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The success of the new ‘dot brand’ gTLDs will largely depend on how well the first-mover adopters manage their domains and educate their customers, says Ingrid Baele.
During the first half of 2015, Philips plans to launch its new .philips generic top-level domain (gTLD). This means we will join other first-mover companies, such as AXA and BMW, in the .brand space. Over the next couple of years, a few hundred companies are expected to launch their .brand domains obtained in the first round of ICANN’s breakthrough extension of gTLDs.
Getting a new domain up and running is a time-consuming process and it’s no exception for Philips. We had to address a potential collision, which was ultimately solved under ICANN’s new applicable policies, and we have to eliminate any technical risk before launching .philips to the public. The real hard work, however, is still to come: ensuring that .philips becomes a successful tool for online interaction with our customers, our partners and society at large.
To achieve this goal, public trust in .philips is essential. The .brand companies can use their new domains in many exciting, innovative ways and I am sure they will. But all these creative efforts will be to little avail if the public does not feel that a .brand domain is the real thing and not a fake. There should be no doubt whatsoever in the public’s mind that .philips is a domain controlled and operated by Philips.
How can we nurture this trust? First of all, of course, .brand companies should spread the message themselves in their own brand and communication campaigns. Philips launched its new ‘Innovation and you’ brand campaign in 2013. Slowly but surely, we will introduce .philips as a catchy domain in addition to philips.com.
We expect .philips to have an extra appeal to the public compared with philips.com, so we think we can generate extra online traffic for our company with .philips and, in the process, benefit from new commercial opportunities.
So let creativity blossom and let us celebrate differentiation. Individual .brand companies will want to surprise the visitors to their domain with unique, new experiences that will set them apart. That, after all, is the whole idea of the .brand exercise: exploiting the exciting opportunities offered by the full control of the domain. In my opinion, therefore, new .brand websites should have dedicated, unique content, otherwise they will not work.
At the same time, .brand companies should make a joint effort to enhance the appeal of the new domains. A good way to do this is through a reasonable measure of standardisation. Visitors’ trust of and enthusiasm for the domain will be enhanced by an ease of use that comes with certain basic similarities with .brand domains. I am thinking, for example, of domain names common to all, such as ‘aboutus.brand’. At Philips, we support initiatives for an appropriate level of standardisation among .brand domain owners, while leaving sufficient room for differentiation between individual companies.
Public trust in .brand domains can also be increased if the .brand domain comes up prominently in the list of search engine results when a search is made for ‘brand’.
Companies themselves can enhance the safety of the .brand space. This will eventually translate into more public trust and, importantly, a decrease of unintended visits from bona fide consumers to websites selling counterfeit goods. One of the main reasons for Philips to go for the .philips domain is the safety that full control over the domain can provide. I guess this was an important argument for other .brand companies, too. As registry operators, we decide who can register a second-level domain name. Now it is time to show we can create a new online space with our .brand domains, a space that is secure and trusted as well as exciting and innovative.
At Philips, we are working with our businesses to register domain names and establish the related content, in .philips as well as in new, non-brand gTLDs owned by third parties—‘we’ being both the Philips Intellectual Property & Standards division and the brand management, digital marketing and communications teams within our company. For the time being, we envisage having websites only with content provided by Philips businesses, although at a later stage we may open .philips to content from trusted partners. Trying to create new business opportunities through the innovative use of .philips is, of course, an integral part of our efforts.
In addition to the .philips domain in Latin script, we have also obtained it in Chinese script. China is our second biggest market and is growing rapidly. It is Philips’ second home market; our first activities in China date back about a century. Needless to say that we will fill the Chinese version of .philips with locally relevant content and we will launch it basically in parallel with the .philips domain in Latin script.
In the meantime, we have been very busy determining and deploying our policies vis-á-vis new non-brand gTLDs owned by third parties. We may have to adapt our brand policies to the new realities opened up by the proliferation of the new gTLDs.
What to use, what to block, what to ignore?
These are the main questions for Philips as well as other companies. In the end, we will have won the war if the public understands that the .philips domain is the place to go for anything Philips. If you want to know from Philips itself about our lighting products, go to ‘lighting.philips’, not ‘philips.lighting’. That should be self-evident five years from now. This is not only important from a marketing point of view: financially, it is much more cost-effective for a company such as Philips to create second-level domains within .philips than to obtain second-level domains from third parties who own, for example, .lighting. This holds especially true, of course, for the so-called premium domain names.
Of course, we are not going to relinquish the philips.com domain anytime soon. For a long period, both domains will coexist. Only the future will tell if .philips becomes so powerful and well-known that we might want to transfer all content from philips.com to .philips.
Spread the word about our new .brand domains. Fill them with innovative, exciting, unique content. Standardise where appropriate to make the user experience easier. Encourage browsers and search engines to treat .brand domains well. And ensure that the .brand space is absolutely safe.
These are the tasks facing .brand owners. If we prove we are up to the challenge, the .brand revolution will gain momentum over the next few years. This momentum is pivotal to success. After all, the results of ICANN’s second round of gTLD distribution will depend to a large extent on the experiences of the first round applicants of .brand domains. I am sure that many companies are sitting on the fence and looking closely at these experiences to decide on their own strategy for the second round.
Therefore, I would prefer to wait for more ‘proof of success’ from the first round before ICANN’s second round opens. If we do wait, many more companies might apply for a .brand domain a few years from now. That would be compelling evidence that .brands are going to be a winner and that the early movers have done a good job in paving the way.
Ingrid Baele is vice president at Philips Intellectual Property & Standards. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Philips; gTLD; ICANN; branding