Zaarly.com, Flickr.com, Fiverr.com, Zynga.com – Are The Rules of Branding Changing?

When it comes to owning online brands I think Domainers are probably some of the top property owners. Think about it, one-word, meaningful domain names generally aren’t owned by successful Startups (at least in the beginning) and even major companies are sometimes hesitant to shell-out big bucks for the domain of their choice. Like most of the Domainers out there I see huge value in having a great domain name and believe that some companies make a critical error in not acquiring the right domain for their business.

That being said, there are plenty of Startups that buck the trend and break the rules that many of us live by when it comes to a great brand name. If you ask most people in the Domaining world and the marketing world about brand names many will talk about having a non-ambiguous name, something that people can easily remember and spell if they see it on a billboard while driving along the freeway or hear in a radio ad. However look at Zynga, if I heard about this on the radio or saw it on a billboard I probably would go home and type-into my browser zanga.com which would give me this beautiful site you can see below:

zanga.comNow let’s look at a site like Flickr. Initially the owners wanted Flicker.com however they couldn’t afford the domain, so what did they do? They kept the name they wanted and just got rid of the “e” – now can you imagine what percentage of people heard about Flickr and thought to spell it the right way? TechCrunch did an article about Flicker before it was acquired by Yahoo, the site owners even turned-down a $600,000 bid which was discussed by Domain Name Wire back in 2007.

The creators of Flickr didn’t care if their brand could be remembered properly, nor did they care that people would type it in incorrectly to the tune of 150,000 type-ins/month for the owner of Flicker.com. What they cared about was creating great software that people would use, and people did use it and Flickr did sell to Yahoo for somewhere in between 20 million – 30 million dollars, chump change in the VC world but still nothing to scoff at.

Now what about Fiverr.com – I’m sure they wanted Fiver.com but couldn’t afford it. So what did they do? They built their brand on Fiverr.com, made it a success and then invested some of their profits into buying Fiver.com on Sedo for $70,000. If they were to have consulted a Domainer the advice they would have received would probably be, “don’t bother building the brand if you can’t get fiver.com…”

fiverr_smallHere’s my point. At the end of the day a great idea that people genuinely like to use wins over a great brand name. It’s just like Matt Cutts from Google has said, don’t build sites for Google, build sites for the user. When I look at all the creative people starting companies they often aren’t ready to shell-out five or six-figures for a domain name, it doesn’t make sense. Once the brand takes-off they will definitely pay big bucks just like Flickr, Fiverr and many other successful brands, but here’s the thing, having a killer brandable domain was not necessary at all to achieve their success. We are entering a new era, or maybe we’ve just always been in this era and not realized it…cool software, great websites, don’t have to be on great domains to become successful, the idea itself and the people behind it are what make it what it is. Sure, they may buy the domain after they’ve achieved their success but they got there all on their own.

So here’s my question for all of you: is the entrepreneur the one who thinks-up a great brand name and then holds the domain waiting for the right buyer? Or is the entrepreneur the one who builds a great piece of software or a great site, makes good money with it and then invests in the domain? Now the answer to this question could easily be both, heck a Domainer makes way more money if the entrepreneur doesn’t buy their domain until after the brand is a huge success because they will pay way more! Please understand I’m not trying to knock Domainers here, but I am stirring the pot a bit to make us all think about branding and how it’s changed over the years. So now it’s your turn – comment and let your voice be heard!

 

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Jamie June 15, 2011, 10:13 am

    I think this is were leasing and or partnerships are important!

    When Flickr started, they really should have tried to work out a partnership or lease option for Flicker.com. Same goes for Fiverr and Fiver.com. Make deals!

    Fiver.com was NOT a $70K domain before Fiverr became popular, so the company ended up building up the value of the generic domain Fiver.com. An early partnership with the domain owner of Fiver.com would have been a smart move. The name they wanted from the start and a likely smaller price tag in the end (depending on the buy option) for the domain than having to buy it outright when they were cash strapped.

    If you build a brand and do not own the exact match “sounds like”domain, you better highly consider buying it, leasing it or partnering with the domain owner now or it will cost you more in the end.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Morgan June 15, 2011, 10:49 am

      Excellent point @Jamie and completely agreed!

      @Ricardo…a bit different here, Google didn’t try to get Google and then have to start with Goooogle and then wait to buy the name they wanted. Same with Yahoo, they started with the name they wanted “Yahoo” – Fiverr and Flickr started without the brand name that they wanted, built the brand, and then bought the domain, that’s what makes it different πŸ™‚

  • Ricardo June 15, 2011, 10:46 am

    Have you ever heard of Google, Yahoo, eBay, Craigslist? Nothing new. You are comparing apples to oranges.

  • Karl Jackson June 15, 2011, 1:32 pm

    I personally feel that a good domain is 50% of success. The other 50% comes from a good product or service. That is how I guarantee maximum success.

    The only reason crazy brand name online business like Flickr succeeded is because they had a great mass appeal product that users used and shared. Companies that have “great products and services” to begin with are rare. If those rare “same” companies began with a “great” easy to remember domain name that made perfect since then they would have grown twice as fast or more.

  • Ed June 15, 2011, 4:23 pm

    Content is king!