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Last week I attended the Spring Symposium with MarkMonitor at the Museum of London, where the main topic of discussion is brands and how to protect your brand online.
Some very interesting presentations and a lot of the information was new to me, having not worked directly on a site that would suffer with counterfeit products being sold on domains pretending to be the actual brand.
What I want to discuss in my post here though is one area that really caught my attention; the expansion of new Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). gTLDs will allow companies to turn their brands into domains (.brand/company name). They will also allow companies to create broad product groups like .finance, .bank or .shop.
The internet industry are calling gTLDs ‘dotBrand’ and are set to fundamentally change the internet and how websites do business online.
ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) announced on 18th March that their intention is to approve and finalise the new gTLD programme on 20th June in Singapore. Once finalised, companies can then start the lengthy task of applying for a gTLD.
Let me put this into simple context for you:
If a company is successful in their application (and have paid ICANN a very hefty six figure sum) then their company name will be their domain. Anything before the .BRAND can be changed to suit/match business needs and requirements.
Apparently, ICANN will only be releasing around 500 of these gTLDs in the first wave and as I mentioned above, the cost to any business wanting to aquire a gTLD is going to cost them a lot of money. Companies can only apply for a gTLD if they have that domain trademarked.
As these are generic domains and are not country specific, businesses that only have their brand trademarked in their home country may have problems if there is another company in the world with the same brand name trademarked in that country.
Companies are being very secretive about whether or not they will be applying for a gTLD, with many concerned that their competition will follow suit. If for example, Vodafone apply for a gTLD and are accepted but O2 or Orange do not, O2 and Orange will have given Vodafone a big edge separating themselves from the other brands.
My opinion is that if the first wave of gTLDs are successful and businesses do apply, then ICANN will release a second wave, then a third and forth and so on. This then gives competitors who may not have applied first time round a chance in the additional launches. ICANN have not communicated that this is what will happen, purely my view on it, so watch this space!
There was a lot of talk at the seminar around the opportunities and the the risks to a brand if this does go ahead and I am going to try and summarise these discussions here.
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In summary, I can see the benefits of having a gTLD for your brand, but it’s still difficult to see whether this justifies the cost. This programme is only in reach of the big brands and smaller brands will not get a look in for the foreseeable future unless the costs are dropped significantly.
It will be interesting to watch from the outside and see what the big brands do decide to do and how it will effect their marketing strategies into 2012.