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Conditions for Launching your .Brand

Alex Tajirian

The post addresses the factors affecting any decision to rebrand under a new Top-Level Domain (TLD). Depending on the TLDs owned by the competing companies, rebranding can be critical, merely advantageous, or a matter of wait-and-see. (This post does not address signal location/geography, strategies for expanding a brand, or the merits of defensive and offensive domain name registrations under relevant new gTLDs.)

First, a simple definition. Wikipedia says rebranding is "a marketing strategy in which a new name, term, symbol, design, or combination thereof is created for an established brand with the intention of developing a new, differentiated identity in the minds of consumers, investors, and competitors." When and how to rebrand? Let's stipulate that rebranding should encompass all touchpoints with stakeholders in the company: employees, suppliers, providers of complementary assets/services, and lending institutions. In short, everybody with an interest in the company's continued health and survival. Don't blindside these people. Announce your rebranding well before going ahead with the change.

Now here are three questions that need answers before rebranding becomes the way to go. They were outlined by Laurent Muzellec and Helen Stuart in a paper entitled "Corporate makeovers: Can a hyena be rebranded?” that was published by the Journal of Brand Management. And the questions are:

  1. What is being signaled?
  2. What will be the reaction of your competitors to this change?
  3. Are the key stakeholders cognizant of the change and positive about it?
  4. What will happen if you don't make the change?

Thus, the new TLD rebranding decision depends on the (1) original branding TLD; (2) strength of the brand name; and (3) reaction of competitors.

I group possible pre-branding gTLDs into two scenarios. In scenario one, I consider the decision to move from a Brand.com domain name to the already acquired .Brand TLD. Under the second scenario, I address rebranding from Brand.ext. (The .com TLD is used here in a broad sense, to include country-code TLDs [ccTLDs] that might be used as main domain-name brands, such as .jp for a Japanese company. Also, .ext is used to refer to any of the "old" gTLD extension.)

Under scenario 1, the company's .com signals relative corporate strength, and thus the urgency to rebrand depends on the competition's original TLD branding and her rebranding decision. Keep in mind that the benefits of rebranding to simply gain a shorter domain name are dubious. If your competitor is operating under Brand2.com and she also owns .Brand2, then the decision can be framed as a game where it's better to preempt the competition. On the other hand, if she doesn't own .Brand2, there is no urgency to rebrand, as there is no chance for her to rebrand with a new TLD. If rebranding immediately still seems like a good idea, remember that there is always the possibility that some of the new TLDs will generate a negative sentiment among Internet users because of spam or phishing or security breaches. This can negatively reflect on the entire new TLD program, perhaps enough to create additional rebranding costs by forcing the company back to its original brand.

With a strong brand name, rebranding should not have much of an impact on existing customers or the .com brand's search engine rankings. Search advantages of new TLDs are outlined here, but don't jockey for search engine positioning by rebranding right away. In the meantime, an existing .Brand web page can serve as the doorway to the .com-branded website. Take a look at the rankings of other companies' new TLD websites' before making the switch. On the other hand, if a brand is relatively weak — for example, if it's the brand of a fledgling company that doesn't have $180,000-plus to buy a new TLD, and if the original signal is not optimal — using .Brand can enforce your brand name and reduce any unfavorable consumer perception of the original brand name.

Under scenario 2, where you own Brand.ext instead of Brand.com, there are definite rebranding advantages: brand and corporate strength signaling, for example, and the possibility of better search engine placement. The .ext TLD signal can convey a weak brand and/or an unintended or diffuse signal. Many of the old TLDs have become more accepted as mainstream extensions, but .org can still give the impression of a nonprofit organization, .info signals an informational site and not e-commerce, and .biz can be so many things that it sends no clear signal at all.

The direst consequences of not rebranding are when a company doesn't preempt the competition under the conditions outlined above. Delaying the implementation will result in short-term losses, as well as potential damage to a company's brand name. On the other hand, a wait-and-see attitude can save two sets of rebranding costs — for making the change and then for changing back to the original brand.

In conclusion, now that you have acquired your .Brand, you have three branding options. One, preempt your competition into branding immediately if they have also acquired their .Brand2 TLD. Two, wait to see how the dust clears on users' perception and search engine treatment of the TLD program — the right move when your competitor does not own .Brand2. And three, rebrand immediately if you are using Brand.ext, which is appropriate as your main domain name brand.

By Alex Tajirian, CEO at DomainMart
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