Net buffs branding’s stubborn tarnish

Branding is one of those words I really hate. For a while there it seemed that all anyone connected with the internet business world could talk about was branding. Forget functionality, forget content, forget usability, forget back-end stability, it was all about the brand.

Branding is one of those words I really hate. For a while there it seemed that all anyone connected with the internet business world could talk about was branding. Forget functionality, forget content, forget usability, forget back-end stability, it was all about the brand.

I was lucky enough to attend Paul Swain's conference on e-business last year and one of the things that struck me was this overarching emphasis on branding. Bloody stupid, I thought then -- and still do now. It seemed to represent all that was bad about the dot-com bubble and when that finally burst I hoped never to hear about branding again.

But branding on the web is different, and the effect of online brand names on the general web populace can be intriguing. Wellington web developer Cyber Elves, for example, has possibly the dumbest name I've ever heard, but it's impossible to shake from your memory.

On the subject, I had a great chat with Mark Denvir, general manager of Shop Naked, and discovered that, underneath it all, Shop Naked is actually Liquor King. While Shop Naked is a much better name, I think, I wondered why they decided not to go with Liquor King when building the website.

"Actually we did. We called it liquorking.co.nz to begin with, rapidly changed it to lk.co.nz and in May last year changed it to shopnaked.co.nz." Shop Naked was in the company's original tagline: "Shop naked with Liquor King". But so positive was the feedback on it as a phrase that Denvir and company decided to register the domain name.

It works. Visitors to the site are through the roof, says Denvir, it's an easy to remember name that doesn't have all the hang-ups of Liquor King (easily confused with competitors Liquorland, Super Liquor and so on). On the plus side, visitors to the site are comforted by the idea that this "oddball" site is backed by one of the country's largest booze chains. It's also a lot of fun for the company and, as Denvir says, the company can be a bit freer with its marketing online. Win win, as they say, is a Chinese panda.

Shop Naked isn't alone in this kind of activity either. The Retirement Commission has a website that is packed with truly frightening calculators, all of which laugh uproariously whenever I enter in my age and savings pattern. But once the initial advertising burst had worn off, the visitors disappeared en masse.

Enter the mouse. You've seen it on the telly, instructing us not to buy stereos on HP. Same thing here -- the mouse's site is a much better online branding exercise than "Office of the Retirement Commission". On the site's home page there isn't even a mention of the Office or the government at all. For that you have to look at the disclaimer page.

And it's not only a Kiwi thing either. Would you buy a book from www.computerliteracy.com? It's quite hard to type, let alone remember. That site launched in 1996 but didn't really take off until March 1999 when it became www.fatbrain.com.

One other thing these three sites have in common – a large multimedia awareness push after the relaunch. That's probably a major factor in their success as well as their catchy, internet-only names.

The net is a whole new medium and we're still learning how it works and what to do with it. These kinds of changes are great news because it means we can get a better handle on the net as a business as well as a business tool, and that's got to be good for the IT industry in general.

Why, between all these companies making the net work and Amazon making a profit (cake and balloons everyone!), we could just be on the verge of something worthwhile here – perhaps we'll see consumer e-commerce actually take off this year without all that dot-com nonsense. Wouldn't that be nice.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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