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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Branding on the Internet

If you have a business you need a unique name for your business and, you need to protect it and promote it. Trademark registration does protect the name within limits and having a website is a great way to promote your business. In not much more then 12 years the Internet has gone from an academic curiosity to a mainstream business tool that allows even small business to affordably promote their products to everyone in their town or even to a world wide audience. Depending on what line of business you are in you may need anything from a simple web site you can build yourself to a complicated on-line catalogue you need to hire a professional to do.

Whatever size web-site you decide you need, you need to brand it, and a part of that branding is you must have your own domain name and one you have it, your domain name is your business' brand, you should use it for all internet communication. Your customers and prospects will recognise you by that name. If you use your ISP's url or email address such as yourlogin@ispname.co.nz, www.ispname.co.nz/~yourlogin/, www.ispname.co.nz/homepages/~yourlogin/ or http://yourname.ispname.co.nz you are damaging your business in three ways

  • You are not reinforcing your branding across to your customers
  • You are not presenting a professional image to prospects who may wonder if you really are an established business
  • You won't get any people guessing your website name and typing it (so-called type-in traffic)
  • You are spending your advertising money promoting your ISP's brand
  • If you ever want to change ISPs you have a large and expensive task moving. This will include
    • replacing stationary, signs, and signwriting,
    • informing existing customers
    • redirecting existing links to your new address.
As an aside, under no circumstances advertise a free email address (e.g. NocturnalAviation@hotmail.com) as your business email address. If you must use web based email temporarily (e.g. while travelling) your web host should be able to supply a branded one or forward your normal email to a web based service. Google's Gmail is a free email service you can configure to send emails that appear to come from your normal email address so your replies still carry your branding.

Choosing a domain name

People quite often guess web addresses for businesses and with a well chosen name they may be finding your web site. They might have briefly seen your business name on the side of your van, of a friend may have told them about you. To do this you must choose the right domain name.

A domain name is the part of a web address that does after the "www." or if you prefer the part of an email address that goes after the "@" sign.

Domain names are in two parts: The name you choose and a suffix called the extension. The extension indicates information about the registration and will be something like .com, .co.nz, .ltd.uk, .in. The two together are the domain name and the salient point here is that your domain name is your branding.

  • The extension needs to match your intended market, if you are selling in Australia you want .com.au, .co.nz for New Zealand, .co.uk for Britain, and so-forth. The .com extension is important for the US market, and also for the international market.

    In every market there are secondary extensions. These get almost no type-in and except in special circumstances they should be avoided.

  • The part you choose is very important, it is the part people will remember about your domain name, and it should match your trading name. If you trade as Mettal's Emporium, your domain name should start with one of Mettal, Mettals, Mettals-Emporium, or MettalsEmporium; which of these you choose depends on memorability, ease of typing, and your intended market. The general rule is that shorter is better, but there are a lot of exceptions.Take your time deciding and get it right.

    You are going to be running your business for a lot of years, and you are going to spend a lot of money promoting your brand. Spend a few days now thinking about the name you will use.

Having more than one domain name
As explained above, there's two parts to every domain name, and you can have variations on both parts of your name, but the reasons why you would do this differ.

You must have the most common extension for your target market, the one that your customers are used to typing. Use .com, not .biz; .co.uk, not .ltd.uk; .co.nz, not .geek.nz. Once you've got that you can also register other variations, when it makes sense. For example, if you are going to run the Hamilton Dance School and have registered HamiltonDance.co.nz it may make a lot of sense to also register HamiltonDance.school.nz and promote that as your branding. Because you own both names, anyone who types in HamiltonDance.co.nz will still find you.

If you can get it, also register the .com version of your name. Although most people will try the locally popular extension, some will try .com, and possibly in years to come you may find yourself trading internationally so why not reserve the name now? Finally, if you don't get it you may find your competition do and you can have an expensive time regaining it.

You can also register variations on your main domain name. In the example above I said you should choose one of Mettal, Mettals, Mettals-Emporium, or MettalsEmporium as your branded domain name. The other three names shouldn't be ignored, if your business will profit from having them you can register all four and arrange for the other three to redirect to your main branding. CocaCola.com and coke.com both redirect to coca-cola.com

The same logic exists for variations on your name. If you are Kawhia Raglan Plumbers ltd you should consider registering

  • KawhiaRaglanPlumbers.co.nz,
  • KawhiaPlumbers.co.nz,
  • RaglanPlumbers.co.nz,
  • probably kawhia-raglan-plumbers.co.nz; and
  • possibly the .coms as well.
If you are actually Smith and Jones Ltd trading as Kawhia Raglan Plumbers you should register the same names & probably smithandjones.co.nz.

