Remember the Shel Puppet? Loren “138Media” Feldman created an instant hit by mimicking Media-expert Shel Israel’s video show. The imitation, i.e. the puppet received sponsorhip while the original series was floundering. They irony of all was that Loren owned the domain shelisrael.com, which was simply available for purchase due to an oversight by its rightful owner: the real Shel forgot to register it.
Not owning your own domain can be inconvenient for individuals, but it’s a real blunder for businesses. Marketing 101:own your own domain. No exceptions. Not the *.net *.us *.biz or whatever garden-variety you can find, but the *.com version.
Startups who don’t have a lot vested in a particular brand have a choice: they should pick a name with available *.com name. Last year I picked on a few TechCrunch 50 presenters with the wrong names:
- http://www.fairsoftware.net easily confused with fairsoftware.com, also in the software business.
- http://www.icharts.net/ does not own the *.com version – but at least icharts.com does not appear to be a real business, just a parked domain whose owner is probably holding out for a high price.
- http://tingz.net/ is in the same shoes, the *.com version is owned by what appears to be an individual.
- alfabetic.net appears the be one startup that smartened up: the *.net version is no longer available, they are now @ http://www.alfabetic.com/ (hey, does it mean somebody actually listens?)
But I don’t want to pick on TC50 presenters, here’s another example: I recently wanted to look up Paymo, whose CEO has pinged me a few times (Ben will likely review them soon). What a surprise! I thought they were in the time tracking & billing business, but in fact they are a mobile payments solution. And not exactly a small startup, either. How could they have morphed so far? Ouch… they are @ paymo.biz, not paymo.com.
This begs for the question: what’s the value of a catchy name (one that even describes what you do) when the primary domain is owned by another company in a similar business?
The above examples have one thing in common: they picked the wrong name. They all launched out of nowhere, with zero brand equity, so they could have picked one that was available, or easy to purchase(as alfabetic apparently did.)
More established businesses don’t have that luxury. They are in the enviable position of having built a strong brand, so it would seem reasonable that they protect it.
Jive Software has been around for a decade or so, doing OK as a relatively unknown Open Source company. Then along came Enterprise 2.0, they rode a good wave, hired Marketing Maven Sam Lawrence, and overnight they became THE E20 Brand. But there’s a small problem: the Brand that became famous is Jive, and they don’t own that domain. About 6k visitors a month see this:
Nothing to see here—move along now.
Apparently someone holds the jive.com domain hostage. But the logo does not say Jive Software, it says Jive. And the “hostage” site has traffic comparable to real companies with real products:
Note: I am not trying to pick on Jive (although they are big boys, can take it). Other companies with even bigger brands blunder, too.
When Dell recently launched their luxury Adamo line, they launched it as a separate brand (just like Lexus is not Toyota, Acura is not Honda…etc). Except they did not acquire Adamo.com. They launched the product @ AdamobyDell.com (quite a mouthful) and only when half the blogosphere ridiculed them for being so cheap did they purchase Adamo.com, which had long been a parked domain @ Tucows.
Others are smarter. There is a reason Mercury Interactive paid $1M for mercury.com, Apple coughed up meg $$$ for iPhone.com, or Nissan bought the simply elegant z.com (hey, that should be my domain)
They all seem to know Marketing 101: own your own domain. Pick the right name while you have the chance, or purchase it if you already have a brand to protect.
Update: Several commenters (Alain, Jan) below make a good point about the decreasing importance of domain names, and I agree to an extent. Clearly, user behavior is is shifting from directly typing URLs to using Google search and hitting the releavant result. This is partly due to hard-to-remember URLs in the first place … but trends in technology make it more comfortable, too. For example Google’s Chrome browser no longer has a separate URL and Search box ( anyone wonders why?) so it’s actually a whole lot easier to type in a partial match then accept the right entry then dealing with www, punctiation, dashes, slashes..etc. (Althought I would still directly type z.com.)
I think the near-future proliferation of domain types will lead to search becoming the predominant way to finding a website. But chaning habits may take a few years. In the meatime domains are still important.