PharmCos Sign Up for New TLDs

Many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have applied for the new generic top-level domains (TLDs), according to information recently released by ICANN. While new TLDs could be anything at all, global brands have been seen as the likeliest to want to see their names to the right of the dot.

Along with Amazon, Cisco, and Xbox, Big Pharma companies that want to operate their own domains were:

  • Abbot (.abbot, .abbvie)
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb (.bms)
  • Boehringer (.boehringer)
  • Eli Lilly (.lilly .cialis)
  • Johnson & Johnson (.jnj, .baby)
  • Merck (.merck, .emerck, .merckMSD)
  • Pfizer (.pfizer)
  • Sanofi (.sanofi)

While ICANN’s application asks applicants to explain the mission and purpose of the proposed TLD, most applications include boilerplate saying there hasn’t been enough time or information to evaluate the potential uses of the TLD.

One of the most obvious uses of a branded TLD is to reassure Internet searchers that they’re not about to visit a spam site. For example, the Bristol-Myers Squibb application says, “The .bms gTLD will facilitate greater trust and assurance from internet users connecting with BMS online, whilst still allowing convenient and efficient interaction.”

“BMS is right. If you can create a validated domain, it becomes much easier for communications to go out and make it through spam filters,” said Bill Evans, managing editor of A Dose of Digital and EVP and chief digital officer for Team Chemistry at WPP. A Dose of Digital is a blog covering healthcare technology.

More important, Evans said, is that a brand that owns its TLD could create a secure walled garden in which to interact with customers. This is especially important for pharmaceutical and medical companies, because they have to comply with federal privacy and security regulations.

There is a danger that new TLDs will simply be confusing to consumers who have learned over the past 20 years to type .com into the browser. Evans thinks that .com addresses will continue to be used to feed searchers into the secure namespace of the TLD.

Not only would a TLD operated by a company’s secure servers (or those operated on its behalf) be a more secure environment, it would also allow the company to create customized, personalized offerings. A pharma brand could create one secure login to its TLD and use that as a portal to allow visitors to access a variety of information and services.

“If I’m able to be sensitive to the behaviors of a customer, then I, as an organization or brand, can make thoughtful suggestions on other things that might be helpful to them. I have much greater control within my own domain,” Evans said. “I think we’re in era where pharmaceutical companies could build services, not campaigns, and that’s where these TLDs could help.”

For example, a maker of medicine for diabetes could offer a customer a variety of applications, content, and additional products focused on wellness and diabetes management.

If apps continue to be important, especially on tablets and phones, consumers might not even see a brand’s TLD, according to Evans. Instead, the URL strings become page servers for individual pieces of content or data that are served to applications.

A year ago, ICANN announced it would open up Internet name space to new TLDs, despite pushback from the Association of National Advertisers, which feared it would lead to brand-squatting. Registration opened in January and closed at the end of March.

Pharmaceutical TLDs might encourage brands to move beyond campaign-based marketing, Evans said. “Consumer and physician behavior is moving toward the need for value-added tools that extend beyond an awareness campaign. If I’m a physician, there had better be something there that’s useful to me day in and day out, past when I learned about your plan. Develop a platform, app or tool that gives the physician or patient value over the entire lifecycle of engagement with the brand.”

Pharmacy pills image on home page via Shutterstock.

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