Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Yet More Domains

For the majority of businesses the .com and the country code remain the bedrock of domain extensions. It’s hard to get around it; these remain the most desirable domain properties. The statistic I regularly quoted to clients a few years ago was ‘there are now 26 million .coms registered, so finding a single English language word is extremely difficult’. Now there are 119 million registered, so the task is even harder.

The result - a more realistic and pragmatic approach to the domain name by adding a descriptive word, hyphenating etc. Some use another extension. It’s a moveable feast and ever changing.

The late 1990’s saw the introduction of sector specific domains such as .aero for the aerospace industry, .museum, .pro for professionals. Then there’s .info and .biz and .asia. All have their place.

What’s about to happen is the opening-up of a wide range of new generic domain extensions in Latin and other scripts. More extensions equal more availability and opportunity. But with this freedom will come some challenges and the potential for more disputes. Many brand owners are concerned about the impact on their brands and businesses.

Potentially there could be an unlimited number of new top level domain names (TLDs). We could have a .hotel, .insurance, .sport, .radio, .health. .music, .charity, .eco, .London. The list is potentially endless. Add to these non-Latin alphabets such as Cyrillic, Chinese and there are more options.

Having a domain like could be good as a means of distinguishing from other owners of ‘Eagle’ in different sectors. But not so easy if there is more than one Eagle brand for insurance in different countries.

Some brand owners are sure to set-up their own domains. For a business with an international operation or franchise this could be very good news, enabling them to use the domain as a form of endorsement or quality mark, denoting that those using it are ‘official’ and legitimate outlets. In effect ‘part of the family’. Just think of all Ford dealerships and suppliers using .ford. Those who aren’t signed up or don’t comply can’t. As part of the deal there could be a brand identity template to ensure the correct look and feel, use of the trade mark, on-brand communications.

ICANN will put stringent requirements and controls in place for the new domains. In reality a TLD owner will have to pay an estimated $1million in professional services and legal costs, plus the $185,000 application fee. This is likely to be a deterrent to a speculative extension grabber. The owner of a new extension will have to prove that they can operate a domain registration service and provide guarantees of continuity of service. It would be essential to ensure that businesses operating under a new extension would not be left ‘high and dry’ should it fail.

What is potentially problematic for brand domain names, is who gets to own them. It might appear obvious in the case of multi-nationals and famous brands, but there are many different legitimate owners of the same brand name for different products and services. If they are big businesses in their own right, then there’s the problem of business name verses brand. For example, should Group Lotus plc who own Lotus for cars, IBM who own the Lotus software brand or Festina Lotus who own Lotus for watches be allowed to own ‘.lotus’? They are all established brands and international businesses with trade mark registrations in place. So, would it be first come first served or could there be an arbitration process. Should it be based on turnover, extent of use internationally, number of marks registered, territories or regions covered, estimated brand value?  There’s going to be a Globally Protected Marks List (GMPL) relating to domain names operated through the IP Clearing System to be set up by ICANN. It appears that not being on the GMPL will not affect legal rights, but being on it will have possible advantages.

What is clear is that brand owners are very concerned at the ever-increasing commitment and spend on supporting rankings on Internet search engines, domain name registrations and trade mark defence.

At a recent intellectual property conference ‘Driving High Performance IP’ run by Thomson Reuters, a figure presented was the estimated amount of time that intellectual property professionals spend their time on different aspects of IP protection. The figure of 16% was given as the average time spent dealing with domain name issues. This was an estimated 5% rise on the previous year. It looks set to increase significantly. Despite the recession over two thirds of businesses have either maintained or increased their budgets for dealing with trade mark and domain infringement. With a 50% increase in online infringement and a 36% increase in enforcement in the last three years, the creation of new TLDs will add to the workload for brand owners and their legal representatives.

Domain factoids:
1985 15th March the first domain was registered -
1992 less than 15,000 .com domains registered
1998 ICANN founded
1999 the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) introduced
2010 - 119 million .coms registered.
2010 - 243 top level country code extensions available. The most popular European country codes are .de (Germany),, .nl (Netherlands), .it (Italy), .pl (Poland).

by Pauline

Help in a hard place or Finding guidance through the dark times...

