educational

Rebranding And Your TLD

Stephen Yagielowicz

As the .XXX adult toplevel domain (TLD) continues its rollout, many operators embracing the new arena are considering its impact on brand development; especially when an existing dot-com has already been developed. Thus, the pressing question of “Should I switch my main site over to .XXX?” is on the front burner for a lot of folks.

Although the technical aspects of such a change are readily manageable, it is the real world impact on your established customer base that needs special consideration before committing to such a major shift in brand image.

Taking a cue from the overstock saga, it may be best for established adult websites to offer a .xxx doorway or mirror, while maintaining the .com as the primary destination.

Take the recent example of popular discount-shopping mega-site, Overstock.com, which following its much publicized switchover to “O.co” has ended, at least for now, with the company furiously backpedaling and returning to its Overstock.com brand name.

Reportedly, the main reason for the shift in strategy was customer confusion.

According to Overstock.com President Jonathon Johnson, customers liked the O.co name and the advertising spots promoting it, but a significant percentage of them then tried to access the company’s site by typing in “O.com” — a name reserved by ICANN.

“We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job,” Johnson stated. “We’re still focused on getting to O.co, just at a slower pace.”

“We’re not flipping back, we’re just refocusing,” Johnson added, in a turn of phrase that would make any politician proud.

Writing for Advertising Age, Beth Snyder Bulik noted that some industry experts say the back and forth brand maneuvering “is not only potentially confusing for consumers, but reveals insular thinking at a company that does all its marketing and advertising in-house,” providing a double-edged sword of brand expertise and creative isolationism.

According to Radiant Brands principal Steven Donaldson, the Overstock.com move “is an excellent example of navel-gazing.” “There seems to be such an internal focus on decisions and making them from the inside out,” Donaldson notes. “They’re not asking what if ... they’re [just] out of touch with consumers.”

Although this brand reversal may have less negative impact on the parent company than did the infamous “New Coke” debacle cause for its parent, the back and forth switch cost Overstock substantial amounts of money in now unusable advertising and ad slots, and caused the company to rewind its business plan.

The story also raises issues with the .coTLD, which has been widely promoted as a shortcut for “company.” Firstly, many if not most current consumers may automatically type the “m,” so unless you also own the .com, owning the .co is just a traffic source for your potential competitor. Secondly, on the other side of the coin, .com owners have “auto suggest” search boxes, browser bars and other tools to fear, as a customer typing in your .com may have the .co selected for them, before they get to the “m.”

While few adult companies seem to have embraced (or at least marketed) .co sites, the .XXX issue is another story, with its own complicated set of circumstances.

Taking a cue from the Overstock saga, it may be best for established adult websites to offer a .XXX doorway or mirror, while maintaining the .com as the primary destination. For startups, however, the choice is less clear — with the opposite strategy of making the .XXX the primary domain and the .com a pointer to it, offering compelling benefits.

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