A Domain Name is an Investment in Branding

In 2004 I registered the domain name “denvergeeks.com” for my budding IT business. At that time the term “geek” had for some years been floating around and had begun rising in the public awareness, and more recently popularized by the “Geek Squad”, Best Buy’s army of computer technicians.

As an entrepreneur, I lived in Denver and provided these same services locally, so it seemed like a good starting point for branding my budding IT business.

I was right. Twenty years later people still regularly compliment me on the my branding, “Denver Geeks”.

I hadn’t set out to build an empire to compete with the “Geek Squad”. I had already settled that the last thing I wanted was to scale up this business.

I was (and still am, very happily) the opposite of the “Geek Squad” – a one-woman army – a swiss army knife of all things computing, internet, and IT.

As an insatiable learner, I enjoy solving problems, and more specifically I am passionate about simplifying technology.

This was, and still is, a very niche endeavor, as geeks (both then and now) generally have a tendency to complicate things.

But I digress. Back to branding.

Back in the day, an attorney from Best Buy contacted me and asked if my choice to use “geek” in my business name was helpful. I told him that, if anything, it was unhelpful because of the bad reputation which had by that time been rightly earned by the “Geek Squad”.

So many times in my daily service calls I had followed behind arrogant young male Geek Squad “Agents” who (according to my customers) had screwed up people’s computers, and made people feel stupid and intimidated, and made them even more afraid of their technology, and that was the opposite of what my business was all about.

By that point I had come to understand and figured out how to capitalize on the value of that niche, that opportunity that the “Geek Squad” had created – to do the opposite for my customers. And it had worked.

I also came to realize that, to the same extent that I might have benefitted from the ubiquity of the public’s perception of this term “geek”, this association with the “Geek Squad” also brought problems to my branding the “Denver Geeks”.

Nonetheless I continued to use the “Denver Geeks” because my customers seemed to like it and it was easy to remember.

I am a word person, as well as a technology nerd. Since 1998 I have collected domain names. My history of buying and selling domain names is like a map of my business ideas over the course of time.

Domain names are how I categorize my projects. The websites I build upon my domains are my global project containers.

When I register a domain name I am investing in words, in branding.

I view domain names as real estate. Before I register a domain I look around the region – the “neighborhood”.

Just like a real estate developer, I glean information and assess the potential value of a domain property based on the neighborhood. Who owns the related domains, and what websites currently occupy the websites related to the nomenclature of the domain name.

This is because I think I understand how people think, and the power of words as it impacts people’s online activities. These many factors I consider are beyond the scope of this post – a post for another day.

With all of the available TLDs these days, it would be impossible for a trademark owner to buy up all of the domains relating to its brand.

Take “geeksquad.com” for example. At https://tld-list.com/ a quick search shows how many instances of this domain are (even to this day) unregistered.

This is (still) the “wild west” with regard to domain names and branding.

Years ago I received a threatening letter from an employee at NPR, demanding that I relinquish one of my domains, AmericanPublicRadio.com to NPR because it purported to own the trademark “American Public Radio”.

In researching my rights I learned that, while he was correct that the term was listed as registered to PRI at the USPTO, PRI had technically “abandoned” it by failing to use it for years.

So instead of relinquishing the domain, I filed a challenge at the USPTO claiming that under the law, PRI had in fact relinquished it’s rights to exclusive use of the term (it’s trademark) by it’s failure to “maintain” its use of “American Public Radio” as a brand name.

I learned that, in order to keep your rights to a tradename you have to continue to use it in commerce.

An online search showed that PRI had “formerly” used the term in its branding, but had long since ceased using it.

In the face of my evidence the attorney for PRI quickly gave up the fight, and I still own the domain name to this day.

Domain names are not trademarks (legally), but they serve a similar purpose in the actual, global marketplace.

That is their value. It is only potential value, however, beyond the extent that they can sometimes be sold for a profit.

In that sense, purchasing and maintaining a domain name is an investment in reserving some future branding potential.

Just like real property, it can only ever pay off if you build something valuable upon it, or if you can sell it for a profit to someone else. Otherwise the yearly renewal fees are simply an ongoing financial drain and nothing more.