As 2014 begins, the moment every gTLD applicant has been waiting for is finally here - the first gTLDs will actually start to launch this year. For most digital marketers, mobile, social and big data have been driving forces in their plans and little attention has been given to top level domains.
But, as new top level domains actually make their way into the internet and consumers begin the journey of discovery in the new digital frontier, marketers may want to give this a careful look. After spending countless hours reviewing the gTLD applications, discussion in the industry and researching shifts in consumer behavior, there are a few top level domains to watch.
In selecting the top ten, I focused on TLDs with no opposition, meaning those that are ready to go as soon as they complete contracting. They won't be bogged down with an auction process fighting for ownership of the TLD with other applicants.
Additionally, I've looked really closely at both Google and Amazon. These two powerhouse digital brands have a clear advantage over all the other TLD applicants. They have a built-in consumer base, name recognition and credibility, and hordes of data about all of us.
I've also focused on top level domains which will be open to users and affiliates so it's something every digital marketer could potentially use in a campaign this year. I have not focused on the other brands because most will not launch until later this year and will have a very focused strategy.
These are the top 10 gTLDs to watch in 2014:
10: .wiki owned by Top Level Design
This one has a low prioritization number (should get to market soon) and has the potential to provide great secure, shared workspaces for companies large and small. Hopefully, they combine interesting technology solutions to coordinate with their top level domain and provide some controls to brand the site so that companies want to build their knowledge sharing platforms in the .wiki space. It's a great way to brand internally and differentiate it from other platforms. Consider yourcompany.wiki, or bigproject.wiki. It could also be great in a class room setting.
9: .republican and .democrat owned by United TLD
With a battle ahead between the red and blue states in the coming mid-term and run up to the next presidential election, these could be invaluable to politicians wanting to distinguish themselves and get out of the saturated .com space. For every politician that can't get his or her name in .com, this provides a much clearer space to build your brand. .Democrat has a much lower prioritization number so they could have an edge in their branding if they use it to their advantage in the digital age of campaigns.
8: .smile owned by Amazon
This new top level domain by Amazon appears to be free of any hurdles and with a priority number that should get them to market by Q2 or Q3, they could certainly use this to build a social network focused on photos and sharing of photos to give Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat a new competitor. Or, it could be great for dentists and orthodontists too. I'd go with the social media approach. Still, it's one to watch to see what Amazon does with it and how they offer it up to digital marketers.
7: .prime owned by Amazon
While they don't have a great prioritization number, they should still be able to launch this year since they are unopposed and it is a clear brand for them. Amazon could easily provide all businesses access to a .prime domain name if they use Amazon's distribution system. What a great brand for any company to piggyback on in communicating to customers free 2-day shipping. Retailers everywhere should keep an eye on this one.
6: .channel owned by Google
Every brand could have its own channel in Google's .channel. With a reasonable prioritization number and no opposition, Google can roll this out for digital marketers to build their own channel of content. Coupled with Google products and analytics, this could be a powerful way for every brand to tap into the renewed "content is king" approach to marketing. The big question will be how Google differentiates this from You Tube channels.
5: .singles owned by Donuts
Donuts will soon be launching the .singles top level domain. As matchmaking was one of the original successful business models on the internet, .singles could certainly spur creative and innovative thinking by not only the existing matchmakers, but every entrepreneur who has run out of good names for a dating site in .com. Other organizations within universities, churches or other social groups could also create their own secure .singles pages as a safe space to meet others within existing groups.
4: .youtube owned by Google
You Tube is already one of the most watched networks in the world. As Google transforms it from Youtube.com into a .youtube with significantly more opportunities for branding channels of content, could Google disrupt the cable industry by providing the next single source of surfing content? Their new Chromecast allows users to surf their TV easily by plugging it into your existing TV. How easy is that? They could accelerate cutting the cable cord with this dynamic duo.
3: .author owned by Amazon
With no competitors in the .author space, Amazon can clearly build upon its existing self-publishing solutions, not to mention drive all of the authors selling books anywhere in the world to build their digital presence within their universe of .author. For authors of all types, having a landing page in Amazon's network could be invaluable. Amazon's data machine can drive important analytics to help authors write what will actually sell. As an author, Amazon, please do this right!
2: .hangout owned by Google
Google's hangout is still building momentum, but with new capabilities in the top level domain environment, could they build the next social network with the added Skype like benefit? Will they combine the best of what others have done?
1: .tunes owned by Amazon
Amazon could certainly leapfrog Apple's iTunes brand with easy consumer recognition of what they might offer in the .tunes top level domain. As a closed eco system for Amazon to mine data and offer artists exclusive domains to market and promote themselves while selling music, Amazon is in a prime position to further entrench itself as a digital powerhouse. Apple applied for .apple, but that was it. In hindsight, clearly a missed opportunity.
In addition to the above top level domains, it's worth keeping an eye on big technology and digital brands who have the greatest incentive to do something innovative in 2014. Most of the brands will have the opportunity to launch by the end of the year.
We will see in 2014 which brands are first to make a bold move. Market leadership is up for grabs in the digital frontier.
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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