We are about to enter the .brand era of URLs, with companies waiting to hear from ICANN if their application to take up one of thousands of new domain addresses that include their brand name will be successful. The window to apply for these .brands closes on 12 April. Roland LaPlante, CMO of Internet infrastructure solutions provider Afilias, discusses the issue and highlights what benefits the brands will receive as a result.
In January 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the organisation that controls Internet addresses like .com and .info -- introduced one of the most significant changes in the history of the Internet. For the first time, ICANN gave businesses the opportunity to own and manage their own entire Web domain -- at the top level. This change allows brands to have greater control of their online presence and to see their names on the right side of the dot: for example .tesco instead of tesco.com. The launch of these new top-level domains (TLDs), called “dot Brands,” brought exceptional interest from the media, who recognised its significance.
Through my company’s role in facilitating applications and supporting domain operations, I’m pleased to see the application period for the new TLD program running smoothly. Although information about which companies are applying for their own top-level domain is not yet publically available, we suspect there will be at least 1,000 companies investing in a dot Brand, and they will begin to go live in 2013.
Owners of a dot Brand will receive distinct branding benefits. First, a dot Brand will help companies expand their global footprint because it gives businesses the ability to enhance their online brand presence. Additionally, a dot Brand opens new possibilities for customer engagement. From an online identity perspective, the power of “drink.pepsi” over “pepsi.com/drink” is evident. For customer engagement, dot Brands allow increased promotional benefits; brands now have the possibility of website addresses like “competitions.pepsi,” which consumers can easily locate.
The industries that may benefit most from having a branded suffix are those involved in the retail and luxury goods sector as well as pharmaceutical companies. Given the security benefits that dot Brand domains offer, it’s easy to understand why they are relevant to these types of businesses. For luxury goods providers, a dot Brand offers a way to address the plague of counterfeiting and cybersquatting. Just as consumers in the physical world trust a known brand in a familiar store, this trust can now be transferred to the virtual world. For example, no one can own “bags.louisvuitton” other than the Louis Vuitton company, and Louis Vuitton has complete control over who has an address in their domain and how they use addresses their branded domain.
Despite the media sensation that the new TLD launch caused at the beginning of the year, not all businesses are sufficiently aware of the dot Brand opportunity and that there is only a limited window during which one can apply for a dot Brand. The application window closes on 12 April 2012, but registrations of interest need to be made prior, no later than 29 March 2012.
The application for dot Brands involves 50 questions, including 22 of a highly technical nature. Because of this, applicants will likely be unable to turn around their applications over night. If a company wishes to apply for a dot Brand, they must decide quickly to secure “buy in” from their business colleagues. They also must act quickly to secure a global registry services provider who can help assure ICANN that the dot Brand domain will be properly supported from a technical standpoint, without jeopardising the security and stability of the Internet.
While not everyone will opt for a dot Brand, the decision to apply -- or not -- is one that should be carefully deliberated. Brands that decide not to make the move may face a long-term branding disadvantage since the date for the next round of new TLD applications is unknown; I suspect it will be several years before another round opens. So, with the close of the application window around the corner, the time is now to ask yourself whether the dot Brand opportunity is one that you can afford to miss.
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