Choosing a Name Just Got Harder

A few weeks ago I was surprised by a phone call from a Portland PR agency: “Mr. Cohen, we will be on a media tour of California next month, and we would like our CEO to brief you on our company.”

There it was, just like that: my first flak attack. For whatever reason, my lowly column hit someone’s radar screen; I had made his or her list of media targets. I tried to convince the caller that there had been some mistake. “Certainly you meant to call real media people, real journalists. I just write a little column as a sideline. I don’t want to waste your valuable time.”

The person calling wasn’t having any of it. “We would very much like to have 30 minutes of your time to talk with the chairman and CEO. What time would be convenient for you?”

I reluctantly assented.

Well, I’m glad I did it. First, for the experience I had; it was actually fun. Second, it’s given me a nice topic for today.

A Web Site by Any Other Name…?

Early on in this column, I talked about how to name your company. Back in May, it was difficult.

Now it’s gotten even harder. According to the fact-filled presentation I received during the above-mentioned media tour, only 1 out of every 10 attempted name registrations is successful. And it has been made yet more difficult with the recent addition of new domains by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). For those of you not familiar with this organization, ICANN is the group responsible for creating the catchy Internet suffixes such as .com, .net, and .org.

In case you have been on a deserted island and hadn’t heard, new domains have been created and are supposed to be operational by 2Q 2001. Here’s a quick review of the seven new categories:

.aero Air-transport industry
.biz Businesses
.coop Nonprofit cooperatives
.info Unrestricted use
.museum Museums
.name Individuals
.pro Accountants, lawyers, and physicians

So why do these additional suffixes present a problem?

Details, Details, Details

For companies naming themselves or protecting their existing names, they now have seven more domain categories to be concerned about. The conventional wisdom to date has been that you need to own the .com version of your company name in the U.S. (every country has its preferred domain) to do business. Owning the .net and .org versions would be nice, too, but is not absolutely necessary.

Now add to that all the new options, and what is a marketing executive to do?

A couple of tips and opinions as you consider your options:

  • Wonder what a name’s worth? Answer: what you will pay for it. To date, I have not been convinced that raw names that belong to no one and have not been used in commerce are worth anything more than the registration fee it takes to get them.

    The value of a name is developed over time by the deeds and progress of the people behind it. Do well, and you build value in the name. Do poorly, and the contrary is true — the name becomes a liability. However, there may be a name out there held by a broker or squatter that you really want. My advice is don’t pay more than it would cost to create another name from scratch from a legitimate naming company — something in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $30,000.

  • Go for the suite of names you need. It may not be necessary to own every category in the ICANN universe, but in the U.S., I think it’s important to have the .com, .net, and .org versions of your name. You have to decide what’s important in your corner of the world. That said, .com to me is a must. Of the new names, .biz and .info seem like good ones to have, but the others begin to be a stretch.

    Certainly if possible, I would attempt to get the clean sweep across all domains, but only a few are really needed.

  • Don’t forget the typos. If you can, attempt to purchase all misspellings around your new URL that are possible. Typically, people may hear your name but not necessarily know how to spell it, so it’s good to create a buffer zone. We recently purchased about 10 different versions of the spelling of one of our company’s names.

Which brings me back to the media tour. Enter SnapNames (the PR agency just earned a portion of its monthly fee). This company will soon be launching a nifty suite of services to assist companies and their marketing pros in the registration and management of Internet names, all of it designed to assist in securing and protecting names that are valuable to you. Although I have not used the product and can’t endorse it, I can say that it’s focused on solving what are genuine problems in the industry. I wish the company a great deal of luck.

And now I’m anxiously waiting by the phone for my next PR agency call.

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