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Dot Brands Should Not Rush to Market, but Build Effective Strategies First

Jennifer Wolfe

Brands applied for their new gTLDs to protect their brand and ensure they didn't miss an important new opportunity, but few had a clear business case for how they would use the gTLD platform when they applied. As brands approach the July 29th contracting deadline, the inevitable question is arising: "What do we do with this?" While a few brands like Barclays have rolled out HOME.BARCLAYS or Marriott has made an announcement about its use of .MARRIOTT deep inside their MARRIOTT.COM page where no one could find it without a link, the need for actual strategic planning by these brands has become clear. The Dot Brand is a technology platform with many marketing, technology and strategic opportunities, but it can't simply be a redirect of the DOT COM pages or an announcement buried somewhere, it has to be a real strategy driven at a high level within the company.

To do so requires creative and visionary thinking, new assumptions and objective facilitation to move a diverse group of business leaders to mobilize around this opportunity. Because there is no external driving force or clear road map, it's easy to let this this planning stall in a sea of brainstorming meetings that go nowhere. This is not easy for brands. It impacts many facets of the organization and touches many initiatives and roadmaps that do not currently include the Dot Brand. This is a distraction and not a priority for most companies, which is why movement is slow.

For Dot Brands, the gTLD is a technology platform, not just a domain name. Building out a plan that leverages the technology platform takes more than just guessing, redirecting or a brainstorming session. I've heard a lot of people inside brands struggling with mobilizing this initiative and I see mostly mistakes being made by those few brands that have rushed to roll something out or make announcements for all the wrong reasons. I've put out several webinars and briefings and hosted roundtables with the world's top brands on this topic, but in brief, here's what the Dot Brand manager needs to do:

1. Get an Executive Sponsor and Build a cross functional team. You cannot underestimate the importance of having someone at the executive level behind this initiative. If you don't have one, you need to elegantly present what's happening and what opportunities exist to pitch them on why this matters. The cross functional team must include people from technology, marketing, legal and digital. Believe it or not, in many companies there are one or two people (often still lawyers) trying to build out a plan for the Dot Brand. It will fail if it is approached in this way.

2. Map your Dot Brand against the digital landscape. I refer this as Digital Mapping. It's a competitive analysis but on a digital map. It helps you visually put into perspective what your competitors or industry influencers may be doing to drive consumer behavior that could impact your digital world. This is a critical step to understand how what you will do fits into the digital landscape that impacts your business. Like any other marketing or digital campaign, you need to do your homework to make smart decisions. Understand your own data analytics mapped against your industry landscape. How do your customers engage with you in all facets of the digital world? Only with this information can you make smart decisions about what to do with your Dot Brand.

3. Identify what key benefits you want to tap into in using your new Dot Brand: Will it be a channel of the internet for content? Will you promise consumers security and trust? Is your space about E Commerce and revenue through a richer platform and data mining? Maybe, you want to use it as an internal cloud or intranet? Or possibly for disruptive innovation? And, most importantly, who are these benefits for and what do your customers want from you? There are many possibilities, these are just a few. But you need to know what benefits you are offering and the profile of who will live in your digital space before you can build a plan. This requires months of research and strategic planning to create a plan that can be successfully implemented.

4. How will you define success? This is really important or you have no way to really build a plan or benchmark against it, let alone budget for it so you have to define what success means. What was the plan with HOME.BARCLAYS? That makes absolutely no sense from a marketing perspective. It looks like they were pushed to roll something out without having a clear strategy just to say they had rolled it out. How does that drive business initiatives? Is that really going to resonate with consumers? How does it connect with social media or mobile? What are you offering and why are you doing this? Defining success that makes sense is critical to this working in the long-term.

5. Build a strategic plan for initial test cases and for building out best practices. What do I mean by best practices? Best practices should include how you will manage new issues related to the Dot Brand across the organization. For example:

  • Launching new campaigns — are they in the new Dot Brand, in Dot Com or other New Domain extensions?
  • Managing SEO and digital optimization — will it impact your search equity?
  • Assigning new digital addresses
  • Links to your home page — maintain your .com as home base as you migrate into your new digital world.
  • Future email construction and logins
  • Data tracking and analysis
  • Partnerships, licensees, dealers — how will these all be handled
  • All of these questions and more need to be considered.

6. Design & Planning. Now, armed with information, you're ready to design your digital world using your newly acquired Dot Brand. This is much like a real estate developer with a big plot of land — it's a wide open space at the beginning. But, they don't just throw a few things up and see what happens, they plan it as a community. They think about how the buildings will look, how people will walk, drive or ride bikes throughout the community and how traffic will flow. They design it to be an optimal experience for their residents, businesses and visitors. The same is true here. You have complete control in your Dot Brand digital neighborhood. This is really critical. If you don't plan your internet community carefully, you may have a mess to clean up in order to start over and use it effectively in the future, which will cost you time and money. Do it right from the beginning. Also, like a real estate developer, you don't try to put up everything at once, you have phases of development tied to a master plan. Once you're ready to start your plan, you build it, test it and promote it. Then, you evaluate and revise it to meet your evolving business goals. It's critical to know what you are testing. Are you testing how search is impacted, if consumers trust it more, if navigation changes and you can drive navigation, or are you testing security? You have to know what you are testing to measure it.

7. Managing the gTLD. Throughout this process, it's also important to determine how you'll manage the Dot Brand and all those best practices we talked about on a going forward basis. The internet continues to grow and change as does what consumers want from you. With your new digital neighborhood, you have a blank canvas of possibilities, but it has to be carefully managed to leverage all its possibilities.

Now that you have your Dot Brand and can do anything, how will you use it to achieve company goals? And the next question, how does it make money for your organization and what's the Profit and Loss statement look like? How do you justify costs to benefits? Rushing to roll out a Dot Brand without all of these questions being considered is a big mistake. This is why it will take time to see effective use cases by Dot Brands in the marketplace and why you'll see some brands back track to their DOT COM space when what they do doesn't work. Many companies are in planning mode, but being pushed to roll something out prematurely for all the wrong reasons — don't make that mistake. Take the time to plan and do something powerful!

By Jennifer Wolfe, Dot Brand Strategy Advisor
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Your gTLD analytics requires a strategic planning Alex Tajirian  –  Jun 17, 2015 5:56 AM PDT

Your gTLD analytics requires a strategic planning framework instead of a checklist: no coherent framework, no success.  You place “build a strategic plan” as number five among your checklist. However, winning companies typically end up following a sequential strategic plan:  Big idea (vision); strategy; performance targets; and then ensuring the alignment of business model and strategy. Nevertheless, it is not clear from the post whether there is only one big idea across brands or a menu of possible gTLD positions. Moreover, a number of winning .brand applicants have started questioning the benefits of such rebranding (see http://bit.ly/1Gemyi5).

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