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The coming months will show how brands rise to the challenges and opportunities of an internet audience that is still relatively uninformed about the new gTLD programme, says Samantha Demetriou of domain name strategy consultancy FairWinds Partners.
In May 2012, the application period for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs)—the extensions that appear at the end of internet addresses—drew to a close. Among the 1,930 applications for extensions such as .london and .cars were nearly 700 applications from corporations for ‘dot brands’: new gTLDs that correspond to the applicant’s brand name.
Progress toward launching these new ‘dot brand’ gTLDs has been slow, but three years after submitting applications, the first brand owners are finally beginning to use new gTLDs to support their online brand promotion and protection strategies. Other brand owners, however, are still working through the process with ICANN.
The current situation
More and more companies are beginning to launch their gTLDs and make them available online to their customers. Examples include French bank BNP Paribas, Australia’s Monash University and UK-based bookmaker William Hill.
These companies are ahead of the curve and have the trials and tribulations of the new gTLD application process behind them. That said, they face their own set of challenges when it comes to using their new gTLDs.
First, they must determine how best to integrate their new gTLDs into their existing digital marketing strategies. Companies will need to decide whether they want to use their ‘dot brand’ to host dedicated microsites or to migrate their primary website to a new gTLD.
Because the idea of new gTLDs is still a new-fangled concept for many internet users, companies that have launched ‘dot brand’ gTLDs have to contend with educating customers about these new internet addresses and also work out the best way to spread the word about their new websites.
Beyond figuring out the best way to extract the maximum benefit from a new digital platform, companies that have launched ‘dot brands’ are now also obliged to remain compliant with the contract they have executed with ICANN.
ICANN exercises certain regulatory oversight through this contract, so companies that own new gTLDs need to be prepared to respond to enquiries and notices of non-compliance from ICANN swiftly and efficiently. Moreover, they must also be prepared to have a ‘dot brand’ domain audited by ICANN, which can audit a given gTLD registry up to twice per calendar year.
“During the time between signing the contract and launching a gTLD, companies must also coordinate with their technical partners to conduct testing on the gTLD.”
Because ICANN allows a gTLD operator to take up to a year between signing the contract and actually launching the gTLD, a number of companies are choosing to take their time activating their ‘dot brand’ domains. Such companies include Delta, Gucci and Microsoft.
These companies will have the advantage of being able to observe what other, faster-moving companies are doing with their ‘dot brand’ gTLDs.
In the time between signing the contract and launching their gTLD, these companies must decide what kind of first impression they want to make with their new ‘dot brand’. According to ICANN’s rules, gTLD operators can have only one domain name in use for a period of 90 days after the gTLD launches. Companies can use the website hosted on this domain—known as the Network Information Center (NIC) page—to make a public statement about plans for the ‘dot brand’, but must not forget to include the policies and other features that ICANN requires all gTLD owners to communicate to the public.
During the time between signing the contract and launching a gTLD, companies must also coordinate with their technical partners to conduct testing on the gTLD and submit all required information to ICANN.
This testing is designed to verify the technical viability of the gTLD. This period is also when companies should set up all their internal infrastructure for running the ‘dot brand’ and identify which staff members will serve as various points of contact with whom ICANN and the public can communicate about the ‘dot brand’ and related issues.
Waiting to sign
In addition to the two groups of companies mentioned above, some companies that applied for a new gTLD have not yet signed their contracts with ICANN. Companies such as Nikon and the Scripps Networks Interactive media brands (such as The Food Network and HGTV) are in this category; the majority of them will have until late July to execute their contracts.
There are several reasons a company may choose to wait to sign its contract. Some may be facing challenges around making adjustments to the details of their application if, in the three years since filing their applications, certain relevant details have changed. Other companies may still be working through the onerous processes surrounding objections to their applications or issues raised by the government representatives that participate in ICANN.
Another challenge that these companies may be facing is achieving internal cohesion among different business units within their corporation that will need to be involved in the new gTLD effort.
For many companies, the decision to apply for a new gTLD was made by the legal department, motivated by the desire to secure the company’s trademark in the new domain space to the right of the dot. In many cases, however, the legal section does not have the bandwidth to take on all of the work inherent in launching and using a ‘dot brand’.
Beyond the tasks outlined here, all companies—including those that did not apply for a new gTLD in the first place—face the challenge of protecting their brands and trademarks in the new, ‘open’ gTLDs that have launched so far.
The number of new gTLDs that have been added to the internet in the past year and a half is nearing 600. Even for companies with expansive budgets, it would be extremely costly—not to mention impractical—to try to register domain names in every open gTLD’s sunrise period.
Rather, companies should take a strategic approach and prioritise both their trademarks and the new gTLD extensions that are most relevant to their business (such as terms related to the brand’s industry or terms that represent a high risk to brands).
Developing a plan for which domains to register and when, allows companies to maximise their protection efforts within their available budgets. This is also a good time for companies to examine their existing domain name portfolios to see if there is any housecleaning they can do to free up additional budget for trademark protection in the new extensions.
The coming months will show how brands rise to the challenges and opportunities of an internet audience that is still relatively uninformed about the new gTLD programme.
As more ‘dot brands’ join the first movers with consumer-facing campaigns, companies may change the way we see the internet.
Samantha Demetriou is the vice president, consulting and digital strategy at domain name strategy consultancy FairWinds Partners. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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