Successful companies already understand the importance and impact of brand control in domain names. No company would ever consider using hotmail.com or gmail.com email addresses for official business. A decade ago, did companies invest in Geocities or Tripod URLs, or did they promote their own domain names? Today, if a company hosts its blog with WordPress.com, do they take the default brand.wordpress.com Web address, or do they upgrade to their own branded second-level domain name? If they want to be successful and continually reinforce their brand, they choose the latter.
Smart brand managers are now exploring the benefits of taking this degree of control one step further and are claiming ownership of the entire URL by applying to ICANN next year for a new generic top-level domain that matches their brand — a dot Brand gTLD.
While some may think of .com as a public utility, in reality it's a brand just as much as wordpress.com or geocities.com. Every time a .com URL is used in advertising, .com is also promoted, whether the advertiser likes it or not. The .com registry is like a clothing retailer that prints its brand on the T-shirts it sells and uses its customers as free walking billboards. Today, big brands are reduced to wearing the .com T-shirt; but in the world of new gTLDs, companies will be able to become the retailer, not just the billboard.
Everybody wants to control his or her identity on the Internet, but no one more than large brand-owners. A dot Brand gTLD will give a company full ownership of the entire domain name from beginning to end, as forward-thinking marketers have already realized. For one example, Pepsi appears to be so confident about dot Brand top-level domains that it's using ".pepsi" — before the gTLD has been applied for or awarded — in their advertising throughout India.
A dot Brand gTLD may not be appropriate for every company. Some brands may be too unwieldy to act as effective top-level domains. Others may lack broad consumer recognition, and some may not be immediately permitted by the rules in ICANN's Applicant Guidebook. Whether your organization ultimately chooses to pursue a new gTLD or not, investigating the marketing benefits enabled by dot Brands should be a top priority for every brand manager in the next few months.
The window to apply begins on January 12, 2012, and ends on April 12, 2012, and it may turn out to be a one-time opportunity. Dismissing new gTLDs without due attention may have unwelcome ramifications. In late April 2012, ICANN will publish the full list of gTLD applicants. Marketers who missed the boat and cannot adequately explain their involvement (or lack thereof) in the dot Brand revolution may find themselves having to answer some difficult questions.
By Roland LaPlante, Senior Vice President and CMO at Afilias
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