Will the New gTLDs Spur Digital Innovation Away From the Home Page?

  |  July 16, 2014   |  Comments

With the acquisition of new top-level domains, many brands are forced to think about how to reinvent their Web experience. Will this be the push they need to think outside the box about what they could do in their digital spaces?

Half of the world's top brands applied for new top-level domains. While most are working their way through contracting with ICANN, my conversations with executives from top brands with new gTLDs indicate it will likely be early 2015 before we begin to see real activity.

One common trend among these brands is that as digital marketers begin to consider how to use the gTLD, the shift in thinking about the gTLD as just a domain name to a technology platform is underway. As a result, brands with gTLDs will likely reinvent the concept of the home page away from the standard box with link and into a more functionally driven experience migrating navigation from click-throughs to direct experiences via targeted, unique, and memorable landing pages.

Most companies are languishing in an antiquated home page model as a doorway to everything the company does, including links to social media. The gTLD will serve as a catalyst for creative and outside-the-box thinking about how brands design their digital world to break away from the original home page concept and innovate how consumers navigate the online experience. Now integrated with both social and mobile, the gTLD will drive and force digital innovation.

A few of the big fashion companies that applied for a gTLD include Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, Coach, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Gap, to name just a few. On the home page, most of these brands rely heavily on one big traditional media image and follow standard protocols of the home page as a portal to everything about the brand, but lack depth when it comes to creating a compelling experience online, particularly when you consider changes occurring in how consumers navigate from social to mobile and then the online experience. While they all have social media links, their overall online experience is not ready for the consumer surfing the net from their couch using Chromecast, Roku, or Apple TV.

The gTLD as a new technology platform will force digital innovation in companies relying heavily on traditional media. They will integrate their social platforms with the online platform and build out unique new digital experiences in their gTLD. The fashion industry is certainly ripe for innovation in building out a digital world. With the gTLD as their own "channels" of the Internet, enabling content with Google Chromecast, fashion brands can invite people into their digital fashion worlds in a more compelling and robust way, tapping into consumers worldwide, not to mention tracking data to drive decision making. Burberry re-designed its digital world with cutting-edge thinking and is one of the leading fashion companies digitally. But, they didn't apply for a gTLD, giving those competitors who did a competitive edge.

Most of the big auto companies also applied for their own TLDs. While auto companies have tapped into viral online ads, often trumping traditional television viewership, they can use the gTLD technology platform to create the divergent experiences consumers will come to expect.

Big retailers like Walmart, Target, Safeway, and Macy's all applied with endless opportunities to create not only a better shopping experience, but use channels of content to drive purchase decisions. Only a few consumer goods companies applied, leaving a lot of room for innovation with companies like SC Johnson, Del Monte, Heinz, and Johnson & Johnson - can they out-innovate their competitors in the digital space? Stalwart consumer goods companies like Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Unilever did not apply. Already lagging in digital strategy, the real miss for them may be the innovation that is driven by the opportunity to simply think about how to use the new gTLD.

gTLDs require creative thinking and a leap of faith that things are about to change. I've interviewed many executives from companies who will shamelessly admit they don't like change. Change is hard. But change is inevitable and the one thing we can always count on in digital strategy. The Internet is a living thing, changing, and evolving every day as new posts spur controversy, blogs create celebrities, websites launch new billion-dollar companies, search algorithms learn with human like intelligence, and now new and expanding top-level domains by brands will reinvent the home page from a domain name to a digital technology platform. Brands will architect their digital world in a new and profound way. Those who want to succeed must accept this change and embrace it. While that's hard for many companies, those who applied for a gTLD may just find the innovation that occurs as a result by thinking about the future of the Internet as the biggest return on investment.

Will that opportunity to think about the Web experience alone provide companies who applied a competitive edge? Could this be the push they need to think outside the box about what they could do in their digital spaces? Will that thinking change the consumer website experience for the better?

While there's no question big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, and others will innovate technology with their new gTLDs, the forced innovation upon so many other companies may be the most interesting case study about the gTLD program when we look back five years from now. The brands already under contract with ICANN include: Las Vegas, NYC, Merck, BMW, Samsung, Nissan, Suzuki, Miami, Spiegel, and AXA. While not much has happened yet, the migration from the traditional home page will surely begin as brands innovatively tap into the power of their most powerful digital asset - their gTLD.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jen Wolfe is an author, digital leader, and global IP strategist. She has written a series of highly acclaimed books, Brand Rewired and Domain Names Rewired, endorsed by executives from Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Warner Brothers, and more as cutting-edge thinking about the future of brands and the impact of the new gTLDs. She interviewed leaders from Yahoo, Verizon, Harley Davidson, Time Warner, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Intel, Interbrand, Re/Max, Scripps Networks, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft Foods, International Paper, General Mills, and others to uncover trends in branding and technology.

Wolfe is widely cited by business publications for her expertise on the brand gTLD. She has been named one of the top global IP strategists by IAM magazine for four years in a row and one of the few in the world developing brand IP strategies. She served on the GNSO Council of ICANN and is currently the Chair of the GNSO Review Working Party.

Jen is the CEO of Wolfe Domain Digital Strategy, a company she founded in response to market demands and consults with C-Suite executives in Fortune 500 companies to develop digital IP strategies and detailed plans for the impact and roll out of new gTLDs with an innovative approach to be a market leader in a changing digital environment.

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