Small brands take wait-and-see approach on domains

NEW YORK: Large companies should decide on a strategy for the revised generic top-level domain (gTLD) system, but small to mid-sized companies should wait to assess its benefits, say PR executives.

NEW YORK: Large companies should decide on a strategy for the revised generic top-level domain (gTLD) system, but small to mid-sized companies should wait to assess its benefits, say PR executives.

Some agencies have already begun to counsel clients on the system, which will allow a company to expand its Web address suffix beyond existing extensions such as .com, .org, and .edu to a near-infinite range of possibilities. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) disclosed on Wednesday the list of companies and organizations that applied for new domain names.

“If you're not thinking this through as a larger brand, that's a mistake,” said Josh Hendler, global CTO at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. “That doesn't mean you have to adopt a new domain name, but it's something that you have to be thinking about.”

Some corporations, such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have invested significant sums of money in applying for new domain names. “It's a gold rush right now,” Hendler said. Google, for example, applied for more than 100 domains, including .google, .app, and .android. Each domain application cost $185,000.

“For companies with a major e-commerce presence, it's a huge opportunity,” said Luca Penati, global MD of technology at Ogilvy Public Relations.

Major brands should also invest in new domains to protect their branding, Hendler and other executives said. But smaller companies should take a “wait and see approach” to the new gTLDs because of the cost, he added.

“When you're a smaller organization, the benefits of the new domains remain a little unclear. For larger organizations, it's just the cost of doing business, and it makes sense to invest even for insurance sake,” Hendler said.

Burson-Marsteller launched a consulting group this week to advise clients on the domain system. The group will counsel companies that have, and have not, applied for domains.

Executives from other agencies said they have not set up practices to deal with the issue, but noted that some clients have begun to ask for advice.

“Clients are calling with questions and concerns because of what they're seeing,” said Stephen Marino, SVP and North American director of social and digital media at MSLGroup. “The biggest thing I see is that clients don't prepare enough, so we're telling them to take this time to review everything.”

Critics of ICANN have cited concerns including cost, the possibility of security breaches, and greater confusion for consumers. ICANN discovered a privacy breach on Friday after mistakenly publishing the postal addresses of some of the applicants.

“Consumers will be the biggest losers right now, because it could be very confusing for them,” Penati said.

Many executives also expect the system to create new marketing opportunities.

“This could lead to innovation,” Penati said. “Companies can take advantage of this initial confusion by creating smart programs and campaigns to reach consumers with a clear message.”

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