Brands & the Next Internet Wave: What You Need To Know

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ADOTAS — For brand managers and marketers, the Internet has presented a rapid series of opportunities and challenges. First came the growth of websites, which took consumer attention from traditional media and eventually attracted an increasing percentage of media budgets. Next came a tidal wave of social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that have made the world smaller and changed the way news and information is transmitted and consumed. TVs and computers are now taking a backseat to, or simply being replaced by, tablets and mobile devices that are critical not only for communication but for storing personal data, pictures, apps, music, movies, videos and more.

To complicate things even further, the Internet is about to undergo massive change to its basic infrastructure. Specifically, the limited number of top-level domains (TLDs) that have existed to this point, like .com, .net, .edu and .gov, host more than 75% of all the registered domains and websites on the Internet, are about to get a healthy dose of competition.  By this time next year, there will be as many as 1,400 new TLDs, including everything from brands like .apple, .google, and .citibank, to more generic terms like .ski, .surf, .web, .green, etc. And this is just the beginning, as the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the entity that runs the Internet as we know it, has decided that there will be further rounds of applicants for new TLDs in the future. The new era of branded registries and generic domain registries will be arriving imminently.

However, most consumers and many companies have no idea that any of this is happening. According to recent research approximately 22% of all U.S. adults are unaware of the new TLDs on the way. Among those companies that are aware of the new TLD shakeup, many are taking a cautious wait-and-see approach to see if consumers like the new TLDs and whether it is a market worth getting into.

Why not just dive in? Well, the cost of applying for a TLD and operating it is not cheap: over $185,000 to start. Applicants also need several million dollars in the bank (as per ICANN requirements) and to be able to show ICANN that they can in fact operate a domain registry in a competent manner without compromising the stability of the Internet. Further, for many companies, there may be limited upside to owning a registry, and having to undertake the daily administration it would require might be too much for many companies to control in-house. Worse yet, the administration could potentially become a distraction from the organization’s core mission.

The companies that are jumping into this space are already fully engaged in plans to either 1) own a .brand to exploit a known trademark; or 2) apply for a generic registry in the hope of capitalizing on the public’s association with a common term as well as the advantage that can come from early adoption. One company, Donuts Inc., has applied to own over 200 generic registries including names like .doctor, .school and .financial.

So, if you are a brand manager or marketing exec, what should you do? Well, that depends on the brand. If your job is to explore new markets and be a creative fireplug for a cutting-edge company that relies on the web for consumers, it’s time to get creative and at least consider the future of your brands in the new-expanding Internet.

  1. Start to Plan: Big brands are doing it, you should be planning to as well. Start the process of considering what it might mean to your brand(s) to have a .brand TLD, and how it might enhance your customers’ experience.
  2. Know The Competitive Landscape: Are your competitors applying for .brand TLDs or ownership of a generic TLD? If so, you need to keep up with their plans and track their application through the ICANN review.
  3. Risk Analysis: Is there more or less risk in entering the space? What are the benefits/risks to your brands? If a competitor is creating a .brand and plans to give customers personal e-mail addresses or free domains, would that impact your business or brand?
  4. Innovate: Is there any way that new TLDs could create a unique opportunity for your brands or change the landscape/market for them?

If, on the other hand, your job is to manage an established brand for a more traditional outfit that is not primarily an “Internet” company, then you need to focus more on the importance of being proactively defensive in monitoring the new TLDs.

  1. Delegate: Someone at your company on the brand side needs to know who is applying for what TLDs, and where they are in the process.
  2. Talk to Legal: Your company’s legal team should be aware of the new TLDs and how it will likely create more space for cyber-squatters and scam artists to confuse your customers.
  3. Consider RPMs: There are a variety of Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) that ICANN has built into the new TLDs. Your company (delegate or legal) needs to be able to talk with someone to take advantage of such RPMs like sunrise registration periods, rapid recovery services, domain arbitration via the UDRP and others.

The new gTLD program will bring change and opportunity that brand managers and marketing execs need to be ready for to make sure their trademarks/brands are not hurt by infringers or competitors who leverage new markets/customers via an expanding Internet.

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