Applying for a Dot Brand? 5 Questions Marketers Should Ask
It's a go. On Jan. 12, the governing body for Internet domain names, ICANN, will open the three-month window for organizations to apply for just about any top-level domain that is core to their business. If you have not yet carefully weighed the opportunity and determined a strategy, it's time.
The new gTLD program is the biggest change to the Internet in 26 years. VeriSign, which operates the .com domain, estimates at least 1,500 applications. In addition to existing generic top-level domains like .com, .net, .gov, or country-code domains, we'll soon see domains like .music or .nyc, and company brands such as .hitachi, .canon or even customername.brand.
Despite the new challenges the program poses, such as costs and technical requirements, there are notable benefits. For instance, domain ownership offers greater online marketing and personalization potential, simple and memorable names for advertising and security, and trust improvements.
While we won't know the full potential of branded gTLDs for several years, many companies would rather take a proactive approach than wait to see how this potential develops. The decision to apply for a "dot brand" gTLD is a big one and depends largely on brand and marketing strategy, market position, customers, and sometimes partners and channels.
Conducting a business review and developing a complete analysis will help you make the most informed decision; then you have three options:
- Apply to avoid having the name registered by another entity;
- Apply for a branded gTLD for marketing potential; or
- Not apply.
The approach will be straightforward for some companies, but others may need to enlist partners to help with developing their online strategy and navigating the extensive gTLD application process. There are several initial questions to ask when considering whether to apply:
- Is your core brand highly recognized and unique? Unique brand names may provide inherent brand protection based upon ICANN requirements, so defensive registration may not be necessary. But it's smart to research the uniqueness of the brand name in global markets. Generic or acronym brand names have a higher likelihood of multiple applications for a name, making this a key consideration for companies unable to have registered their brand in .com.
- How long is your brand name? If your company name is longer than six characters, you may not benefit from a branded gTLD. However, your company may want to use its stock ticker or register generic names related to its product or industry.
- Do you have many brands or operate in many verticals or categories? Companies with multiple brands in numerous markets can benefit from domain names where the product brands are associated with the company brand. Branded gTLDs easily enhance brand equity for product names. It's sometimes helpful to register a generic domain name for a category or categories—particularly if you want to establish or capitalize on your market position.
- Are there entities with the same trademarked brands/names in a different class or jurisdiction? Determine how important it is to own your brand at the top level today or in five years, then consider the impact on your brand image or business if another entity owned the same name gTLD. Companies with an established and recognized .com may not need a branded gTLD, such as those serving limited vertical markets or those where e-commerce isn't a key channel.
- Are your SEO, PPC, banner ad and advertising programs extensive? The ability to create short, memorable domain names enhances marketing efforts. Branded gTLDs will deliver exclusive access to keyword domain names under your brand. Second-level domain names can then link to specific Web pages, improving inbound link metrics and providing metrics for specific advertising and campaigns.
Marketers should develop a business case and high-level implementation plan as soon as possible to ensure key requirements have been considered. The complexities of applying for, and managing, a new gTLD are sizable and time is running out. Enlist help where you need it, particularly if you're only now considering the options.