(Pedro Ugarte, AFP/Getty Images/ February 18,2011) Egyptian women shout slogans in Cairo's Tahrir Square
I’m no great economist or commentator on world politics - but I do have a plethora of thoughts on branding. And I do know that the bigger picture affects not only how brands perform commercially, but also the attitudes and preferences of people towards brands.
We’ve put together a few thoughts that might bring a glimmer of insight to branding in a tough climate.
We all love trends. We all feel that if only we could see what’s coming, we could profit by being one step ahead. But do we ever know what to do with a trend-spot? Well, we have no crystal ball, but we do have a few sharp brain cells, a slightly rye view of success and failure, and a sprinkling of google-dust.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”
from Kipling’s If...
Fashion, that perky barometer of economics, might be our guide. New York Fashion Week offers three trends to watch:
  1. The peplum waist
  2. Wine dark colours - burgundy, claret, maroon
  3. Below the knee hem-length
What’s it mean?
Let’s put it in the context of the wider world. Three global waves:
  1. Revolution
  2. Politicised youth
  3. Social networking
Three outcomes:
  1. Customers/people taking control
  2. Disruption
  3. Coalition/collaboration
In an era of:
  1. Fear
  2. Uncertainty
  3. Consequences
  4. Growth
  5. Knowledge
The Futures Company talks of  ‘a fundamental shift’. We will all be guided by a new sense of what’s important. They say spending will be shaped by ‘prioritisation and networks.’ Three things that should shape all our brand thinking and attitude to customer relationships:
  1. Responsibility
  2. Vigilance
  3. Resourcefulness
Who’s doing well?
  1. Waitrose and John Lewis
  2. Intel
  3. Apple
  4. Barclays
  5. China
  6. India
  7. Heston Blumenthal
  8. Live music (and merchandise)
  9. Cinema
  10. Lipstick sales
So what can you do if you are responsible for a brand, right now?
  1. Check your social purpose - don’t just tick a few CSR boxes - think about what about your brand is making the world a better place. What are you doing for the burgeoning generation of no-future graduates? Why do you exist?
  2. Understand the shift in power - your customers are deciding what you should do next - listen to them, engage with them, and use your ingenuity and resourcefulness to deliver something better than they expected. How?
  3. Embrace collaboration - involve your customers (according to Eric A von Hippel, consumers spend twice as much making and improving products as companies spend on product R&D), develop relationships with like-minded partners, develop skills networks. Where?
  4. Innovate - there’s no better time to come up with new ideas, ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ Get together with some creative people, like us!
  5. Think like owners - recognise the new structure of organisations, and life, is networked not hierarchical - everyone in an organisation needs to have the responsibility and the autonomy to take ownership, ‘intrapreneurship.’ Get responsible thinking whirring in the minds of all your people...
  6. Look alive - apparently those who keep up their marketing spend during a recession are the first to benefit from the recovery. Make links. Tweet. Spread your meme. What can you do to keep in touch with your audiences?
  7. Disrupt - do something so against the grain it causes a stir. Add grit to your thinking. Be bold. Stick to your authentic purpose and values. But what?
So how does this relate to New York Fashion Week?
  1. Peplum waist - tight waist, frills over the hips, popular in the 50’s, 80’s - suggests a new energy, stripped down body with just a little flair and frivolity - responsibility with a touch of verve, individuality. Testament to the fashion industry’s constant desire to innovate by re-combining, re-using, re-drawing, using healthy eclecticism with a dash of bright, new thinking
  2. Wine dark colours - ‘wine is the new black,’ vintage wine - the colour of 2011,’  use it! Apparently the pantone colour of the year is honeysuckle (Pantone 18-2120), a lovely uplifting pink - “In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating colour that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Colour Institute®. “Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mother colour red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.” So definitely on the wine spectrum - and a small glass of red wine is a welcome treat in these tricky times - not least visually
  3. Below the knee hem-line - a classic measure of the state of the economy. I think this is suggesting a note of caution, a sense of demure responsibility, a little focus on what’s real, flash a little less flesh - watch to see if it ends up in street fashion
One trend I can buy into. Writing for, the tenth of Cheryl Swanson’s Trends for the New Decade is Niceties. Make a trend to be kinder to one another. It’s about connecting, empathy, politeness and caring. It costs nothing and makes you feel better.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

I never seen him, I only heard of him...

'Like a teasing, gossipy conversation with an old friend.'
Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
Talking 'bout the big monkey puzzler.

John Graham is a prodigious and immensely popular crossword compiler. His moniker, Auraucaria, comes from the Latin name for the Monkey Puzzle tree. And he's still setting heads scratching at 90.

