Did you know there was a UTube.com years before there was a YouTube.com?
How about iToons.com?
Both of these domains were used by companies most of us have never heard of. Unfortunately, both companies failed to protect their domain names and brands and found themselves overwhelmed by corporations with far deeper pockets.
The Branding Mistake
Domain names, just like company names, are part of a company’s core assets.
There was an article in Inc. Magazine which discussed the two companies who had these familiar sounding names years prior to the two giant companies with significantly deeper pockets began branding the sound-alikes. The article seemed to focus more so on the small companies’ inability to successfully fight for their assets. The owner of iToons.com found another name rather than gear up for a legal battle against Apple. The owner of UTube.com has actually been funding his legal expenses with advertising on his site geared for the hordes of young people coming to his site looking for videos.
What the article failed to discuss was how these two small companies failed to protect themselves from hangers-on, folks who can’t come up with their own unique ideas, or bigger players who through advertising can simply overwhelm the smaller ones.
Homonyms, remember them from English class? Homonyms are those words that sound the same, but are spelled differently. A few examples…
- two, to, and too
- hymn and him
- for, fore, and four
- toons (as in cartoons) and tunes
- red and read
The shorthand of the Internet has only added to the list of like sounding brands as many start abbreviating words with single letters or numbers. A few more examples…
- you becomes U
- see becomes C
- for and four both become 4
- two and too become 2
Protect Your Brand
The sad part of this cautionary tale is that both companies could have better protected themselves fairly easily. Once one of the corporate giants infringes on your brand, you are left to fight a long and costly legal battle or to start over. Neither option is particularly attractive. It’s far easier to protect your brand by thinking about how people use the Internet and how words look and sound.
Registering Domain Names – Get All of Them
You put locks on your doors and passwords on your computers; why not lock down your domain names as well? While it is money spent that you will never see a calculable return on investment, it is an investment worth making. For an investment of $6 to $10 a year per extra name purchased, you can protect your brand and avoid the hassles like the nasty emails the owner of UTube.com is getting for not having videos on his site.
Top 7 Ways to Protect Your Brand and Domain Name
- If you are an American company and you can’t get the dot com version of the name you want – find another name to use. Most Americans assume a website has a dot com extension.
- The safest domain name to use is one that has not been previously registered and where all of the top level domains (.com, .biz, .info, and .org) are available.
- Purchase all of the top level domains, only develop the dot com and have the others all redirect to the dot com.
- Consider all possible homonyms of the words or phrases in your intended domain name, purchase them and also redirect them to your primary site. If the companies discussed in Inc. had done this, they would not have had to consider rebranding and hiring lawyers.
- If a homonym of your intended name is already taken, you might want to consider finding another name.
- Consider all common misspellings of any words contained in your proposed name. Purchase any that you think your customers may use when typing your name into the address bar.
- If any of the homonyms or misspellings are already taken, consider if these other sites have the potential to re-route your customers or damage your brand. Consider this carefully before using the name anyway.
Domain Names as Your Brand
Never forget that your domain name is as valuable as your brand. In many ways they are one and the same. Don’t wait for someone to infringe on your brand to protect yourself. If you are pitted against a Google or an Apple, the battle is pretty much over before it starts.
If only the two companies had protected themselves and their brand early; the most famous video site on the Internet would be named something other than YouTube, Apple would not have a product called iTunes, and two small companies would not have found themselves in a David and Goliath battle for their corporate identities.