Last year, the internet’s governing body, ICANN, announced the names of brands and organisations that applied to own and manage their own top-level web extensions. ICANN received 1,930 applications, and Google, Amazon and L’Oréal were among the many brands that got in on the domain action by applying for brand-specific strings (such as .google) as well as generic terms like .food and .beauty. These have been dubbed 'dot brands' and 'dot generics,' respectively.
On 17 December 2012, ICANN held a prioritisation draw to determine the order in which these domains would go live in 2013. The result of that draw is that we should start seeing domains such as .play, .food, and .transformers as early as Q3 2013.
The addition of these new domains brings several benefits for businesses, most notably improved online security and better customer engagement. For example, companies like Tiffany & Co. and other luxury goods retailers, once they've laid claim to their domains, will be able to better address online fraud and assure customers that they are ordering the real deal rather than counterfeit goods. Equally, small businesses can create personalised customer pages (for example, www.johnsmith.amazon).
However, there have been many criticisms of these new domains, particularly that they favour big corporations. For many small-to-mid-sized businesses, applying for a dot brand in 2012 was not an option because of the $185,000 fee required for each domain name application.
Another critique was that the ownership of dot generics such as .food and .play could enable monopolisation of entire categories in the online market, reinforcing big businesses’ leading market positions and pushing out the smaller players.
Without a doubt, dot brands with their own top-level domains (TLDs) will get a lift, if only because their marketing can now be simpler and focused on their actual brand name and not rely on a generic clutter term like .COM. The dot generics, however, are much more risky. The success of these will depend on the TLDs’ ability to add real value and to cater to what customers want. In essence, dot generic success (like marketplace success in general) will need to be earned, regardless of the size of the entity that runs the TLD.
Rather than limiting businesses on the web, these new domains will in fact open up the internet to whole new markets, since ICANN will also allow "Internationalized Domain Names" (IDNs) for the first time; these are domain names in non-English languages like Chinese and Russian. This change presents a tremendous opportunity for international businesses to build their presence in the world’s growing markets. For example, businesses will be able to reach BRIC users (Brazil, Russia, India and China) with website addresses in native scripts such as Cyrillic, Devanagari and Chinese.
This will create unique marketing opportunities in BRIC countries as well as other geographic regions where Roman-script languages are not consumers’ first choice. Companies including Amazon, Walmart and Nokia are among the applicants for IDNs and it will be interesting to see how these evolve as part of their international business strategies over the coming decade.
How to stand out in a dot brand new world
Whether your business has applied for a new TLD or not, there are proactive measures that you must take to stand out from the crowd in 2013.
For example, you may want to ensure that your current website addresses are the central location for all of your digital assets. Given the limited time businesses have to capture consumers’ attention online, losing time by diverting users to other companies — such as Facebook or Twitter — can be counterproductive. While being active on social media channels is essential today, using a social media address on communications puts another party between you and the consumer, which can dilute your brand’s online presence.
Additionally, given the ubiquity of the mobile consumer, existing websites should be fully optimised for mobile viewing. However, a staggering 60% of the world’s top 100 brands are not yet mobile, according to the IAB UK. That is a cause for concern when Google’s research in September of 2012 noted, 'Two-thirds of smartphone users say a mobile-friendly site makes them more likely to buy a company’s product or service' and '74% said they would return to a site later if it was mobile-optimised.'
Seeing how the consumer experience of the Internet changes in 2013 will be interesting, but businesses must take the necessary steps now to make sure they’re ready for the dawn of a dot brand new world.
Roland LaPlante is CMO at internet infrastructure business Afilias