NOTE: Gluttons for punishment, we were back at Internet World in 2009, and you can read the account of that experience here.
Memorable Domains exhibited at the 2008 Internet
World tradeshow (held at Earls Court from April 29 to May 1, 2008). We were on stand E277, towards the back of the hall (on the Internet World side of the central aisle) and facing SEDO's stand, if you attended the show and are trying to remember where we were.
Mark surveys the 'wreckage' as we set up the Memorable Domains stand
Mark (a friend who came over from Vienna to help with the show) and I were there, dressed in our grey Memorable Domains polo shirts with the distinctive pocket flashes.
The experience was interesting in many ways, not least because it enabled us to get a capsule overview of the current condition of the domain name market in the UK in a very short space of time.
Several trends emerged over the course of the 3 days, as we had the chance to speak with hundreds of potential clients and visitors interested in domain names.
Many attendees walked straight up to the stand and enquired about a particular domain name or asked what we might be able to offer them in a specific product or service niche, without preamble.
The majority of such enquiries came from people engaged in SEO, PPC and other online marketing activities, and who had clearly already realised the competitive benefits that come from owning a highly targeted, descriptive generic domain name. They were typically working on behalf of clients on projects that frequently included the acquisition of generic domain names.
Many of these visitors essentially fed our own sales pitch back to us as they thumbed through our domain catalogue, pointing out the merits for simplifying the SEO process because of the weight given by the search engines to exact match keyterms in the domain name, or for PPC in terms of increasing the click tendency and hence improving the CTR, and by derivation reducing the cost per click while maintaining the ad display position.
In many cases, those browsing with an eye for names that would fit the needs of larger clients were potentially interested in whole groups or collections of names covering identical or tightly overlapping products or services.
A corner of the stand, with bulging brochure rack
We got the impression that they were pursuing a microsite strategy on behalf of such clients, i.e. developing a series of small sites targeted at a very specific product or service, which could be marketed independently in the search engines and ultimately drive very focused business.
At the same time, we also had the opportunity to speak with company MDs, CEOs and other key stakeholders. After giving them a brief 60 second overview of what we were about ("Memorable Domains sells highly generic, descriptive domain names, targeted at specific products, services or business niches...") the conversation turned to what their own business was selling.
Frequently, we were able to suggest a domain name that was an exact match for the way they described their product or service to us, e.g. "We're in the overseas recruitment industry." "Well, we can offer you overseasrecruitment.co.uk."
We could see their eyes light up at the prospect of acquiring THE key descriptor for their niche market. Admittedly, there were times where nothing in our extensive portfolio really fit the bill (for instance, we were surprised to find we didn't own anything relating to watches or water coolers) but we were able to propose an appropriate name perhaps 90% of the time.
Edwin drumming in the benefits of a good generic domain name
We had to provide a certain amount of reassurance to businesses concerned about the impact on their "brand" of purchasing and exploiting a generic domain name. Clearly, they'd expended a lot of money, time and energy trying to promote their company name to existing and potential future clients, and they were concerned about losing this in the migration to a new domain name.
We were able to reassure them that typically their "brand" name and generic domain name could coexist in perfect harmony, since they could "point" or redirect the generic name to their existing website, and thus selectively choose when to make use of the generic domain name (for instance in print, radio or TV ads where attention spans are measured in seconds and recall is paramount) without sacrificing any of their investment in their brand.
Gratifyingly, we had the opportunity to speak with representatives from several law firms engaged in intellectual property-related work. Some had concerns about the whole domain name resale business, since they had experienced problems in trying to wrest their clients' trademarks back from unscrupulous cybersquatters, or had been influenced by (often very broad-brushed) articles in major newspapers that failed to make the clear distinction between those engaged in cybersquatting, and the ethical domain companies forming the strong backbone of the healthy domain aftermarket.
Others had already seen from the sample names displayed on our stand posters that we were the "good guys", not part of the minority giving the domain industry a bad name through the practice of holding companies to ransom by squatting on their trademarks. Either way, once we explained our core policy of only investing in generic domain names and gave them a chance to look through our catalogue, they understood the legitimacy of what we were offering, and a couple of attendees even went on to enquire about specific names for some of their clients.
We also ended up as an impromptu domain name clinic for a wide range of attendee problems, from what to do with their own domains or domains of clients that were in payment default, through to the criteria for valuing domain names, questions about domains and trademarks, the sometimes plaintive question "does this mean that all the good domains are gone?" (short answer: yes, for a particular value of "yes") and many other questions.
Fortunately, with over a dozen years combined experience in the domain name market, the two of us manning the stand were able to help in most cases, or at least direct them towards other relevant companies with a presence at the show (SEDO for domain name resale and monetisation issues, NetNames for domain name registration issues, Nominet for questions concerning the underlying structure and governance of the .co.uk namespace, and so on).
Last but certainly not least (yes, that oft-used cliche), the show was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet with dozens of professional domain name industry insiders, many of whom are engaged in a broadly identical business of researching product and service niches and securing highly generic domain names that cover those niches. Of course, we'd met virtually in cyberspace, but it was the first time that I was able to meet my fellow domainers face to face.
The industry get-together at My Old Dutch in Holborn on the Wednesday under the banner of Acorn Domains and the joint sponsorship of NameDrive and Memorable Domains was even more eye-opening in that respect, with the 50 or so attendees probably controlling a collective 250,000+ valuable, generic domains. We joked that if a meteorite hit the building the domain name aftermarket in the UK -- at the high end of the quality spectrum at least -- would disappear in a flash.
Looking back at all the people we had the chance to meet at the show, a few industry factions were conspicuous by their absence. We didn't speak to many investment professionals, even though parallels with the more developed .com market in the US, coupled with recent sales trends in .co.uk, suggest that domain names might constitute an attractive asset class worthy of further investigation.
The Memorable Domains logo came out a treat... which is more than can be said for Edwin's photo prowess
We also didn't have much opportunity to speak to staff from the "old-style" advertising agencies i.e. those engaged in the branding process across the entire spectrum of offline and offline promotion. This might be because they'd yet to realise that a brand campaign and a generic domain name are complements not rivals, with the latter accelerating the recall and findability of the brand.
Finally, we didn't speak to many people from the direct marketing industry (possibly because they were too preoccupied with their own show going on in parallel to Internet World in the other half of the Earls Court 2 building) despite the obvious benefits of having a simple, memorable domain to display on marketing materials.
Overall, it was a very positive experience, albeit a physically and mentally draining one. By the end of the 3rd eight-hour day (we virtually never left the stand during the entire show, subsisting on power drinks and energy bars) it felt like there were more visitors than oxygen molecules, and it was particularly funny (in retrospect) to look back at a few of the late-show conversations I had with exhibitors on other stands, who were clearly as affected by the constant aural and visual stimulation and the basic pace of the show as I was - we ended up practically babbling at each other like babies.
Lots of lessons learned for next year (the stand's already booked) and a wonderful experience all round, despite the best attempts of the weather to dampen our spirits.