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As only a tiny proportion of the general public is likely to know what new gTLDs are, marketing them successfully is very important. But who should be doing this, and what can they do? Andy Churley investigates.
In the world of the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) we find ourselves in the middle of a marketing controversy. Although we are no longer constrained by addresses such as .com or.net—around 600 publicly-available gTLDs are coming on to the market—how many people are actually aware of the changes underway? And how many of them actually realise the significance this change will have on their businesses, brands or even personal browsing habits?
If I were to do a straw poll it wouldn’t surprise me if fewer than one in 100, or even one in 1,000, people would have heard about the new gTLD programme. Why is this?
The internet’s name governing body ICANN set the application fee for each new gTLD at $185,000, and received nearly 2,000 applications, so it must have taken more than $350 million in fees alone. Surely ICANN could spend some of its funds on marketing? Apparently not. ICANN appears to be implying, by its lack of promotional activities, that it is down to the wider gTLD community to educate the market and drive new gTLD adoption with internet users.
When considering registry marketing activities, it is crucial to note that registries are not allowed to sell directly to consumers. All registries have to go through the ICANN-accredited registrar channel—this inherently affects the marketing activities of the registry.
There are broadly four types of new gTLD applicant, and each has different marketing and business drivers.
- Single-string applicants They have already invested heavily in acquiring one registry and, having in effect put all their eggs in one basket, will therefore promote that asset with all the financial and creative resources available to them. Expect to see any well-funded single-string applicants such as DotClub push the boat out with their marketing efforts, until the money runs out.
- Portfolio applicants These include Famous Four Media, Uniregistry and Donuts. They are forced to take a more measured approach to promoting their gTLDs. Almost all of them have to juggle their marketing spend with holding back money to acquire as many of the gTLDs that they are fighting others for. Spending may be on buy-outs, or private or ICANN auctions. Expect to see less in the way of direct marketing spend until all their possible gTLD registries are secured.
- Community applicants This group are focused on a narrow subset of internet users and will be hell-bent on educating that subset alone, as the wider internet population will not be eligible to purchase domain names in their registries. It may seem obvious, but the operator of .london is not likely to be spending much on promoting the domain in Toronto, for example.
- Brand applicants These applicants are using their new gTLD(s) for internal brand protection or support marketing purposes (and not to sell domain names to consumers). They need to integrate their registries with their existing marketing strategies and continuing go-to-market activities. Many brand owners are looking at new gTLDs as a long-term investment so it may be a while before we see a .nike or .bmw involved in aggressive advertising campaigns.
Registrars have a direct connection with the end user of a domain name. Therefore, they are often seen as the mouthpiece of the domain name industry. There are three principal types of registrar.
- Corporate registrars They look after large portfolios of domain names for corporate customers, providing strategic advice to their customers about what domain names to hold or acquire and under which suffix. They concentrate on providing value-added advice to their corporate clients, which can then manage a large portfolio of domains in a number of different suffixes.
The ‘broadcast’ marketing that corporate registrars do is for customer acquisition rather than market education, and will be focused on their unique portfolio management capabilities rather than new gTLDs per se.
- Retail registrars These have large and diverse customer bases, whose average portfolio size is only a few domain names. These registrars have a menu of domain names to offer their customers and should be shouting about any new ones that are on offer. However, just six months or so into the roll-out, there are more than 250 new gTLDs on offer.
To put this in perspective, this is almost the same number as all the gTLDs and country-code TLDs ever launched before the programme. This means it is an almost impossible task for retail registrars to find the resources to market every suffix to its maximum potential. And with little in the way of data—and certainly no crystal ball—to predict the potential winners and losers, some retail registrars are falling back on the tried-and-tested method of seeing which registry will pay them the most to feature their suffixes.
- Wholesale registrars. These have an added layer of complexity. They are themselves one step removed from the registrant, since they work through a network of domain name resellers. The wholesale registrar is in a similar position to the registry operator, selling to the registrant through a third party. In addition, wholesale registrars’ gross margins are usually squeezed since they have a middle man who takes a cut, leaving less money for marketing activities.
Who should shoulder the burden of marketing new gTLDs? Using the ‘AIDA’ marketing model (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action), things may become a little clearer.
Awareness ICANN is the only body with the remit, reach and resources, accumulated from application fees, to raise awareness of the new gTLD programme sufficiently to grab the attention of internet users globally.
Interest Registries want to spend their marketing budgets to differentiate their suffixes from the other 600 gTLDs in a market where people are already aware of what a new gTLD is and why they might want one. This is what registries should be doing, rather than spending time, effort and budgets on trying to explain what a new gTLD is. With no marketing investment by ICANN, the registries’ job is made doubly difficult and doubly expensive.
"ICANN is the only body with the remit, reach and resources to raise awareness of the new gTLD programme sufficiently to grab the attention of internet users globally."
Desire With creating desire, we are moving into the realm that includes the registrars’ marketing efforts. This phase is about converting an interested party into a potential buyer of a specific domain. Here, traditionally there is room for registry/registrar collaboration, cost-sharing and co-marketing.
Action This phase sits squarely with the registrars. It is their sole goal to convert a potential buyer into a domain owner. Good registrars have this down to a fine art.
If there is no investment in marketing then the entire chain breaks down, or at least slows to a crawl. Just like a farmer trying to grow his crops, we know the soil is good (more than 200 million domain names are already registered), but if the field is not ploughed and ready to accept the seed, the crops will not grow as plentiful or as quickly, and the farmer cannot reap his reward.
Similarly, the domain name industry cannot expect the new gTLD programme to achieve rapid adoption without investment in marketing, and ICANN needs to step up before it can expect the other actors to play their part.
Andy Churley is chief marketing officer at Famous Four Media. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
gTLDs; ICANN; registrars; AIDA; registry