Overstock.com’s recent about-face on its rebranding effort -- which involved changing its well-known Internet address to the simple O.co -- underscores the critical importance of the traditional branded .com URL for companies that are dependent upon the use of offline advertising to drive online commerce.
Last January, when it unveiled the rebranding, Overstock.com was lauded as having chosen the shortest possible URL in the world. Unfortunately, the move also proved to be the quickest way to completely confuse Overstock.com’s customers, despite an estimated $10 million in television ad spending to promote the company’s new moniker. Many customers -- new and old -- entered erroneous URLs such as O.com when looking for the latest bargains. The result: mass confusion and falling revenues.
Even if the URL O.com had been available, Overstock would have been treading on risky ground. And while you can’t get much shorter than O.co when attempting to drive volume to the Web from TV, it has to be even simpler. Think: your brand + .com. Simply stated, it works. Don’t mess with it.
For the overwhelming majority of advertisers, the branded .com URL serves the dual purpose of generating both awareness and consumer response. TV establishes credibility, raises awareness, builds long-term equity, differentiates from competitors -- the list is long. And while TV is second to none for driving qualified customers to make purchases on the Internet, accurately attributing Web commerce to the specific TV commercials that generated the commerce represents a challenge.
Since the Internet went mainstream, online marketers have experimented with various tracking methods. Among other things, these techniques enable ongoing optimization of the media budget and thus customer conversion rates. Unique landing pages like “getspicychicken.com” allow for topline tracking of an entire campaign, but not network-level attribution. Unique URLs or backslash combinations like YourBrand123.com or YourBrand.com/123 are seldom used by consumers, and worse, erode brand equity.
Promo codes are also rarely adopted because they are difficult to remember unless they are promoted as heavily as the brand URL -- thereby cannibalizing precious, expensive commercial seconds needed to describe product attributes and create an emotional connection. In addition, once a promo code is mass marketed, it ends up on coupon Web sites for all to use, dramatically compromising attribution benefits. The biggest hurdle of all is the search engine. Most browsing sessions now begin with search, so any attempt to track TV-driven online response that requires direct navigation to a Web site is destined to fail.
So how do marketers promote their main brand URL on various TV networks and still attribute accurately? Well, I doubt that Orbitz.com would have switched to O.com even if the URL had been available. There is a reason why Orbitz.com and other marketers have stuck with the tried-and-true approach with their “vanity” tracking. Vanity tracking requires a significant investment in advanced media-buying analytics that match visits, registrations and transactions that occur on a Web site following the airing of a TV spot. It also takes specialized people skills to understand the mathematical algorithms that accurately compute relative network, daypart and program productivity. Then there are bell curve attribution windows used to ensure that the right amount of responses is attributed in a finely tuned window following the airing of a commercial spot.
If all of this sounds like Wall Street hedge fund trading, there is a distinct upside. Vanity tracking using traditional branded URLs works far more often than not. And no one will camp outside your office and bang on drums all day.