MarketingAutomotiveBrands Anticipate Top-Level Domain Shakeout

Brands Anticipate Top-Level Domain Shakeout

Loreal and Scripps, along with big banks and auto brands are working out how to use their generic top-level domains.

Earlier this year more than 1,900 applications were filed for generic top-level domain extensions. Think .food, .auto, .beauty and so on. Now brands are scrambling to figure out what do with all these domains when ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) begins releasing more than 1,400 new extensions in the second half of 2013 and early 2014.

“In this case, you’re going to be able to build it all left of the dot,” said Jennifer Wolfe, president of Wolfe Domain, a gTLD brand strategy advisory firm. “This is much like it was when dot-com first started in the ’90s….The brands that really put some thought into what they’re doing could do some new unique things.”

One of Wolfe Domain’s clients, Scripps Networks Interactive, filed for 13 gTLDs including .food, .diy and .HGTV. Like most brands that filed for gTLDs, Scripps’s strategy will evolve over time and only after top-level domains reach their potential audiences. The media company plans to use the new domains to enhance brand equity and develop digital channels to better represent its core brands online.

“I believe this will replace cable television,” said Wolfe. “All of these top-level domains really become channels. Anybody in the content distribution business should have bought one of these.”

For most consumer-facing brands, the initial $185,000 application fee and $25,000 annual renewal fees are negligible, said Wolfe. “Reserving these channels to distribute content, to me is just absolutely critical for anyone in the entertainment business.”

Retailers and consumer goods brands accounted for 37 percent of all gTLD applications, followed by media (primarily sports and travel) with the remainder evenly split across business-to-business, finance, pharmaceutical and technology, according to Wolfe’s analysis.

Loreal, which, applied for .beauty, .hair and .makeup, among others, plans to build top-level domains around those categories. “If you’re in one of those categories, you might want to call them and see what they’re planning on doing with it and see if it’s worth partnering with them,” said Wolfe.

The application process also drew interest from virtually every major auto company and financial institution. “They are all really looking at this as a way to provide some authenticity,” said Wolfe. “If they educate consumers, they’re going to help them understand that they should only trust a domain that is owned by the brand.

Then there’s Donuts, a company with $100 million in venture capital funding, that applied for 307 gTLDs. Although it’s not associated with a particular brand, the company clearly anticipates a tremendous opportunity to break into the online namespace with the new top-level domains.

By owning the entire top-level domain extension, brands also will gain direct access to and ownership of new data. Wolfe advises brands to tap into that data to pursue new business models and improve their direct relationships with consumers. She thinks this will be especially important for retailers and travel companies that already enjoy loyalty and interest among their customer bases.

There is still plenty of debate about whether Google should be able to own .search, for example, or if any company should have complete control over .auto or .bank, added Wolfe. Some gTLDs were applied for as collectively to alleviate those concerns perhaps, but there are no hard and fast rules against one company claiming complete control over a top-level domain.

“We’re going to have to see how that shakes out. I think that’s why the big banks, the credit card companies, the insurance companies – they all applied,” said Wolfe. “It’s just creating this greater confidence and authenticity.”

Wolfe is also convinced that gTLDs are “going to put a dent in the current philosophy of SEO today.” The impacts on search are still undefined. “If the algorithms all change, which we anticipate they will, you’re going to want to have a domain that’s more categorically related to what you are,” said Wolfe. “Now suddenly your top-level domain could be a key indicator of what category you belong in. Think of it like a ZIP code.”

At least 36 of the Fortune 100 applied for gTLDs, according to Wolfe. North American companies filed 911 applications, followed by Europe with 675, Asia-Pacific with 303, Latin America with 24, and 17 from Africa.

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