What’s A Brand, Anyway? The Story of Nuts.com
The New York Times certainly thought we were nuts, as did Forbes and Al Ries in AdAge, all of whom agreed that our six-figure acquisition of the nuts.com domain and our re-branding from NutsOnline to Nuts.com was an example of overspending. Was it?
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I joined Cranford, NJ-based Nuts.com a year ago as the head of marketing (aka Chief Marketing Nut). Even before I became an employee, I was a customer. I knew about how Jeffrey Braverman, the grandson of the company’s founder, took the company online 80 years after “Poppy” Sol Braverman opened a store to sell nuts, dried fruit, and other bulk foods. I was also fascinated with how the company’s customers mobilized to ship 20 tons of peanuts to CBS to save the TV show “Jericho” a few years ago.
In 1999, Jeffrey was in his dorm room at Wharton brainstorming the best URL for the company. Nuts.com, eNuts.com, NutsDirect.com, and many other domain names were already taken and NewarkNutCompany.com was too long. In the end, he decided to go with NutsOnline.com because it reminded him of America Online (his Internet provider at the time).
When it came to transition to the new, simpler, more memorable domain name, Jeffrey was aware that it was risky but, after much deliberation, decided that it was the best way to grow the company and take an offensive position in the competitive e-commerce industry. There’s not really space in customers’ minds for more than one of “that online nut company.” In fact, when Rachael Ray featured our candy favors on her show a few years ago, she directed her viewers to nuts.com, which was at the time a parked domain not actively used by its owner. Ouch. We needed to make it as easy as possible for customers to remember us and find us, and we wanted to do so before our competitors made the move. One of the most significant threats to us thriving and surviving was that a large or medium-sized e-retailer would purchase the nuts.com domain name.
We purchased the domain name last fall and, after the holiday rush, we pulled the switch on the re-branding in the second week of January.
The New York Times article was correct in that traffic from Google searches dipped immediately after the transition. Other articles picked up on the story and proclaimed that our purchase of the domain name was a failure, even though organic traffic told only a small part of the story. We had expected some bumps in the road and, by May, our traffic had recovered and was back to where it had been right before the holiday rush. As of the end of July, we saw our Google organic traffic grow by 32 percent year-over-year.
More telling of the transition’s success is our direct traffic, which represents the number of people finding us by directly typing our domain into their browser’s address bar. Our direct traffic is up 105 percent over last year and, by April, our direct traffic and revenue exceeded that of December, which is amazing for a seasonal business like ours. This meant that our assumption about the new domain name and brand being more memorable was correct! And the re-branding attracted the right kind of visitor, too, as our revenues from direct traffic increased by more than 65 percent.
But the success of the rebranding was not coincidental. We did much more than just flip the switch in January. Before the rebranding, we made sure to clearly define our brand mission, values, attributes, personality, voice, and story, as well as understanding our brand’s position in the market. We also prepared our site for the technical transition, working on many nuances that could affect the site’s functionality as well as our search engine rankings and AdWords campaigns.
Both before and during the rebranding, we spent a significant amount of time thinking about customer and visitor experience. We communicated throughout to let our customers and visitors know what to expect—no changes to our products, service, or brand values other than our URL and name. We included notes about the change on our packaging, web site, emails, and newsletters. We worked with a design agency, Pentagram, to create quirky, fun, and approachable packaging for our new name. Our customers (and bloggers) raved about our new boxes, pictured above, which captured the heart of our brand. We also redirected traffic from NutsOnline to Nuts.com to make sure that our loyal customers would not get lost.
Each and every step of the way, for even the smallest change, we asked: How will this affect our customers and our visitors? Is this a reflection of our brand? If the answer to either question was negative, we … Next Page »