You don’t need a killer generic to build a brand

My good friend Mike Berkens at TheDomains seemed to be in ‘shock and awe‘ mode today, over the rebranding of Buy.com as ‘Rakuten’.

A couple of facts: Rakuten exists as a brand since 1999 in Japan, having used the name “Rakuten Ichiba” since 1997. Apparently, Rakuten generated $4.7 billion dollars in revenue in 2011, a year after they bought Buy.com for $250 million dollars.

I believe that Buy.com was the first retailer I spent money on, long before Amazon. Their service wasn’t spectacular then, and I wasn’t drawn to the company because I randomly typed “Buy.com” in the web browser; even back then in 1998, Buy.com was a brand for consumer electronics and computer parts.

Soon though, I moved to using retailers such as Amazon or Newegg. The latter – hardly a generic – is my favorite destination for computer gear to this day, simply because of the stellar customer service and low prices they provide.

So for more than a decade, Buy.com slipped into oblivion; if I were to follow the logic of domainers, since I wanted to “buy” something I should just enter that generic keyword in Google or the browser.

That’s not how businesses are built, however. Brandsnames that are partially or fully crafted – move the Internet, a word that is also a brand: nobody is looking for “information superhighway,” thank goodness.

Ultra generics serve a purpose, but they cannot overthrow the strengths of brands: Nike, Microsoft, Xerox, Pepsi, Audi, BMW, Canon etc.

I’m not sure what Rakuten will do with Buy.com; my guess is that they will wrap it into a service and sell it off to a company willing to use it as an outlet. Brand penetration, after all, requires a brand that even when it makes use of a generic word, it’s used as a manifestation of a product or service.

Just ask Apple.com.

Comments

  1. Amen brother.

  2. Amen!

  3. Generics have their place in every industry, but they aren’t the magic bullet that will solve your business needs. Brands, on the other hand, can become very significant due to their uniqueness and connection to products and services they are associated with.

  4. I buy your basic proposition, Theo… (lol)

    But, don’t forget, for a brand to become successful, it has to be built – promoted, serviced, differentiated, eyeballed, and accepted…..VERY expensive to do, and takes a long time….

    Buying & using a bang-on generic domain – that describes your business proposition, product, or service – is part way to buying the brand, itself.

    …ie its cheaper – and more efficient – to part-buy the brand by buying the generic domain, than to build a no-name domain/brand from scratch.

    Balance in all things.

  5. Voltaire – Nobody said a brand *will* succeed every time ;) But a generic without equal promotion is weaker than the weakest brand. Also, brands can be created out of thin air, thus making their initial inception cheaper; for a generic, you will have to pay a lot.

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