More than 70 percent of the entire internet domain name system we use every day is currently hosted in the .com space, making it one of the most familiar generic top-level domains (gTLDs) for companies and consumers, along with .net, .org, and a few others. In the next few months, however, the internet will expand, introducing a host of changes that will transform what has been a relative status quo in the area of top-level domains (TLDs).
The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organization essentially made up of the folks who "run" the internet, has made it its mission to expand the spaces and places that can be explored and used as domain names. To date, ICANN has already accepted applications for almost 2,000 new top-level domain extensions for everything from common terms (.web, .love, .store, .blog, .surf, .sex, .ad, .books) to brand names and unique identities like .apple and .NYC. We'll probably see the first new gTLDs roll out sometime in July 2013 for U.S. domains, with more to roll out and expand geographically every month thereafter. The last to roll out will likely be the more common terms (like .hotel and .music) that are being disputed by multiple organizations.
So what does this mean for brands and marketers? Well, many don't even know much about it. A report last month showed that more than 60 percent of all small to mid-sized businesses were unaware of the new gTLD launch. Consumers are also in the dark, meaning that even those marketers in the know might face an uphill battle. According to research commissioned by domain service provider Afilias, only 20 percent of all U.S. consumers are aware that the program even exists.
With that said, the more savvy brands out there have been following closely from the start, and many have even spent months preparing and strategizing about how to leverage the new .anything world of domain names, including brands like Citibank, Canon, Apple, Prudential, State Farm, and Google. At a branding conference in New York last month, many leading marketing managers from around the globe came together to discuss how a .brand TLD might enhance the customer experience online. These companies are making plans to ensure their success in the new TLD world by focusing on five ways to enhance their respective brands.
Simplify your digital footprint
Many brands will be housing their various sub-brands and associated names under the commonly known "house" brand. For example, Citibank will be putting all of its web holdings into the .CITI TLD in order to create one space for all of its properties. This could be a big plus in terms of simplifying its footprint. In addition, New York City is launching .NYC to differentiate NYC-based businesses from services worldwide, decreasing consumer confusion.
Create trusted space
Having a .brand TLD could give consumers more confidence that they are on a trusted website, particularly because with the thousands of new TLDs set to come online, there is bound to be more confusion then ever over what sites can be trusted. A .brand site, only open to the trademark owner, will ensure an extra layer of security and help stave off phishing attempts.
Companies want to make sure that consumers are able to find and navigate to a website. Brands will be working hard to ensure that their content is searchable and that it maintains priority in search engine algorithms across various search engines. Further, some brands are exploring the concept of creating search functionality within their .brand space that mimics a Google-type search in order to create an ecosystem for consumers to stay in and find related products without having to leave their site. For brands like P&G, Citibank, or Johnson & Johnson, this could be a powerful way to engage new and existing customers.
The internet is becoming more mobile, particularly as the penetration rates for internet users worldwide are increasingly based on mobile and smartphone usage. More than 85 percent of U.S. adults have a mobile phone, and more than 56 percent of them have accessed the web from their phones. Brands should consider using a .brand TLD to direct mobile traffic to their site(s) and determine how mobile applications can link to .brand sites.
The instant connection that users will have with a .brand or generic TLD like .music, .green, or .sports will be a powerful tool for creating meaningful interactions between users. To this end, brand owners should survey the entire space of new TLDs on a consistent basis to make sure that they register and use domains in meaningful spaces to connect with consumers. For example, a company like Patagonia should consider the idea of owning the domain www.patagonia.green. The brand could use the site to highlight its work in the "green" community. Additionally, Patagonia will be able to leverage the work that the .green gTLD is doing to connect with that community and make it a known quantity amongst consumers who want to support "green" initiatives.
David K. Mitnick is the founder and president of DomainSkate.
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