When James La Barrie decided to launch his own marketing agency, he didn’t know he’d wind up serving a clientele facing a highly specific challenge: attracting new customers to an experience that many people think is . . . well, sort of nuts.
La Barrie’s firm focuses on skydiving, making it unique in the world of marketing. For those who enjoy jumping out of airplanes—and this includes La Barrie himself—the sport is safe, thrilling and poetically beautiful; more life-changing than devil-may-care. But that’s only clear once you try it: For skydiving companies, the challenge is to get people to, literally, make the first leap.
An engaging speaker and longtime entrepreneur, La Barrie, 38, was invited to talk at a Parachute Industry Association conference in 2013, just prior to launching his marketing venture, which was then called “Beyond Marketing.” La Barrie hoped he’d leave the conference with a client or two for his new business, but mostly he made the trip to hang out with fellow skydivers. As it happened, there wasn’t much time to socialize.
“There wasn’t anybody in a marketing role that could speak the language of skydiving and knew the particular needs of this business,” he says.
La Barrie, on the other hand, knew the industry inside and out, having worked for almost a decade at a service for which he coordinated the logistics of more than 30,000 jumps annually.
When La Barrie walked out of the three-day conference, he had 12 new clients, most of whom ran their own skydiving service or manufactured equipment. His business grew from there, but it wasn’t until the end of 2015 that La Barrie realized that the name “Beyond Marketing” didn’t represent the business he was running.
“We were getting so much traction from the skydiving industry, it made me wonder, ‘If I really specialize, how much more work could we get?’” he says. “We needed to be more targeted on our targeted audience.”
That meant rebranding. La Barrie had started his business with an eye on becoming a traditional marketing agency, hence its more traditional name. In a decisive moment of courage—the business equivalent of making the big jump—La Barrie boldly rebranded his business as DropZone Marketing, a name that references the area where skydivers land, and precisely communicated his firm’s specialty to other businesses in the industry.
Marketing skydiving is not like most other marketing challenges. It’s a global industry built on enthusiastic word of mouth rather than on leveraging traditional marketing channels.
“Once you’ve established trust with your customers,” La Barrie says, “they bring their friends. They’re going to recruit for you.”
That’s why the name of his company became so important. If La Barrie wanted to attract new clients, he couldn’t afford confusion or lack authenticity. Of course, changing the name of his business also meant changing all of his digital assets. This proved to be a major hurdle. He started in the traditional place: looking for dot-com (.com) domain names, but there wasn’t one available when La Barrie went to set up a DropZone website.
“The dot-net (.net) and dot-biz (.biz) domains didn’t do it for me,” La Barrie says. “They didn’t feel high quality to me in terms of branding. They said you’d either missed the party on the right .com, or you’re a smaller local business. That wasn’t true for us because we already had international clients.”
La Barrie struck the perfect branding note by establishing a “not-com”—that is, a custom, personalized domain. Since 2014, hundreds of new domain extension options have rolled out to the public—everything from dot-agency (.agency) to dot-world (.world) to dot-guru (.guru). In this case, he created DropZone.marketing, establishing a crystal-clear identity for his growing marketing business that was also a powerful tool in improving his SEO. The results were clear and immediate.
“We started to get a lot more calls with the new domain,” La Barrie says. “Our site plays a huge role in our business development. Without our website acting as our hub . . . we have no business. Showcasing who we’ve worked with, what our satisfied clients have said about us and providing helpful information has been our number-one customer acquisition tool. Again, our website is critical to our success.”
Today, DropZone Marketing has grown to 14 people and has more than 40 clients, and it’s reached the enviable threshold of being choosy, rather than needy, when it comes to taking on additional business. La Barrie’s firm has made it through the stress of a challenging pivot and navigated a safe landing. And just like any good skydiver, he can’t wait to share the experience with others.
“Our new domain name made us more discoverable and is specific to the niche that we serve,” says La Barrie. “Now, there’s no confusion about what we do.”