Brand Marketing

Citibank Gets It!

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Shortly after graduate school, I worked at Wunderman, the direct marketing agency under the Y&R Brands umbrella. I was a Project Manager on the Citibank retail merchandising account, one of the agency’s largest clients. Wunderman created direct mail packages, financial center brochures and financial center advertising including displays, window slicks, sandwich boards, ATM machine screens, and many others.

In 2004, Citibank unveiled their “Thank You” program, a rewards program that thanked customers for banking with Citi. I worked with some great creative people at Wunderman (Gus Tejerina, Barry Dickson, and Terry Pierce among many others) who came out with some great catchy advertising based on the “Thank You” theme.

At the time, I hadn’t purchased my first domain name, so suggesting that Citibank should buy ThankYou.com was never something I considered. In retrospect, with such a huge branding initiative undertaken by Citi, this domain name was critical for Citibank to own. Up until 2006, the domain name was owned by a company called 800 Brands, Inc. Sometime in late 2006, the domain name was purchased by Citibank, where it now anchors the “Thank You” rewards program.

Because of the major branding done by Citibank and its advertising agency partners, ThankYou.com became an essential asset that Citibank needed. Although they probably ended up paying much more for the name than they would have paid had they bought it before the campaign, the fact that they spent the money shows that they are smart marketers.

When a company unveils a new campaign or marketing slogan, they should always prepare for the best case scenario. They should ask, “if this becomes huge, will people expect to find more information at slogan.com?” If the answer is yes or maybe, they should buy the domain name before the campaign is dropped. Not doing this can result in missed contact opportunities or added expense when the name is needed.

NFLatino.com – The NFL es Muy Inteligente

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I just saw a neat advertisement from the National Football League targeting Latino football fans celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. The advertisement is in Spanish with English subtitles, and it directs viewers to NFLatino.com. Knowing that some people may accidentally navigate to NFLLatino.com, the NFL owns the typo of their domain name, and it forwards to the correct website. Its’ a small thing like this that ensures there is no leakage in direct navigation traffic.

Thank You, Calvin

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It’s very cool to see someone like Calvin Ayre in touch with what people are saying about his company.

If he wants to run any direct/interactive marketing ideas past someone in his key demographic (28M, Blackjack player, Maxim subscriber, Sports fan, Ketel/Red Bulll drinker…etc.), he can drop me a line! When I play, its usually at the Tropicana, and I know that gaming direct marketers are some of the smartest and most savvy in the business.

I do have one suggestion for Calvin. Instead of forwarding CalvinAyreFoundation.com and TheCalvinAyreFoundation.com to NewCalvinAyreFoundation.com, I believe he should just use CalvinAyreFoundation.com since “New” is no longer in the Bodog domain names. Since they are all being forwarded, it doesn’t really matter so much, but it makes more sense now.

Bodog’s CEO Responds

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In his response to my post, Calvin Ayre, CEO of Bodog misinterpreted my thoughts. In reference to my blog post about branding vs. generic domain names, Calvin stated, “I don’t agree with his thinking that a brand cannot rebuild itself when its domain name is generic.”

What I said was, “Yes, a brand can be built around a generic domain name, as demonstrated by the Hotels.com example. However, I don’t think a generic domain name should be used to rebuild a brand.” I agreed with Bodog’s decision to continue with the Bodog brand rather than buying a generic domain name, as Frank Schilling recommended.

I think Bodog’s strategy is spot on, and not only are they not losing customers, all of the news surrounding this news story is certainly allowing Bodog to reach more customers. After reading all of the news events, people know what Bodog is, people know what Bodog does, and most importantly, people know where to find Bodog. The point of my blog post was that Bodog was smart to keep the Bodog brand, even though their original domain name was taken.

On a side note, it’s great to see a CEO like Calvin take the time to blog.  

Branding vs. Generic Domain Names

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With few exceptions, company brands and generic domain names are opposites. The objective of a brand manager is to distinguish his brand from the competition. The objective of a generic domain name owner is to provide content or advertising links that are general enough to interest the visitors. A brand manager ultimately wants to build loyalty to his brand so the visitor becomes a customer and returns. A typical generic domain owner wants a visitor to click through and possibly provide enough interesting content that the visitor returns so he can click again.

An exception to this is Hotels.com. They have built their brand around a generic domain name. When a person wants to find a hotel at a good price or when they want to read reviews about various hotels, they specifically navigate to the brand, Hotels.com. When a person who doesn’t know about Hotels.com (the company) navigates to Hotels.com, they are looking to find a hotel. This is a prime example of a brand being built around a generic domain name, giving the loyal Hotels.com customer and the random visitor the same valuable information, while building brand recognition and loyalty for both.

In the case of Calvin Ayre’s Bodog brand, the company wants its clients and potential clients to gamble at BodogLife.com and partake in the “Bodog lifestyle.” When the brand was threatened recently, Bodog changed their domain name from Bodog.com to NewBodog.com and then finally to BodogLife.com. Although the domain name changed, the brand and messaging remained constant.

In his blog, Frank Schilling argues that “Calvin should have used this opportunity to buy InternetCasino.com from Xedoc.” As much as I respect Frank, I disagree with him. First, InternetCasino.com would have been a very expensive acquisition for Bodog – probably much more than the value they would receive in return. Not only would this have changed the domain name, but it would have completely altered the brand and the lifestyle portrayed. Visitors to InternetCasino.com are looking for a place to place their bets. Bodog customers are looking for Calvin.

Integrating a brand with a generic domain name doesn’t usually make sense. Yes, a brand can be built around a generic domain name, as demonstrated by the Hotels.com example. However, I don’t think a generic domain name should be used to rebuild a brand.

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