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New TLDs: Disruptive Marketing 21st Century Style

Traditionally, top-level domains (TLDs) have been almost exclusively marketed by registries through their registrar channel. In a never-ending cycle of driving and sustaining sales, registries often resort to discounting and "promotional pricing." The competition for prime shelf space for a TLD is fierce, with sales and distribution largely controlled by the channel. Premium positioning is almost impossible. In this chaotic and cluttered channel, it's not surprising that TLDs have traditionally been less than successful in defining their brand and delivering a unique value story for their product. Registrars often treat TLDs like interchangeable commodities, and too often registrants are never even exposed to a TLD's direct message or value proposition, never mind their brand's story.

With the coming new TLDs, marketplace dynamics are about to become significantly disrupted. In a world where brands are the TLDs and digital communities become their own registries, the traditional definition of a registry no longer applies. For the first time, TLDs will become branded entities and in some cases rich global community destination points. Will registries vie with each other for placement in an ever crowded shelf, thereby ceding more control to the registrars? Some certainly will, but not all. Many registries know already, or soon will realize, that the costs will be high and the ROI unpredictable,

More innovative TLDs will take over the job of targeting potential registrants and delivering a precise marketing and branding message to stimulate sales. In other words, they will employ a "pull" versus "push" marketing methodology. For TLDs whose target registrants are well defined, or who already have a relationship with their market as a business or a brand, this will be much easier. And it will be more cost effective than those who do not. I also suspect that vertically integrated TLDs won't be the only registries that will be assuming a central role in the direct marketing of their product. In any case, the role of the registrar as the control point for marketing to the registrants will most certainly diminish.

This represents a fundamental change to the ecosystem and business of the Internet. The implications for registries, registrars and registrants are potentially profound. Absent a viable crystal ball, none of us enjoys a clear understanding of how all of this will shape up and shake out. What seems clear however, as we await ICANN's publishing of the initial TLD applicant roll call, is that the marketing of all TLDs will soon be changing forever. The new TLDs will, of necessity, require a new and qualitatively different brand marketing communications machine. They come to the market fresh, without any historic inclination towards relying on the registrar channel for driving awareness, sales and retention for their TLD product. Some will spend considerable efforts to establish a direct go-to-market strategy for their products. For the first time — outside the occasional big-splash campaigns sponsored by the mega registrars — prospective registrants and end-users will be targeted with rich, direct marketing in order to drive targeted sales, encourage retention, create content and increase traffic.

I'm excited by the possibilities in this new world of re-intermediated TLDs. I also believe the new marketing rules ushered in with the new TLDs will also open the door for existing ccTLDs and other niche TLDs to finally begin taking their story directly to the registrant marketplace, where the getting and keeping of customers will be heating up soon.

By Thom Kennon, EVP, Digital Brand Strategies at Architelos

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