Commentary

Branded Web Names Herald New Era

In its short history, the Internet has transformed the way brands reach and engage their customers. It has been the source of numerous innovations that have revolutionized the way we influence our audience and target our customers. Marketers have been at the forefront of this revolution. We only have to look at the impact of Facebook and Twitter on the marketing communications sector for examples of how innovative thinking using Internet technology can lead to the transformation of an entire industry.

However, the majority of the change and innovation experienced within the online channel has been at the application layer through the likes of social media and e-commerce-focused tools. Beginning this month, a core component of Internet infrastructure (the Domain Name System) will undergo a dramatic change that will provide marketers with a unique method of making a statement of leadership, improve message recall and target consumers online like never before.

It’s called a new Top-Level Domain, and will allow brands across the world to insert their brand or a generic term related to their category to the right of the dot -- creating an entire domain namespace like .com completely dedicated to their business. It will provide those who are willing to take the plunge with an opportunity to claim exclusive rights over this space. A .brand will define them in the competitive, cluttered online channel.  

The introduction of new Top-Level Domains, commonly referred to as “.brand” or “.anything”, has had little mainstream attention, and this has led to widespread criticism. Only recently, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) began a campaign publicly criticizing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) over its decision to implement this program. The arguments the ANA have raised against the program are weak and have already been addressed, as ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom noted in his letter to the ANA last year.

These new Top-Level Domains are a reality and they are coming -- whether or not you agree with ICANN’s decision. The time has come for marketers to develop a clear understanding of the opportunities and risks associated with this dramatic change to ensure they are able to build the appropriate strategy for their brand.

What is .brand?

Contrary to many opinions, .brand is not just another domain name. Securing your .brand will allow you to operate your own domain name registry at the root of the Internet, which will provide many new business and marketing opportunities never before seen in the corporate world.

One of the many benefits to brand owners and marketers will be the ease of content access. Under .brand, we will see brands moving away from long, unwieldy and generic Web site addresses such as “www.americanexpress.com/potential” to a far more intuitive and easy-to-recall domain structure such as “potential.amex”. From a consumer perspective, content will be easier to navigate to in its truest form – via short, relevant and memorable domain names.

If you’re still unsure of the many uses for .brand, imagine tigerwoods.nike, creditcards.hsbc and x5.bmw. In short, .brand will give marketers the opportunity to deliver relevant, targeted content to key audiences in a far more intuitive manner.

Major global brands such as Canon, Hitachi, Motorola, Deloitte and UNICEF have already publicly announced their intentions to secure their .brand. Hundreds more are expected to keep their cards close to their chest to ensure that the platform for their long-term digital strategy is not disclosed at a crucial time.

Why should we care?

A .brand Top-Level Domain will provide trust, leadership, customer engagement and improved message recall in a way never seen before. It will allow direct connections between the customer and the brand experience in an environment that is completely controlled by the brand owner. What you do with .brand is completely up to you.

For example, if Apple Inc was to secure .apple or .itunes, they could implement a customer retention program whereby each registered customer is provided with a branded online portal to access relevant content, purchases or updates related to their Apple account.

There will also be huge improvements in online security and trust. Take the HSBC bank, for example -- a .brand will bring clarity and security to customers online with the simple message: ‘If it’s not .hsbc, it’s not us’.

Truly global megabrands will also be interested in the fact that you can register your .brand in any script or language around the world.

How do you secure a .brand?

There is a limited time frame available to register your .brand new Top-Level Domain. ICANN's application window opened on January 12 and it will close on April 12, 2012. Those interested in applying will need to act quickly. The unfortunate reality for many marketers is that by the time they recognize the value of this program, it will be too late to do anything about it.

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