The Next Big Branding Land-Grab That No One's Talking About. Yet.

Darin Reffitt on August 21, 2017

When I present on the topic of social media at conferences and on webinars, one of the best practices I include in my top five “things to do now” is to jump onto new social media sites and apps as soon as they begin to trend—not only for future potential use, but also to protect one’s brand online.

The potential use side is self-explanatory: if you’re using a handle on Twitter, it’s much easier for people to find you on Instagram, Snapchat, or Tumblr if your handle is the same. And if someone tags you in a post on one of those sites and cross-posts to Twitter, you’ll be properly tagged on both platforms, instead of a non-existent or incorrect account being tagged instead. So it makes sense to “hold” your name for the future if only for contingency purposes.

But there’s also reputational risk in not doing so. Imagine if someone begins using your Twitter handle for adult content on Tumblr, or to post racist memes on Instagram—depending on your brand name, the risk may be low, but why take chances?

But this issue isn’t limited to Social Media, and the next big brand land grab is already happening—even if you’re not yet hearing about it.

If you were around back in the 1990s, you probably remember the issue of people stakeholding valuable domain names and then selling them to the companies that wanted them as those businesses came online. There was big money to be made by reserving domain names of existing companies. There were, of course, legal challenges for some of the more proprietary names; but, in many cases companies found it faster, cheaper, and easier to simply negotiate the fee for the domain name to less than the anticipated legal expense. For more generic names, where the legal rights to the name were more questionable, companies really had no choice but to fork over cash to get a more desired domain name or to avoid embarrassment.

Two examples of this come immediately to mind. Discover Card for many years used as its domain name; if you went to instead, you went to the home page for the science magazine of the same name. But Discover eventually acquired the more desirable In a more embarrassing example, if you ever went to research sporting goods and went to expecting to find Dick’s Sporting Goods, you might have been unsettled by what you actually found. (This is a real-world, personal example which I remember well, because I had to contact my HR team and file an IT report to ensure I didn’t lose my job after going online to order a high-end putter as a conference prize and instead accessing pornography at work.) It appears that Dick's Sporting Goods eventually fixed its problem by acquiring and redirecting the shorter version as well.

There’s value in owning a simple-to remember name. And that same value applies to the world of AI Assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. If you’re not yet pursuing a Voice strategy and you haven’t yet considered it, now’s the time to start staking your claim with Alexa Skills and Google Actions for these devices.

For those who may be unfamiliar with how these home assistant devices work, if I want to access information from a third party through my Amazon Echo, I link my Alexa to my account, activate the Skill, and from that point forward I simply say my wake word – “Alexa” – and tell the device to ask the third party for information. So, if I want to know how much my balance is on my Capital One credit card, I simply say “Alexa, ask Capital One for my credit card balance.”

Capital One owns the Skill name “Capital One” with Alexa. But imagine that a business with a similar name—say a sandwich shop called Capital One Delicatessen—had decided to use Alexa to let customers place orders, and had beaten Capital One to the punch. From that point forward, anyone saying “Ask Capital One” would have been frustrated by being told that they hadn’t enabled a Skill that they knew they had. And users would need to remember every time they used the service to say “Ask Capital One Bank” or “Ask Capital One Credit Card” instead.

Maybe not the best example, but the risk is real. Skill names are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so stake claim of your name now with a simple Alexa Skill or Google Action—say, one that reads your Twitter feed to the user—means that you’re protecting yourself from the next big branding issue.

We're seeing the threat first-hand as SPLICE is working with our customers to develop Skills  and Actions that work with their current SPLICE Voice dialogs so that answers come in a real, emotionally-relevant voice, instead of in Alexa's or Google Home’s voice. The first step—and the most important to act on quickly—is to stake claim the name you plan to use in the future. It could mean the difference between having a Skill your customers use and an Action that they cannot recall how to activate.

There’s value in owning your name. Pay for it later or protect it now, while there’s still time.