There's a lovely article about him by Simon Hoggart in yesterday's g2. His eclectic thinking reminds me of the kind of resourcefulness we have to employ to tussle with brand problems - where a view of the wider world is essential to crack the particular of an essential truth. According to Hoggart, "he knows about Latin literature, and Shakespeare, and Dickens, but he also refers to popular culture of today, sometimes to the bafflement of solvers far younger than himself." While he's setting clues we're cracking codes.

In an article marking his 80th birthday, David McKie described his work as "a blend of diligence and inspiration." I'd like to think mine can be described that way too.

Branding Gone Bad

Flying rodents in a still from Quiznos Sub commercial
One of our readers from across the big pond has sent kind words and a link to an amusing (if rather horrifying) blog called 'Branding Gone Bad: 10 Most Ill-Advised Ads of All Time' on Enjoy - or be scared... (or should that be scarred?)

Monday, 14 February 2011

Authentic Brand Building

Heston Blumenthal at Dinner. Photograph: David Levene
Two brand stories struck me as great examples of genuine passion, tenacity and flair this morning. And with amazing success from very different start points.

Heston Blumenthal has grown his brand (which is largely himself) as a second career, but a first obsession. His taste buds were first tickled at the tender age of 16 when, at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence, he ate, "red mullet with a sauce vierge, lamb in puff pastry and crèpes bauminière. And thought, 'This is it!'"

At the age of 29 he sold his home and started The Fat Duck in Bray, where he earned a reputation for 'culinary alchemy' and eventually three Michelin stars. His acuity for brand building is faultless and, out-strips his thirst for financial gain. Apparently, the Fat Duck doesn't actually make money. Some stats that are a testament to the power of the brand: On an average day the receptionists answer around 400 calls, the system logs 24,000 that fail to get through. On one bank holiday 32,000 missed calls were logged. However, Mr Blumenthal is decreasing the number of seats, and he says, "Because with fewer covers we can pay more attention to detail. The Duck allows everything else to happen - so everything I do is to pay back the Duck and protect it." This is understanding what matters about branding. And is 100% authentic.

Victoria Beckham's autumn 2011 collection goes on show during New York fashion week. Her bags command four-figure price tags. Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

The next brand has gone from nothing to pretty damned stunning in two and a half years. Victoria Beckham's fashion label. OK, she had fame and notoriety, and money, but she didn't have fashion designer credibility or that many people saying, "Oh yeah, that will work."

She has defied the nay-sayers by delivering distinctive catwalk style over five seasons. Her catwalk commentary is intimate, self-depracating and winning. She emits a personal style that is wearable, elegant and wantable. And she's done that great fashion designer signifier - the bag. To quote the article in today's Guardian, "Beckham and Simon Fuller, her partner in the label, are playing the long game in building the brand." Clever, measured, authentic and as elegant as her frocks. Is she the next Coco Chanel?

Friday, 11 February 2011

Art, life, wisdom and football

Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience. A lesson for all brand communications.

Just in case you missed this in Hugh Muir's Diary, in the Guardian yesterday, I repeat the whole piece here:

Yes, wisdom is found in unexpected places. And giving a lecture on leadership at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow on Monday night, Sir Alex Ferguson told of his surprise on learning that one of his former players knew something of fine art. During a quiz between the team and coaching staff, the coaches were leading with one question left to go, when the players were asked: "Which artist painted Sunflowers?" Amid silence and blank looks, the coaches were confident of victory, only for Nicky Butt to shout out with 10 seconds to go – Van Gogh! "How the hell did you know that" demanded Sir Alex? "I have two in my house," said Butt.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bringing a smile

Just heard a lovely piece on the radio by a client of ours, Johnnie Boden. He beautifully communicates his brand and even bats off the slightly facetious question "Will Boden ever be cool?" with a very confident and measured, "Coolness is not a brand value of ours." Excellent.

Listen to it on the You and Yours website or read Winifred Robinson's blog here.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Specific Customer Service

What a great feeling! A shopkeeper who knows you, responds to your needs and provides what you want.

Any of you who have, have had or have been, an eight year old girl will know that there is a certain specificity about the things she will or will not use (or indeed will or will not do). My daughter has very specific requests for her toothpaste and vitamin tablets. Our local pharmacy, not more than 100 yards away, was our main source of Punch and Judy, strawberry flavour toothpaste, and it is hard to find elsewhere. When it was out of stock, my heart sank, but Nilish said, 'Would you like us to order some?' So just now I have returned from the shop bearing the correct oral hygiene product and the desired chewy vitamins, also specially ordered.

He also delivers your prescriptions to your door.

A clue to brand behaviour at all levels.