Regardless of what you decide to do, in the future of the expanded global Internet, owning a properly registered trademark will become critical to protecting your brand.
In this continuing series on the launch of the new generic top-level domains (gTLD) for brands, I've covered the many strategies that brands may use to evolve and strengthen the Internet consumer experience. While half of the world's biggest brands applied for a gTLD, many did not and the millions of mid-market and smaller businesses will need a strategy to respond. While most companies are still largely unaware of the coming paradigm shift of the Internet, the first wave of gTLDs are scheduled to begin launching this September.
IDNs - Global Impact of the First Wave
The internationalized domain names (IDNs) are slated by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers) to launch first. There were approximately 116 IDNs in languages including Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic, and others. If you are operating globally, it is important to review the list and the translations and transliterations and consider where you currently do business, where you may do business in the future, and whether your domain name will impact your ability to connect with consumers in those markets by having a domain name in their home IDN. Also, think about whether your competitors will likely secure important domain names within these new IDN gTLDs. Once you've evaluated these critical questions, you can gather relevant information around when these domains will become available, what policies will govern the sunrise and land rush periods, and how much they will cost.
Second Wave - Generics Without Conflict
ICANN has committed to launch up to 20 new gTLDs per week once each domain is eligible for delegation. Out of the 1930 applications, approximately 518 have passed initial evaluation, which means these initial applications will move into contracting, delegation, and launch over the next six months. The gTLDs that are not in conflict with another applicant (meaning there is no competition for the same string) have a clear path to launch. For marketers, this means you have six months to prepare for the generics to launch and potentially reshape the way consumers experience the Internet. Much like the IDNs, the analysis begins with key questions. Which gTLDs could impact how your targeted consumers use the Internet? Can you improve the consumer experience with a category-based top-level domain versus .com? Or, are you just concerned that another party may secure it and want to lock it down for future use?
With hundreds of category-based generics ranging from .Moms, .kids, .families, .wine, .wedding, and .cooking to .pizza, .diamonds, .FYI, .cloud, and .wiki, there are a plethora of new categories that could impact how consumers think about your company. For example, should TripAdvisor secure tripadvisor.review? Or, should Century 21 Real Estate secure century21.realestate? At a minimum, you need to be informed about what's available, when it will be available, and how much it costs, to make strategic decisions. There are also geographic- and community-based gTLDs that will likely launch in the second wave that may be relevant to your business. Be sure to include these - particularly .NYC, .Vegas, and .Miami - in your review.
Final Wave: Brands and Conflicted Generics
The final wave of gTLDs to launch will likely be the brands and conflicted gTLDs. Brands are still developing strategies and will likely "slow roll" their launches due to typical budgeting, planning, and other internal issues. However, keep an eye on the big banks and financial sectors. They have the strongest value proposition for consumers and represent the biggest impact in terms of offering more security. They will likely be the first to offer the real advantage to consumers and start to reshape the way consumers think about .com with a promise of greater security through domains such as .jpmorgan, .americanexpress, .discover, .citi, etc.
The conflicted strings, on the other hand, will need to resolve conflicts in order to move into the contracting and delegation process. Some of the top conflicted strings include .app, .home, .inc, .art, .book, .shop, .blog, .llc, .design, .cloud, .hotel, and .news. While some of these conflicts are in the process of being resolved, many may have to wait for the ICANN auction, which will not occur until October or later this year, pushing back the time frame for launch eligibility. The conflicted strings may be even more important to review because they were applied for by more than one company and often with many applicants, including digital powerhouses like Amazon and Google. Most of the gTLD applicants were driven by experienced companies in the domain name industry and likely reflect data analytics that support consumer usage of those top-level domains. Additionally, because these domains will require additional investment by the applicants at auction, they may have more of a vested interest to ensure their success.
Watch the Digital Leaders: Google, Amazon, and Microsoft
You'll also want to keep an eye on the big digital leaders launching multiple new gTLDs. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft will likely be the drivers of the consumer experience in an expanded Internet environment. When will they launch? How might they package their services? Should you partner, affiliate, or obtain a domain in one of their gTLDs?
For all of the gTLDs, it's critical to map your brand against the new brand gTLDs and categories of generic, geographic, and community-based gTLDs that will reshape the Internet. Make informed decisions about what gTLDs you may want to secure and know when they will become available and for how much. As you evaluate the new potential domain names, get your trademark house in order. Regardless of what you decide to do, in the future of the expanded global Internet, owning a properly registered trademark will become critical to protecting your brand.
The first wave starts at the end of the summer. You won't want to be on vacation when important Internet real estate to your company is up for grabs. In my next column, I'll detail the strategic approach to evaluating the new gTLDs for your business.
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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.
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