ICANN's generic top-level domain (gTLD) program will begin launching in Q3 and Q4 of this year, followed by a big impact in 2014 as half of the world's top brands begin to launch their gTLDs alongside digital giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft with large portfolios and bold moves. Based on a lottery drawing in December that determined prioritization for applicants, some of the brand gTLDs that could launch first include: McDonald's, Chase, Xbox, AAA, Esurance, Capital One, Travelers, Showtime, Hughes, Transformers, Mattel, T.J. Maxx, SC Johnson, Fiat, Coach, Del Monte, Sam's Club, Glad, Bridgestone, Omega, Merck, and Go Daddy, among others.
What might these companies do with their brand gTLDs? There are several key strategies I have been covering in this series of articles about gTLDs, and today the focus is on building a robust consumer experience for data mining.
One of the key distinctions of owning a .brand vs. a brand.com is that the .brand is owned by the brand owner. This means the brand owns the entire registry including all raw data associated with operating a registry. Just as VeriSign has ownership over all the data associated with .coms, brand owners with a gTLD will be able to tap into their own data. This is precisely why Google made such a bold move of applying for nearly 100 gTLDs - it recognizes the data play of gTLDs.
For brand owners with early draw numbers, the time to start thinking about the gTLD architecture is now. Just migrating .com over to .brand is a waste of this valuable asset. Brand gTLD owners have the unique opportunity to evaluate their current analytics and consider how they can improve the consumer navigation experience with a .brand. For one, a .brand can enhance overall navigation because all subpages or important landing pages can become more memorably named, e.g., moviepromotion.mcdonalds or backtoschool.target. Additionally, .brand owners can build in more user-friendly search and navigation functions, as well as more easily create contests or promotions that can be promoted directly via traditional marketing or social media. The .brand owners can also allow consumers to engage with more personalized pages - e.g., jenwolfe.chase - and establish a more direct connection with the brand.
Brand owners can also look at developing "likes" or social networking within their own site. Of course, this strategy needs to be tied to the overall social media strategy, but opportunities to intersect the two exist in a more robust way. Finally, you'll want to tie your .brand landing pages to your mobile device strategy so that consumers can move seamlessly from one to the other no matter their device. If the architecture is carefully planned and designed, brand owners can tap into this data as a source of market research - direct from the consumer - in a new way, while also creating a richer and more valuable experience.
Now, many critics say all of this can be done in .com. And they are right to an extent. But with a .brand, the nomenclature and landing pages can become more memorable, the .brand can offer greater security to consumers in providing site authenticity, and the brand assumes ownership over the data and the entire top level. These elements provide more opportunities for innovative thinking, which allows companies to reduce costs in data analytics and market research, as well as better tailor advertising by deepening their customer relationships. Companies most likely to take advantage of this strategy include: Macy's, Ralph Lauren, T.J. Maxx, Target, Pampered Chef, Best Buy, Nike, McDonald's, Gap, Home Depot, Delta Airlines, Swiss Air, Virgin, Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Orient-Express, and Viking Cruises, just to name a few.
Companies that didn't apply and may be at a disadvantage for several years before ICANN opens up new brand gTLDs again include: Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks, P&G, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sears, Budweiser, Estee Lauder, KFC, M&M'S, Hershey, Kraft Foods, Unilever, Kohl's, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, eBay, Groupon, United Airlines, and American Airlines.
Brands that did apply and who choose to innovatively design their gTLD to create a robust consumer experience that generates meaningful data will have a market advantage over their competitors. Any .brand thinking of just migrating .com might want to rethink that strategy. It's not often you have a three- to five-year lead over competitors. Owning the gTLD digital asset was a first step - doing something strategic with it is necessary to realize the competitive benefits.
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Jennifer Wolfe is founder and president of Wolfe Domain, a gTLD digital brand strategy advisory firm providing comprehensive guidance to global brands, interactive agencies, domain registrars, and legal counsel representatives on establishing a holistic gTLD name-anchored brand strategy for the next generation of the Internet. As a forward-thinking, accomplished, award-winning attorney and executive leader, she also serves as managing partner of their affiliate law firm WolfeSBMC, specializing in advising on intellectual property and brand campaigns and new media law. With a depth of entrepreneurial savvy, brand knowledge, and legal expertise, Wolfe brings a unique perspective to creating holistic generic top-level domain (gTLD) name-centric brand strategies that effectively bring cross-functional teams together and serve as a catalyst for business innovation.
March 19, 2014