Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Multiple Personalities on the Internet.

If you've ever tried to create and market a new product, you also know that inventing a new product is the easy part. Getting it to your consumer is the toughie. This is called "distribution". Out of all the distributional alternatives, direct response such as mail order or internet are certainly the easiest. But in the world of distribution, the King of Pain is definitely retail.

Retail distribution sucks for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the retail industry places extremely unrealistic requirements on the intelligence of its applicants: anyone with an IQ above 45 is immediately rejected from consideration for any post above mail room. And if that weren't enough, the integrity of most retailers is only slightly above that possessed by used car dealers.

Want a horrible example? I am personally aware of at least one major chain that signed an agreement with a manufacturer, who then sank megabucks into production to fulfill the order. By the time the order was manufactured, the chain had changed its mind, leaving the manufacturer up the now infamous creek to the tune of several hundred thousand clams.

Sure, the manufacturer could sue. And he could probably win. But winning in court would mean losing any chance of doing business with that retail chain again. And THAT'S why retail distribution sucks. It's also the reason why we've been getting more and more clients inquiring about selling directly over the internet.

A lot of issues spring up when you begin to market your wares over the net, but one of the most serious and often overlooked has to be multiple URL identities. The reason I tie it into retail distribution is that retail is cut throat. It's war. And in war, there's a name for people who can't out think their enemies:

Losers.

As retail distribution shifts to the internet, many of the same retail rules are going to apply. A good offense isn't good enough: you've got to be on the defensive. And one of the best defensive weapons in your war chest is a Multiple Personality.

So what is a Multiple Personality, anyway? It's the practice of assigning a number of similar (or different) URL's to the very same site. For example, if your main URL is something like "www.widgetworld.com", you may want to consider registering -- and linking -- alternatives like "www.widget.com", "www.widget-world.com" and so forth. They can all link to the same page -- or not (read further). It's a really smart thing to do, too. Because for only a few extra bucks a year (payable to Internic), you can save yourself all kinds of time-consuming, annoying and expensive headaches if you just keep this kind of stuff in mind:

1. NOBODY BATS 1000. You list it. You promote it. You advertise it. And people STILL get your URL wrong. Who knows how much business you've lost because people who should have been bookmarking "www.sheepdogs.com" had actually been typing "www.sheepdog.com?" Even worse, what if your competitor had "www.sheepdog.com?" I don't even want to think about it. Yet most of us are up there, playing without a net, hoping that critical moment never happens. Trust me. It happens. But I don't want to talk about it.

2. BEWARE THE HYPHEN. I know, I got screwed. When I went to register "www.frankel-anderson.com", I found out the hard way that an ampersand ("&") is actually an operator and can't be used in a URL. Bummer. Don't let that happen to you, if you can avoid it. But if you can't avoid it, be sure to register the non-hyphenated version, as well. We have a client with just such a problem. Their corporate brand name is (I have to fake it here, so I'll just use an example) something like "Maxi-Smile". If we go ahead with their internet plan, you can bet that we'll register both "www.maxi-smile.com" and "www.maxismile.com." A hyphenated name should automatically send up a red flag on any URL name you plan to register.

3. IDENTITIES DON'T HAVE TO BE IDENTICAL. A few centuries ago, when I registered my domains, I frantically scrounged for "www.frankel.com." I was too late. But inasmuch as I'm the figurehead of the agency, I stomped on "robfrankel.com" as fast as I could e-mail. I still own that domain today and am currently in the process of linking it to our main "www.frankel-anderson.com" site. Why? Because our business needs have changed. In 1990, the identity of the agency was exactly that: the agency's identity. These days, however, more people tend to search me out personally. So by the end of the year, "www.robfrankel.com" will land you smack dab on the home page of the Frankel & Anderson web site. Different name, same URL.

4. TRACKING TELLS YOU EVERYTHING. One side benefit you'll find from employing multiple URL identities is that you can link them to the same -- or different -- home pages at your site. This is a great way to see which URL is really doing the heavy lifting. If the home pages are identical, you can get a rough idea of how each URL differs at pulling in the traffic. If the home pages are different, you can test different offers and creative executions. And you can do it all with little more than the normal log report your ISP generates for you. Nifty, eh?

5. THEY STEAL ANYTHING THAT ISN'T NAILED DOWN. It's true. Ask anyone who has ever been spoofed and they'll tell you how easy it is to rip off your content or name and destroy all of the goodwill you've diligently built over the years. It only takes one creep. One spam. Just watch the hate mail roll in. In these cases, a back up name allows you to deactivate the main name without losing all of your momentum. As far as insurance policies go, this is as cheap as they get.

So if you're serious about getting your stuff out to the internet buying public, remember that you're not in the tech business, you're in the distribution business. And that a URL by any other name could cost you business.

Rob Frankel

 
 
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