Should e-companies adopt brand names that are clear or curious? Entrepreneurs banking on the curious must use marketing to get consumers over the hump of their head-scratching monikers.
In 1997, miningco.com, a directory of Web sites on everyday topics such as personal finance, pregnancy and pets, set up shop with the goal of beating the search engines in the business of pointing people toward information. The name meant they'd mine the Net to unearth nuggets of info for you. But as the firm evolved, says John Caplan, the rebranding specialist (now president of About Network) hired in 1999 to orchestrate a makeover, "the mining metaphor no longer applied to what the brand stood for." MiningCo.com morphed from offering directories to destinations-sites dedicated to each topic and staffed by guides.
Caplan and his team meditated on what to call the retooled enterprise, which offered information "about" 700 different topics. "That really became the essence," says Caplan-and the inspiration for the new name, About Inc., with a subtitle: The Human Internet.
With concentrated marketing to sear the new brand into the consciousness of potential users-and advertisers-About.com has prospered. From a rank of 127th in the number of unique visitors monthly, it rose to sixth over a period of two years. Still, does avoiding the risk of befuddlement really help capture the attention of Web surfers? Would "AllAbout . . ." have hinted better? Should eBay have been Auctions.com? And what exactly does Monster.com do, anyway?