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The Value of a Name

I had a telephone call recently from the CEO of a Dot-Com startup (yes, they are still starting them up, despite the recent carnage). He told me that his new venture would generate thousands of satisfied web consumers who would gladly provide permission for resale of their contact information. He asked me what the value of these names would be, so he could plug this number into the business plan required by his investors. He called me because he had been told that I had written several books and articles on the subject and could probably provide the answers he sought, over the phone.

The question had me stammering. I had never thought about the value of a name in the abstract like this. There are many facts to be pinned down before the value can be determined. In the first place, the questions are, “Of value to whom? What are these names, and who would want to buy them? What can these names do for a potential buyer?” The CEO did not have these answers, but assumed that I did.

So I started to examine the question in detail. Let’s visualize an ideal situation. Suppose you had the names of 500 Boeing executives earning $100,000 or more, who have to relocate from Seattle to Chicago within the next 60 days. What is the value of these names? To a large real estate chain in Chicago, these names could be very valuable indeed.

Names 500
Home Value $200,000
Commission Rate 6%
Commission Revenue $6,000,000
Success Rate 10%
Net Profit $600,000
Name Value $1,200
Name Offering Price $600

Assuming that the Chicago real estate chain could sell homes to only 10 percent of these executives (a not unreasonable assumption), then each of the 500 names is worth $1,200. The Chicago chain might be induced to offer as much as $600 per name, and still make $600.

But this is assuming that the names can be sold only to a real estate dealer. The executives will be buying many new services in Chicago when they move, including

  • Moving services
  • Doctor and dentist
  • Bank and insurance
  • Automobile and furniture

These names are valuable to many different businesses. Their value certainly exceeds $1,200 when all these potential buyers are factored in. Clever and aggressive marketing could yield a substantial profit from selling the names.

Is such a list of names of moving executives unique to the Boeing situation? Not at all. Companies shift their executives around all the time. If, for example, California has rolling blackouts this summer and for several years to come, there will probably be hundreds of California firms that will want to move to some other state. Anyone who can phone around and find the Relocation Directors at each of these firms could make a fortune selling these names.

But my CEO’s list of names was not of high-income executives. It was young people between 15 and 35 who have purchased music over the web. What would be the value of these names? Here there is no forced relocation. We have to ask ourselves, “Who will want to buy these names?”  The Chicago buyers already listed would probably be uninterested. Perhaps the names could be sold to other e-commerce sites. Amazon or CDNow might buy them. Some retailer or cataloger might want them. Here the value would be much lower.

Names 100,000
Response Rate 2%
Customers 2,000
Average Sale $20.00
Net Revenue $40,000
Profit from a Sale 20%
Net Profit $8,000
Name Value $0.08
Name Offering Price $0.12

The right buyer could expect to receive eight cents of profit from a name. But the offering price could be much higher than the initial profit. Most retail merchants make their profit not from the initial sale, but from the lifetime value of their customers. To determine the possible name offering price, we have to determine the lifetime value of a satisfied e-commerce customer.

Year 1 Year 2 Year  3
Retention Rate 40% 50% 60%
Customers 2,000 800 400
Average Sale $20 $30 $40
Sales/Year 2 3 4
Revenue $80,000 $72,000 $64,000
Cost % 80% 70% 60%
Costs $64,000 $50,400 $38,400
Marketing $10 $20,000 $8,000 $4,000
Total Cost $84,000 $58,400 $42,400
Profit -$4,000 $13,600 $21,600
Discount Rate 1 1.12 1.44
NPV Profit -$4,000 $12,143 $15,000
Cum Profit -$4,000 $8,143 $23,143
Lifetime Value -$2 $4 $12

Of the 2,000 customers who might make a purchase, the average person might buy twice a year. 40% of them would still be customers in Year 2 making three larger purchases per year.  50% of those would last to a third year buying even more.

The costs of servicing customers typically tends to go down each year as shown here. The discount rate is needed to convert future profits into Net Present Value Profit so that these profits can be added together to get the cumulative profit. The lifetime value is determined by dividing the cumulative NPV Profit by the original 2,000 customers to determine the value a newly acquired customer. In this case, the newly acquired customers are worth $12 in the third year. This value is used to determine the name offering price.

Names 2,000
Lifetime Value $12
Total LTV $24,000
Total Names 100,000
LTV Per Name $0.24
Offering Price $0.12

The lifetime value sets an upper bound for the offering price. Anyone who offers to pay the full lifetime value for a name would never make a profit. As a rule of thumb, we can assume that buyers will never offer more than half the lifetime value to acquire a name.  So the offering price of a name with a LTV of $0.24 could not be higher than $0.12.

So, if the offering price of an e-commerce consumer buyer  is $0.12 what is a name worth to the seller? Here we have to consider marketing costs. Buyers do not materialize from nowhere once names are acquired. To get names sold, most companies need the services of list managers and brokers who must advertise and get fees. The list owner will be lucky to get 75% of the offering price from any one buyer. With luck, his names can be sold several times per year.  So we end up with the value of a name looking something like this:

Offering Price $0.12
Marketing Costs 25%
Net Revenue $0.09
Sales Per Year 3
Value of a name $0.27

So we have an answer for the CEO of the new Dot Com. His names are worth $0.27 each if everything goes well.


This type of analysis is not difficult to do. It should be done before any business is created. If it had been done two years ago by the thousands of Dot Coms set up at that time, we would not have had the present dot com wipeout and the stock market crash.. Lets hope we see some sharp pencil accounting in the future when “cool ideas” are floated to venture capitalists

Arthur Middleton Hughes is Vice President of The Database Marketing Institute that does research and consulting for e-mail and database marketing companies. He would love to hear about your problems. Perhaps he could help.  He can be reached at or 954 767 4558. His new book Strategic Database Marketing 4th Edition is due out from McGraw-Hill in 2011.

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Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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