Hyphens or not? Singular or Plural?

There's a perceived wisdom among the internet savvy that having hyphens is a bad thing because people aren't going to type them. Certainly the more internet aware members of the public don't, but there's still a large minority of the population that will type them. Personally I'd go for the no-hyphen version of the name unless it's really ugly. One thing to watch out for is can there be a second meaning to the name if you just join two words together, and even if you always spell it in mixed case, search engines will convert it to lower case. You should probably also register the hyphenated version and redirect it.

The plural versus singular is more difficult. If you are a cake decorator you sell wedding cakes, but your customer probably only wants to buy a wedding cake. On the other hand, to buy their wedding cake they may look for a site that sells wedding cakes. In short, they may try either wedding cake or wedding cakes. Logic suggests you should try getting both names, unless there is some reason in your market why only one name will work.

For this combination register

  • WeddingCakes.co.uk,
  • WeddingCake.co.uk,
  • probably wedding-cakes.co.uk and
  • wedding-cake.co.uk
(The .com versions of all these are long gone, but if possible grab them too)

Aren't we registering a lot of names?

How many domain names you register is a business decision that should be guided by the same principles as any other decision.

You know your business and how well a sale does for you. If your average sale netts you $1,000 profit, then an extra domain name only needs to bring in one more sale every few years to pay for itself. If your average sale netts you $10 profit, then that extra domain name needs to bring in 4 or 5 extra sales a year to pay for itself. Stop and think what your potential customers will be looking for and try to find the right domain name(s) for them to find then register as many money making names as your budget allows.

What if you have multiple Brands?

Protect all your brands. Market all your brands and have the domain names for them. Each distinct brand should point to a page about that brand. This page can either be a mini-site for itself, or a redirect to the relevant page in your main site.

Register now or later?

If you register your name now you've got it. If you don't somebody else may register it. Once another party has registered the name it becomes much more difficult and often more expensive to obtain it.

Every domain name authority has rules for resolving disputes between the current registered owner of domain names and other claimants. The .nz domain name registry runs a disputes service under its own rules that are similar to the .uk rules and publishes the results on-line. Because of my involvement in .nz domain names I read any new decisions, sometimes they are interesting, and can show that there really are grounds to dispute the claim, but usually it's pretty mundane: someone has registered a domain name for a well known brand (or a close approximation) and doesn't even try to file a defence.

In the most recent decision (pdf, html) the complaint was laid by a large international company that had registered its name as a trademark in New Zealand 13 years ago and acquired a New Zealand subsidiary 5 years ago. The respondent questioned why did the complainant not purchase the domain name relevant to their international branding upon acquiring its New Zealand subsidiary? It wasn't really a defence but it does raise an interesting point.

Because the complainant had a trademark and the respondent didn't have a good defence they were able to regain their name. It cost them a couple of thousand dollars to get the judgement plus whatever fees their lawyer charged them.

If you have a name and intend to brand it, register it now. In an earlier case (pdf, html) a business privately discussed registering a domain name, but didn't act for several months. In the meantime another person innocently registered the name, and the attempt to gain it failed.

In another (unpublicised) case a person was developing a business asset and discussed the name with the wrong person who then went out and registered the name. At the time of writing I have no idea if they will be able to get their name back, but the problem simply wouldn't have existed if they had secured the name when they had the chance.

Another good rule of thumb is don't tell anyone anything about your branding until you have registered the names you are going to want.

Summary

Consider your market and how you want to brand yourself for that market. Pick a domain name that supports that branding and then treat that domain name as your branding. Consider variations on the name that make sense in your market and register those names also, make the extra names redirect to your branded site. Once you decide to use a name, register it immediately and limit who you discuss the name with until you have the registration.


Copyright © 2008 Bruce Clement. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Day 0, Year 0

The first post on a new blog is usually a chance to express high hopes for the future. I'm going to be a bit more restrained.

I've had another blog Bruce / Kiore an occasional diary for a while and it's ended up being a confused mishmash of personal news, my views on the world and domaining related essays.

I've decided to split it into three. The original blog will be a dear diary for personal news and revert to the occasional diary status, this blog for my world views together with philosophical and political thoughts while my domaining related posts and will be stored at Domaining NZ


The blog's name is "¿Que?", it's probably Spanish and possibly means "What?" Anyone remembering Fawlty Towers will recognise it as Manuel's favourite expression. Where Manuel used it to express is non-comprehension of Basil I'd using it more to express my amazement and incomprehension of the world.

I'll be moving the relevant postings from the old blog over here which is why there will be entries here from before I began the blog.

 


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