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The New gTLD Programme from ICANN

Samantha Noble

by Samantha Noble on 12th April 2011

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.

Some examples

  • www.paymonthly.vodafone or www.shop.vodafone
  • www.mortgages.hsbc or www.onlinebanking.hsbc
  • www.shop.cadburys or www.dairymilk.cadburys

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.

THE BENEFITS

Enhance Customer Trust

  • Owning a domain highlights to a potential customer that you are who you say you are
  • Take the brand ‘ghd’ as an example. There are tens of thousands of counterfeit sites out there and they only actually have eight approved retailers. Being able to own their brand would significantly reduce the amount of counterfeit products being sold online

Control

  • Businesses will have full control over their domain
  • Anything to the left of the .BRAND belongs to the business and can be populated with anything

Flexibility

  • Will have the flexibility of changing domain URLs to incorporate whatever message you want to give
  • www.shop.virgin, www.myaccount.virgin, www.broadband.virgin etc

Marketing

  • Build a domain that will stick in customers minds. They don’t need to remember the URL, only your brand name

Security

  • Gives you the ability to lock out fraudsters and cyber squatters as you own the name

Communication

  • Great way of communicating your brand to customers
  • Memorable across every country


THE RISKS

Confusion

  • More confusion for internet users who will need to adapt to using a new domain after getting used to country specific domains

Monitoring Abuse

  • More URLs will mean that monitoring brand abuse will become much harder
  • Wider searches plus higher volumes and costs

Enforcement

  • There will be more actors to manage in terms of registries and registrars
  • Additional WHOIS inaccuracies to add to what is already there
  • More opportunity for piracy and proxies

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.

Samantha Noble

Samantha Noble

Samantha Noble is the Marketing Director at Koozai; having worked within the marketing industry for over nine years, Sam has a plethora of marketing knowledge. With a strong understanding of digital marketing techniques, Sam will be covering all aspects of search and the industry in general.

6 Comments

  • Dean Marsden

    Dean 12th April 2011

    Great Summary Sam. I think it comes down to paying for a trust symbol. If you have the extension then there is no confusion as to whether you have visited the right company website.

    I do think it is going to take along time to work for branding though. Everyone is used to seeing the standard extensions ie, .com, .co.uk and anything else will confuse web users for a while to come.

    On the issue of locality and splitting up the .brand extensions into sub sites in general could cause more sub-domain use and these are ultimately less memorable. For example, http://www.uk.myo2.o2

    Reply to this comment

  • Samantha Noble

    Sam 12th April 2011

    It would be great to hear from some of the big brands to get their take on the new gTLD programme. Comments welcome!

    Reply to this comment

  • Samantha Noble

    Sam 12th April 2011

    I agree with you Dean, I think trying to reduce the confusion is going to play a big part in this new initiative and could be the deciding factor of whether it fails or succeeds. I understand the reasoning behind it and the benefits a brand could get off the back of it, but just need to be sure that it doesn’t hinder rather than help.

    Reply to this comment

  • gpmgroup 12th April 2011

    For some larger companies ICANN’s proposals are quite problematic, because what ICANN is proposing is actually more cumbersome, more restrictive, more expensive and less equitable than the very successful existing system it is seeking to extend.

    Over at CircleID we posted the first in a series of articles on why ICANN isn’t been very sensible with their current proposals for new gTLDs http://www.circleid.com/posts/why_icann_isnt_being_very_sensible_part_i_brands/

    Reply to this comment

  • Samantha Noble

    Sam 13th April 2011

    Thanks for your comment. I have had similar feedback from other organisations regarding this too. The cost element is huge, which even the bigger brands will need to find additional budget for. gTLDs will be out of reach for the small to medium size businesses.

    Your post is very interesting, thank you for sharing it with us.

    Reply to this comment

  • Dashworlds 15th April 2011

    Brand New TLDs are already here and at no cost (ie: without the huge costs associated with ICANN):

    The Internet already offers brand new “Dash” and “Dashcom” domain names as an alternative to the over 200 million “Dot” and “Dotcoms” already registered.

    Sites like Dashworlds.com provide free domains in the format “business-com”, “commercial-law”, “paris-fashion” and even “your-brand” (examples only). Totally outside the realm and control of ICANN, you can create any domain or any TLD in any language, instantly and at no cost .

    Currently, resolution is via an APP but there’s also an ISP link-in that negates that need. There are now users and members in over 90 countries worldwide, with numbers increasing daily.

    The Internet continues to evolve. Not-so-long ago, people would have thought a web based blog such as this to be a waste of time, effort and money. After all why would anyone want to fork out for hugely expensive computers, sign up for extra phone lines, buy modems and routers, buy an OS, learn how to use it all….Just so they could read a magazine?….Why?….When all they had to do was walk down to the local store.

    Having just one Internet in infinite cyberspace is like saying you can visit anywhere in the UK just as long as you stick to the M25 Ring Road. So today, just as in the UK (and everywhere else in the world) the Internet has more than one road to travel.

    Reply to this comment

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