By now, many brand owners have realized that they need to begin thinking seriously about new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) back in June. In light of the internet's domain name landscape expanding from familiar extensions like .com, .net and .co.uk to potentially hundreds of .anything extensions, all types of brand owners are going to have to rethink their digital marketing and brand protection strategies. For some brands, this will mean applying for their own branded gTLD.
The process of applying for and launching a new gTLD takes time, careful planning, and serious attention to detail in preparing the application and setting up the gTLD registry -- but if you do it correctly, it can be a piece of cake. Before you get started, you need to educate yourselves on everything that goes into applying for, using, and maintaining a gTLD. Gathering knowledge first is the best thing you can do to ensure that your new gTLD will be successful. So, I've pulled out my playbook and prepared a list of steps to guide you through the process of getting your new gTLD.
Setting the game plan
This article is meant to provide brand owners with a guide to getting new gTLDs. But the truth is, applying for a branded gTLD might not be the best course of action for all brand owners. Some business-to-business or non-consumer facing brands, for example, will not get much benefit from a .brand. Some may choose to apply for a different gTLD, such as a product name, or a category or aspirational term, while some may choose not to apply at all. To make this decision, you as a brand owner (along with partners -- see the next step) have to thoroughly analyze all the risks and benefits that owning various new gTLDs could present. This involves considering new gTLDs from marketing, brand protection, security, and budgetary perspectives.
This analysis should help you figure out exactly which new gTLD or gTLDs you should pursue (if not, you didn't analyze hard enough). Once that is clear, your next move should be to brainstorm different strategies to use the gTLD, and to develop business models around those strategies. The biggest decision regarding use is whether you want to operate your new gTLD as an open or a closed registry. By "open registry," I mean one that sells second-level domains to other entities (companies, individuals, etc.) through registrars like GoDaddy; by "closed," I mean those that do not sell domains to other entities and just use them for internal purposes, like for marketing URLs that redirect to pages you already have indexed in search engines. Closed registries can opt to give domains away if they want, though.
For many brands, the best choice will be to run a closed registry, with relatively few second-level domain names that they create and use primarily for marketing purposes (e.g., Cancer.GSK or Cookies.TollHouse.) But some may opt to use their gTLDs differently, or more extensively. It's up to you to decide what is best for your brand. You have to be savvy about how you lay out your plans for using the gTLD in your application because those plans will be hard-coded into your contract with ICANN.
This may seem intimidating, especially if you want the freedom to adapt your strategy for using your gTLD after seeing how other brands use theirs. After all, your contract with ICANN lasts for 10 years, and that's a very long time, especially on the internet. But according to ICANN's policy, you are completely allowed to make adjustments to how you use the gTLD, as long as you're sure to carefully word such flexibility in your application.