the first point of contact most businesses have with us is through our commercial team. In addition to being experts in the systems we use, their knowledge of brand presence and market challenges makes them ambassadors for brand protection.
There’s always more to learn though and we want to keep introducing new ideas, new approaches, and new people from different sectors. By creating a wider spectrum of understanding we get better for our clients and understand more of their issues. As part of our long-term strategy to keep improving, we’ve appointed a new Chief Commercial Officer, Brant Seethaler, who brings years of experience from leading commercial teams in the fields of tech and online learning.
I spoke to Brant to find out how he sees the future of brand protection.
Brant, how did you start out on your career?
I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, but I left when I was 18 and moved to England to study for a degree in International Business. I moved back to the States when my course finished, but after a year spent working in the medical industry there, I started to feel the pull of Europe and all its diverse cultures again. So, in 2003, despite not speaking Dutch, I moved to the Netherlands and have been here ever since.
How was it, finding work as an American in the Netherlands?
By chance, a contact had a start-up developing content for training companies, specifically around IT best practices. They developed programs using frameworks like PRINCE2 and ITIL, which other companies could then use to deliver that type of training. I started in online sales but the market was blowing up for that kind of training so there was a lot of opportunity.
I handled a lot of the international markets over the space of about ten years before deciding that I wanted a new challenge. I moved to a relatively small tech company that was providing a different kind of training platform, one focused on education and learning. It was my role to get the Dutch team to work in a way that was scalable and then to replicate that in international markets.
Your background has given you experience in working with international teams and clients on tech-based projects. Do you see that crossing over into brand protection?
I’m completely switching industries but obviously the tech is still following me. That’s important I think because tech is such a big part of Pointer, and of effective brand protection generally. However, I think that what best serves those brands suffering from IP infringement and brand abuse is a balance between technology and human input. There’s a push across almost all industries to automate and to incorporate AI and machine learning, but humans still add so much.
There has been a democratization of content in the last 20 years, so you can now find out any fact within a few seconds. But creativity and contextualization are still very much human processes. Plus, we now have tools that enable better collaboration between different cultures, different languages, and different areas of expertise – that’s what you see here at Pointer.
And do you think matching technology with human communication is an important part of how brands should protect themselves?
I think what’s important to recognize that every brand is different, and that each faces a unique set of problems. For some it will be counterfeits, for some it’ll be gray trade, but each needs the contextualization and advice that comes from humans who have the benefit of data and complex technologies.
Even in the short time I’ve been at Pointer so far, I’ve seen enough examples of brand infringement to say that the issue depends on the business. If you’re a pharmaceutical or automotive company, for example, then clearly customer safety is a huge priority. If you’re talking about luxury fashion brands then it may be more important to protect brand value and scarcity. One size doesn’t fit all and the solution for each brand is tied to partnering with experts who range across different countries, languages, and areas of knowledge.
Have you seen that diversity here so far?
Here in Amsterdam alone we have something like 30 countries represented, all with a different mix of values and cultures. Not only is that a benefit for our own company culture but also for our clients. Clearly there’s a big connection to China because having people who understand how that system works is hugely beneficial for us to develop our services and our products, but also for our customers as we can give them more insight into what’s really going on. I believe that part of our real value in the brand protection space is our ability to advise our clients as well as to provide a market-leading tech solution.
We’re able to have the conversation with our customers about exactly what it is that they’re trying to solve and then to have a mix of different solutions to achieve that. In some cases that consultative approach might revolve around problems tied to profitability, in others it might be consumer safety or brand reputation. The tactics we employ to protect the brand will be uniquely different depending upon the brand and their situation – that’s diversity of input leading to a diversity of solutions for the client.
What do you think the future looks like?
Unfortunately, for many businesses the size of the problem is only going to get bigger and if I were a brand manager I’d be very concerned about how I was protecting my own reputation against counterfeiting, gray trade, and these other areas. However, as the complexity of criminal technology evolves then so does our ability to fight it. I think there’s a huge opportunity in that and we’ll be leading that charge.