TLDs: Top-Line Disaster, or Potential Marketing Breakthrough?
Remember when the idea of a new marketing channel was kind of exciting? New ways to shape the message, engage the market and broaden the approach? That was cool. Now, not so much. It’s like we’ve got channel overload, and we’re drowning our audiences in everything from mobile applications to newspaper coupons.
In that context, the change in Top-Level Domains (TLDs) proposed by ICANN can seem like a problem, but it has the potential to be very exciting. The idea is to give entities (companies, individuals, government bodies, associations) the ability to decide what goes on the right side of the dot, and then determine what goes on the left. Sayonara.com, hello .mybrand. However, what is this new channel actually going to solve?
This opportunity opens up an idea that’s kind of intriguing. There are now 2 billion people accessing more than 210 million Web domains regularly. Everything about is global and massive, except for one thing: the entry point to the Internet.
While there are 22 other generic Top-Level Domains, or gTLDs, only a few -- .org, .gov, .edu, and country code domains like .de and .uk -- are common, and .com stands supreme, especially in the U.S. The Internet is vast, but the language used to navigate it is tiny.
First, let’s stop pretending this isn’t a challenge for marketers, it’s a certainly a hurdle to overcome; only one we don’t think about. The .com suffix is now so ingrained in the consciousness that it’s easy to forget just how much of a brand irritant it is -- and how hard it is to stand out.
For the record, many organizations routinely spend half of their digital marketing budgets on online campaigns that are distinct from the main site. A lot of customers can’t find the relevant site, in part, because of the tortured syntax that goes into many slogans trying desperately to squeeze a message into the space available on the left of the dot.
If even a fifth of the budget is devoted to an online destination that doesn’t find an audience or effectively communicate the message, it represents an annual aggregate loss of $11 billion to U.S. brands.
By contrast, a brand TLD gives every entity a brand-specific, product-directed, customer-friendly site address. For the company, it’s infinitely easier to cross-promote; for the customer, it’s that much easier to find.
With the umbrella brand on the right, think of all the freedom on the left. The words (the core message) could be tied to a particular campaign, or a brand attribute, or a seasonal offering. It could be used to extend the chain of trust to partners and vendors: dealer.carcompany or agent.insurancefirm. Trade associations or local governments could jointly promote their offerings: hotels.mycity or parks.mystate.
It’s easy to say that we can do all this through Google now (which we can), but that’s like saying Facebook is a Web site (which it is). Blogs, Twitter, Reddit, Digg, YouTube: none of these are inherently new, and they got criticized for that early on. Yet innovators in our field and others developed new ways to use them, and in the process, helped revolutionize basic communications and marketing practices.
Think that’s overkill? Ask somebody at Old Spice: This was an aging brand until it got revived by a fun TV campaign that skillfully exploited social media to rack up 23 million views in just three days. Figure the ROI on that one -- and the fact that absolutely no one saw it coming.
That’s really the point of all this. A brand TLD will take significant resources up front, and it won’t bring world peace. But more than just a marketing channel, this is a fundamental shift in the most important medium ever invented -- and that gives us huge opportunities.
Most of us are still thinking in terms of adapting what we already do, which is like running a local newspaper ad on a national TV network.
This is very new and very different. Some will resist change, as they always do. But others among us will find ways to do what no one’s done before.