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The new gTLD expansion has provoked some ‘so what?’ responses, so Roland LaPlante is here to discuss the main benefits of a ‘dot brand’ and review some important marketing trends.
Over the past three years, you are likely to have read countless words on the expansion of the internet’s address system, where classic top-level domains (TLDs) such as .com and .info, and .de and .co.uk, will be joined by hundreds of new generic domains such as .organic and .black, geographic domains including .london and .vegas, and .brand domains such as .nike and .swatch.
Against this background, there are four important marketing trends to consider. First, there are higher levels of online engagement than ever before. More people are online. Every day, you can do more stuff on the internet. The result? People are spending more time online. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
Second, corporate sites—we all visit them—are getting bigger and more complicated. This is convenient for the corporate types, but difficult for customers as they sometimes have to navigate around the 99% of unwanted content to get to the one morsel they want.
Third, big data. We have better tracking tools than ever. More data and better tools give us the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff and to learn useful things about what our customers are doing online.
And finally, we are learning—yet again—about the fickleness of social networks. Even now, teenagers are moving away from Facebook to a place their parents and grandparents haven’t heard of yet. So, it’s no longer enough, or even cool, to ask people to like you on Facebook.
Given this confluence of marketing trends, how do marketers and brand managers engage with prospects and customers online and create the ultimate experience in a more sustainable fashion?
The answer is to graduate from owning a website to owning an entire internet TLD dedicated to your brand.
Taking the next logical step
Today, all businesses own websites where the TLD has something like .info or .com in the address. We’ve never seen anything different, so we accept this as ‘the way it ought to be’.
This is now wrong.
The organisation that manages the internet’s addressing system—ICANN, a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation dedicated to keeping the internet secure, stable and interoperable—is now in the process of changing the old thinking completely with its new TLD programme.
In 2000, there were seven generic TLDs—.com; .net; .org; .mil; .int; .edu; and .gov. There were also approximately 240 country-code TLDs such as .us, .uk, and .fr; every country has its own two-character code.
After test expansions in 2001 and 2004, which brought .info, among others, onto the web, ICANN opened a process for an unlimited expansion of the internet root zone in 2013. With more than 1,000 TLDs, this is the largest expansion of the root zone in the history of the internet. It will change the way we search the internet and find businesses and brands, especially the TLDs we call dot brands.
In the 2013 round, more than 600 brands from a wide range of industries applied for, and will eventually get, their own TLDs. The list features mostly industries with at least national, but often global, reach. Figure 1 shows the number of TLDs applied for in various sectors. Why did all these brands jump in, and what are the benefits to a custom domain?
Marketers can now stop wasting space on random terms like .com or .net. Wouldn’t BMW be better able to communicate its message at its own .bmw address? And wouldn’t Rays Pizza, a New York City institution, be better off with rayspizza.nyc? Google, Tiffany, Nike, Apple—each brand is better off with a proprietary address. Why would any business choose a random term like .com when they can live online at their own brand? (see Figure 2).
Internet customers will be more secure at addresses in a .brand. A branded TLD gives brands control over every address in the entire TLD; the brand itself determines who can have an address there, so they can keep out the bad guys. Further, the brand can control all the content on all the sites in its own TLD. If an approved registrant violates the acceptable use policy, the brand can take the site down without going to court and without a delay.
Given that counterfeiting is very much a problem on the internet, .brand domains can contribute to security in another sense. When customers go to justrolex.tripod.com, do they expect to get a real Rolex there? How would they know? If the site were tripod.rolex, the customer would know that Tripod has been vetted by Rolex and been found worthy since Rolex would have complete control over every single name in the Rolex zone.
An additional security benefit is technical; it’s called Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC). Every new TLD is required to be DNSSEC signed, so when visitors type a .brand address into a browser, they cannot be hijacked and sent to another site. The request is encrypted and will not return results from the wrong place.
Many brands are trying to tap into the great popularity of social networks, which have their place in the marketing mix. Some brands, however, have completely succumbed to the allure of Facebook, spending advertising money to drive people to a page on Facebook, such as a print advertisement for Jeremiah Weed, a brand of bourbon whiskey-based products (Figure 3).
What’s wrong with ‘jeremiahweed.com’, which they own? Or even better, ‘jeremiah.weed’?
Some brands even spend money to get a customer to their homepage, and then try to drive them off their own page to Facebook (Figure 4).
That should drive most marketers crazy: spending money to drive customers to someone else’s brand. And then Facebook keeps the data, preventing you from understanding your customers better. You need your own data—why let Facebook keep it?
And worse, social networks come and go. Where is Myspace today? We’ve all seen headlines about Facebook’s declining popularity with teens. When some other hot social network supplants Facebook—Snapchat? Vine?—brands that relied on Facebook will have to start again. The investment will be lost. And those brands will forever be chasing that elusive ‘other site’ where their customers went.
Just a year ago, owning a custom TLD was not an option. Today, it’s positioned to be a global standard in the internet space.
While I don’t see any brands immediately dumping their .com, I predict that in five years most major brands will be managing their own TLDs and operating all of the internet aspects of their business from a space they can control. The marketing forces I have mentioned are leading brands and consumers in this direction because:
• More and more businesses and customers are moving online;
• Most brands’ current online presence is fragmented among sites and social media outlets;
• Criminal activity is rife on the internet, and customers need the refuge of a trusted .brand space; and
• Bespoke TLDs have arrived and allow brands to have an infinite number of site names that are available only to that brand. And brands can control the content on all of those sites.
The .brand domains are safer for brands, more secure and trustworthy for consumers, and will soon be widely accepted as the global standard for world-class brands and companies.
Roland LaPlante is chief marketing officer at domain name registry Afilias. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
gTLDs; branding; ICANN; domain names