Reaching the end user: migrating from .com to .brand


Reaching the end user: migrating from .com to .brand

Kate Hutchinson looks at creating a strategy for domain migration, educating customers about new TLDs, and the advantages of using social media to promote and streamline the transition.

Kate Hutchinson looks at creating a strategy for domain migration, educating customers about new TLDs, and the advantages of using social media to promote and streamline the transition.

The application period for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN’s) new generic top-level domain (gTLD) programme opens in January 2012, but already many brands have announced or considered plans for their own .brand TLD.

The new TLD programme has faced many harsh critics but, despite the protests of groups such as the Association of National Advertisers and the Coalition for Responsible Domain Name Oversight, the initiative is moving forward. The next chapter of Internet history will be written by the pioneers of the new TLDs, and many visionary brands are hoping to launch at the forefront with a .brand campaign.

All this change leaves brands asking the question “How will we get our customers to recognise a new .brand site, instead of .com?”. The change will be huge in terms of communications, but with a strong strategy, communications and marketing plan, any brand can take advantage of the unique .brand asset.

Evaluate current online brand strategy

Every new strategy should begin with examining the old. In the age of digital metrics, brands should have access to a library of information about the online engagement of the brand, and the behaviour of customers.

Brands should begin by examining the data about how customers reach their existing website. Do they use search engines and click on links? Or are they reading magazine advertisements and typing the URL directly into their browser address bars? Maybe the brand has a cadre of tech-savvy fans who use QR codes and mobile phones to access the site.

Once the brand has determined the main pathways to its site, the marketing team can begin reformulating the paths to point to a new .brand site. Brands should also look at their customers and online audience, and evaluate them in terms of segments: innovators, early adopters, and followers.

Innovators are the customers that are always right on the edge, jumping on to everynew trend even before it becomes a trend. Think of these people as the kind of Apple fans who wait in line for three days for the latest iPad. Early adopters are forward thinking, but will wait for the first reviews and then go for a new product. Last, followers are the mainstream market, the people who want to know something is good before they invest in it.

When considering moving to a .brand domain name, a brand should think about how many of its customers are innovators, how many are early adopters and how many are followers. Innovators and early adopters will probably have the least resistance to a major change in an online address, but the bulk of customers will probably be followers. So how can brands communicate these changes without alienating their client base?

Planning and communication

Any brand that has experienced a major backlash from customers can attest that when making changes, one must make sure to communicate with and prepare the customer base for the change. Think of clothing label GAP’s debacle in 2010 when it announced a major logo change and launched it without considering customer loyalty to its brand as conveyed by its current logo.

After a week of listening to customer protests, GAP withdrew the new logo and reinstated the original, even at the cost of trashing labels and materials that had already been printed with the new logo. When beginning migration to a branded TLD online, the brand must begin by engaging the customer, and letting the client base know that the change is coming.

A branded TLD is not just a change to where the customer visits a brand online, it represents a fundamental change in how many people understand the architecture of the Internet. Many people in the US don’t realise that domains other than .com even exist.

In France, users tend automatically to type .fr at the end of web addresses, and many international users expect two levels of domains at the end, such as or As such, it is incumbent upon the brand to tell its users that, after a pre-determined launch date, they should type .brand at the end of the address.

For optimum success, brands should also communicate why they are making this change, and what the benefits are. The benefits can include security (a brand can add extra domain name system [DNS] security to its .brand domains), authority (.brand indicates that the site is authorised by the brand), and exclusivity (only the brand’s domains or selected affiliates can be found a .brand domain).

Any company launching a new product takes care to outline the benefits to entice consumers to buy, and the same principles apply to educating end users about new domains.

Prepare for pushback

No matter how well a brand plans its transition, there will always be a pushback contingent of clients. And as each brand plans its communication strategy, it is of vital importance to include responses to criticism and concerns from customers.

Self-publishing media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook allow unsatisfied customers a huge platform to broadcast their unhappiness. If a brand wants to preserve its image, it will need to monitor these outlets and be prepared to respond to customer complaints.

Knowing that someone at the company is listening to them mollifies many customers. Brands should never overlook this kind of input—it is a valuable barometer of how they are engaging their audience, and provides a guideline for improvements in marketing and communication.

"When a brand has created a live site on a new .brand domain, social media networks provide an ideal outlet for posting new links to the site."

Communication plans should include a designated team for responding to online criticism about the move, staffed by people who are familiar with online behaviour patterns and who will be able to tailor responses to individuals.

 The digital age pushes brands to personalise and customise interactions with consumers—form letters and boilerplate are particularly poorly received in social media outlets.

Harness the power of social media

Brands seeking to migrate to a new .brand domain should take advantage of the link-based communications from popular social media sites, most notably Facebook and Twitter. These media provide limited content space, and users are familiar with clicking links in posts and messages to reach expanded content. When a brand has created a live site on a new .brand domain, social media networks provide an ideal outlet for posting new links to the site.

However, brands should build an active presence on social media sites before link-directing to a new .brand domain. By providing content and a presence in these media, they engage consumers who will then be more likely to follow links to a new location.

Social media represent a large and varied field, and those who succeed in marketing via social media are those who listen to and absorb the content and the medium itself. It is also a fastpaced environment, and if a branded account doesn’t provide a consistent flow of content, followers and fans lose interest.

A brand can add scheduled and pre-written content to a communications plan to ensure a steady stream of relevant content, aimed at describing the new domain change, and how to find the .brand TLD.


The hardest part of incorporating a .brand TLD into an online marketing strategy will be educating end users. In the months since the new gTLD programme was approved by ICANN, many marketing groups have decried the plan and some are actively working to repeal or stop it altogether.

Most end users have responded to the news with confusion. It is a brand’s responsibility to be a resource of education to end users about the .brand TLDs and encourage them to participate in the migration process. User participation can make or break a .brand TLD, and it will be the responsibility of the brand to promote and increase the value of this new online asset.

Kate Hutchinson is the marketing and social media manager at United Domains in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She can be contacted at:

This article was first published on 01 December 2012 in World IP Review

ICANN, .brand. gTLDs, social media, .com, DNS

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