The Internet is about to experience a paradigm shift as digital giants such as Amazon and Google seek domination over critical new top-level domains (TLDs) including .cloud, .blog, .book, .search., .web, .mobile, .coupon, .store, and more. With thousands of new TLDs owned by the biggest brands in the world launching at the same time as nearly 900 venture capital-backed generic top-level domains (gTLDs), digital marketers need to know where they fit. The Internet landscape is forever changing as new TLDs create “Zip codes” that segment the industry into categories that consumers will not just learn to trust, but love to trust.
Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have applied for new TLDs, putting their stake in the ground during the land grab of Internet real estate. Their control over critical TLDs means the search and navigation industries will follow. While most digital marketers cite increasing traffic through social media or mobile technology and consider .com an unquestionable gold standard, the impact of this shift should not be overlooked.
In addition to Google and Amazon, nearly half of the world’s top consumer brands have applied to own and operate their own TLDs. This means when BMW, Lexus, J.P. Morgan, Walmart, Target, and Tiffany’s, to name just a few, educate consumers to trust only authorizeddealer.bmw, hotbrand.target, or yourname.jpmorgan, not only will a substantial shift away from .com unfold, but it will dilute the value of .com as sub-standard to the brand-owned-and-controlled TLDs.
While many still question how we could evolve form a .com world, there has never been a change of such scale in the history of the Internet. Even the .com boom of the 1990’s will not compare to the flurry of activity that will impact consumer Internet behavior when thousands of TLDs with hundreds of millions of dollars behind them begin launching in 2013. ICANN, the organization that runs the Internet, allowed companies to apply for their own TLDs under certain guidelines between January and April of 2012. The window to apply again will not likely open for several more years.
This means that domain names need to be researched, implemented, and monitored in a whole new way. No longer left as something for trademark lawyers to keep an eye on or IT to secure scores of potential .coms identified in brainstorming sessions, which domain names are selected and for what purpose must be part of the overall brand strategy. Digital strategy is always evolving, but now it must be holistic in nature. A combined strategy that incorporates domain names with social and mobile understanding of how search and navigation drive consumers to the brand is essential to connecting the often fragmented digital strategy across brand assets.
Regardless of whether your brand applied or you are still evaluating the new gTLD landscape, here are some critical questions for your CMO and the digital team to evaluate:
- Start by analyzing your competitors. Did they apply? Didn’t they apply? What might they do?
- Look at your brand categories. What generic terms are out there that are relevant to your business?
- What about the bold moves by Google and Amazon? Which gTLDs could impact how people get to you? How will you work with or against them?
- Look at your verticals. What are they doing? Are prior vendors likely to become competitors? Could new business models emerge in your brand category as a result of a changing Internet?
- And, of course, what generics were filed in your brand categories? Should you be partnering with them? Do you want to secure important domain names when they go up for sale next year? It will likely be first-come, first-served, with certain brand protection in place, so a wait-and-see approach is not advisable. Just like hot domains that were snatched up in the ’90s, the same will be true but across a much larger landscape.
Above all, don’t limit your thinking and don’t assume nothing will change. It’s very rare to have a heads-up 12 to 18 months before a substantial paradigm shift is coming, particularly in the digital network that connects everyone around the globe. Don’t waste it – start the analysis, get the facts about who applied for what, and how it impacts you.