Brands will want to be on right side of domain name evolution

The look of the Internet is about to go through a major transformation.

The look of the Internet is about to go through a major transformation now that ICANN, the entity that oversees the Web name-space, has approved the plan to introduce new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Companies will be able to put their brand name or category to the right of the dot. Marriott Hotels could apply for .marriott or .hotel. The city of London plans to operate .london.

By owning a gTLD, you are not just getting a new domain, you are also buying the right to operate a domain name registry, which opens up an unlimited number of new business models and ways to interact with customers. It could also give you new advantages in managing your company's online identity, such as:

  • Control of online brand presence. Big brands spend millions of dollars to build their online identity in a way that puts their brand secondary to dot-com. Now a brand can be promoted at the root of the Internet with shorter, less technical URLs. You can unify multiple sub-brands, products, and locations under one master-brand gTLD. For example, Fox Broadcasting can use its popular shows to build its master brand with sites at americanidol.fox and house.fox.
  • Proving communications' authenticity. Anyone can register a dot-com domain name, but not anyone can get a new gTLD because of the $185,000 application fee, the registry setup fees that could add up to $300,000, and the technical requirements to operate a registry. Registry operators have total control over any secondary domains they issue under their gTLD so that they can keep out infringers. So if users visit a site or get an email from a domain that ends in .gucci, they can trust it is really Gucci.
  • Availability of more domain names. Since the dot-com domain is so crowded, it is nearly impossible for marketers who build sites to support campaigns or promotions to find meaningful, but untaken dot-com domain names. With their own gTLD registry, they can use any Web address they want to the left of their dot-brand.

Applying for and operating a new gTLD is an expensive, rigorous process, so you must do an opportunity analysis to decide if it makes sense for your organization before the application window opens next January. But keep in mind that if you do nothing, one of your competitors could get first-mover advantage in your industry.

Jeff Ernst is principal analyst at Forrester Research, which serves CMOs and marketing leadership professionals.

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