By Stuart Durham, EMEA sales director at Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services
On June 20th, the governing body for Internet domain names, ICANN, confirmed that it would be freeing up the internet naming system, opening applications to a raft of new geographic, generic and even branded domain extensions. What this means is that, over the next 18 months, internet users will start getting to grips with sites ending in extensions such as .london, .bank or .ibm.
Now ICANN has given the green light, businesses need to formulate a plan on whether or not a .brand is the right long term strategic investment for their business. This decision will need to unite the branding, legal, IT teams and beyond, so planning needs to start now. Time is not on your side, we are just five months away from the application window, which will last for just 90 days. After that, interested applicants will be locked out for up to two to three years, as ICANN beds in possibly up to 1,000 new extensions.
As a starting point, all businesses should conduct a thorough strategic review to identify which brands within their portfolio face the greatest competition in the digital space, which could be better optimised under a .brand, and critically, which brands are currently exposed to the greatest threat of infringement online.
There are probably five key questions your company should consider:
1. Is your primary brand unique and highly recognisable?
If you are an unique and global brand like Google, you may not need to register a .brand from a defensive perspective as a combination of application monitoring and objection provisions in the application process will likely render invalid any applications for those brands by other entities. By contrast, brands with common or generic brand names may face intense competition for ownership of the domain, making defensive application essential. It’s important not to automatically assume your company’s brand is in the former category; do the due diligence globally before taking the risk.
2. Does your company have a vast brand portfolio?
Large brands with multiple product brands (like Microsoft, for example) will need to decide whether to purchase a .brand solely for the company name (e.g. .microsoft) or buy .brands for its entire set of sub-brands, from .skype right through to .msn. If the company has powerful brand equity in its own right, additional brand purchases may not be necessary as the parent brand will reinforce the validity of the rest of the portfolio.
3. Does your business operate through a network or suppliers?
Many B2B businesses – software and services provider, Sage, being one – have a network of resellers and business partners that are a critical part of their supply chain online. If you make extensive use of an online reseller network, these registered partners could benefit from using your .brand extension as a hallmark of their status as an approved supplier.
4. Does your business make extensive use of SEO, PPC and Google Adwords?
If your business has an aggressive online marketing strategy, new gTLDs could provide a cost effective means of optimising natural search in the future. With an infinite number of keywords available to the left of your domain (e.g. software.sage, pay.sage, accounting.sage) branded domains could become essential for search optimisation.
5. Is your brand name longer than six characters?
For brands with compound names, such as AstraZeneca and Pratt and Whitney, the benefit of owning a .brand may not be fully realised. While longer, a .brand can still deliver brand protection and advertising recall benefits. Brands with longer names could also consider shorter derivatives of their brand name or associated acronyms for a gTLD.
Regardless of whether you decide to apply for a .brand or not, you need to work out your business strategy for new gTLDs – and you need to do it now. With applications alone costing USD $185,000, .brand is not for everyone. However, all brands will need to take some action. At the very least, businesses should assess the new gTLD applications in April (when the list of applicants is made public) so they are ready to make an objection if their IP rights are infringed.
Many businesses will apply with a defensive mindset so their most strategic brand assets are protected and to ensure they have the tools required to compete as a new web structure emerges. However, the brands that stand to benefit most from this change are those that embrace the full branding and marketing potential on .brand early on, integrating shorter URLs into marketing campaigns and championing their .brands to customers as a hallmark of trust on the web.
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