Imagine that you discover days before a brand launch the domain name on the marketing material is either wrong or not owned by the business?
It is a situation that no brand manager ever wants to experience, but anyone from the corporate domain name management industry will tell you is a scenario that is all too common.
One tiny bit of missed detail can unravel years of hard work, so I have outlined the main reasons this very avoidable mistake occurs and what to do if it happens to you.
Domain name expired before launch
This usually occurs when a domain was registered in the early stages of the brand concept process, but was not renewed resulting in it being expired and in some cases registered by a third party.
Unfortunately, well known brands domain names are often tracked by “domainers” who pick up their expired domain names in the hope of selling them back to the owner at an exorbitant price.
A domain name management agency would review all known domain names and aim to consolidate them so that these types of issues don’t occur.
Former agency registered your domain
It is common these days to engage multiple digital and media agencies for different stages a brand lifecycle. A domain name in a brand launch can often be lost due to changing agencies. For instance, an agency engaged in the conception stage with register the domain name and build the prototype web properties. However, this becomes a problem when the agencies contract expires and they don’t transfer the domain name over to you. If the contract ended acrimoniously, that can complicate things even further.
We have seen a global financial brand launch a marquee product only to get to the 11th hour and realised that they didn’t control the domain name that all of their new web properties were built on. We were then engaged to deal with the agency and quickly centralise the domain name back into our client account. Fortunately, we establish good communication with the former agency who happily transferred the domain name across, but it did delay the launch by several days.
Domain name confusion
In Australia, most people use a .com.au domain name. Often, Australian brands do not own the corresponding .com. This can be missed at planning stage, resulting in a go-to-market with the wrong domain name space being used (brand.com instead of brand.com.au).
Domain was never registered: Sometimes brands just forget to check or register the domain and don’t realise the mistake until the end of the process.
There are other reasons, but these are the top three in my experience. However, it is not the end of the world, and there is still some potential options that brand manager can explore to address this sticky situation.
A domain name in a brand launch can be easily mistaken so it’s important all interested parties know what the target domain name is.
What to do when you don’t own the domain?
If the domain name is registered to a third party then the situation is made a little more complicated. Very rarely will a unrelated third party hand over a domain name for nothing in return. It is likely that you will need to get your cheque book out, but the following tips will assist you to get the domain name as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Review the domain situation and act quickly. It is important to get started as soon as possible, but a small amount of due diligence will assist you to determine how to proceed and what budget to apply.
1) Who owns the domain names?
Any whois website will give you this information. A whois database holds information of the domain owner. By visiting a whois sites, such as http://www.who.is or http://www.whois.sc, you can find information on who the domain registrant is, including their name, address, phone, email etc.
2) Is the domain being used or is it parked?
If the domain is parked, meaning that it has no active content it is likely that it is not being used and in my experience the owner will be more amenable to selling the domain to you.
If the domain has a live business website on it, this complicates matters somewhat and it is unlikely that they will want to sell it to you. If you are using a long string URL, such as http://www.brand.com/product you might be able to rent space of the owner.
3) How long has the current owner had the domain for?
This information can also be found through the whois. A general rule of thumb is that if the domain name has been owned for a while, it is likely to demand a higher price.
4) What budget can you apply to buying this domain name?
Making contact with the existing owner: Once these questions have been answered, waste no time making contact. I would recommend phoning them first, following up by an email. You may also choose to correspond by letter using a same day delivery service. Just remember that you are calling this person out of the blue, so they may be a bit sceptical at first. I recommend getting them to call you back through the company switchboard as a mean of validation.
5) What is my negotiation plan?
Assuming that the domain name is not being used legitimately (you still have options here), there are two outcomes that you can achieve:
a. Purchase the domain name outright from the current registrant.
negotiate on the phone instead of email and try to conclude there and then.
if you do have to email, put a timeframe for agreement on any offer made.
be nice and courteous and clearly spell out your proposal (it is best to make an initial offer – it will speed up the process and will let them know that you are serious). Also,
don’t low ball – they will either not respond to a low ball offer, or will take their time coming back to you.
b. Rent space of the existing domain name.
If the price they are asking is too high, consider renting the domain name for the period of the campaign, or at least until you get the next batch of collateral out there with the correct domain name.
In the renting scenario you normally pay a monthly fee, with the option to extend the lease or purchase. This can be a much cheaper option. You will need to be transparent about the situation, which is not ideal but you don’t want them jacking up the price half way through the campaign.
Real Life Case Study: Big Bank forgets about domain name
A big 4 bank released a national credit card line and new marketing campaign. The day of the launch they realised that they did not own the domain name advertised on the marketplace material, which was in long string URL form: http://www.nameofbank.com/nameofcreditcard.
They came to me in a slight panic. “What can we do?”… Their incumbent (our competitor) threw their hands up, so we decided that this was a good opportunity to show them what we could do.
>We ended up calling the domain name owner who was based in South Korea and was using the domain name for legitimate business purposes. After explaining the situation, we made an offer to rent URL space of the main domain name for a period of three months. It was a solid but reasonable offer given that he did not have to do anything. He accepted, and within 12 hours of the email agreement we had the URL resolving to live content before any damage was done.
How to Avoid this situation all together?
Be Proactive: Register the corresponding domain names with all of your concept brands.
Coordinate with IT: Ensure that you coordinate with your IT team as they will often have a centralised domain name account that is monitored.
Domain Name Management: Utilize a domain name management service to ensure domain names do not expire.
Know your Domain: If the business does not own the .com ensure that this message is continually re-enforced to the digital and marketing teams, and just double check all proof material.
This can be a stressful situation, but if you pick it up early you can minimize damage with swift and deliberate action, as described above. The devil is in the detail when it comes to brand launches and domain names should be considered a central part of any project that includes a website.
Good luck with your next launch