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With only 15 days left until ICANN opens the gate for another 1000 top level domains, my guess is that most big brands now plan to buy their own gTLD. Why? Like I wrote in an earlier blog post: Mostly for defensive reasons. They don't want to risk that anyone else would use their brand as a top level domain.
Short term issue: It will be difficult for a brand to communicate the new url string
This might seem trivial but I think it will be a major issue in the beginning.
Take the airline SAS. They don’t own the “www.sas.com” url, so they might be interested in a top level domain of their own like “.sas”. But how shall they communicate it the first couple of years, before broad customer groups get used to the new gtlds?
Three alternative ways to communicate the url string:
1. “Visit us at .sas” – It is difficult to understand that it is a url. A single dot to indicate where you live online will maybe not be enough for large groups of consumers.
2. “Visit us at www.sas” – Feel like something is missing, right? Where is the domain extension?
3. “Visit us at http://www.sas” – Doesn’t make things easier, just longer.
My guess is that most brands who invest in their own gtld will choose number 1, the “.sas” alternative. They will try to emphasize the dot graphically, but it will take time before people understand and appreciate the short url.
After a few years people have learnt that some of the big brands have their own gtld and that is indicated by a dot.
Advice: Wait with the launch of your new .brand url until your target groups understand the new url concept.
Long term issue: People use automatic suggestions and search results instead of url’s
A lot of people access url’s by typing the brand name in the browser search box. At that point they get automatic suggestions, based on frequency and individual habits.
If your brand is among these suggestions, the actual url means less. If you are not among the suggestions, you should as a big brand be among the presented search results. And that has less and less to do with your actual url, and more and more to do with marketing and good SEO.
This development will of course continue. Browsers and search engines will become increasingly smarter (Apple's Siri is a great example) and the need to know the url will continue to diminish.
Domain names will stay important but branding and trademarks will once again have the upper hand.
Last week there was an interesting seminar in Stockholm about the new top level domains (gTLDs) that will be open to application early 2012. Participating were representatives from all sides: registrars, registries, ICANN, trademark lawyers, brand owners and domainers.
I got to talk to some of them and here are my thoughts on how big brand and trademark owners will and should act. (We at Markify have no financial interest in the new gtlds.)
Three categories of gTLDs
First a bit of background:
From January 2012 anyone can buy their own tld, http://newgtlds.icann.org/ The fee for just buying the tld will be $185.000 plus $25.000/year. The cost for marketing your new tld will of course be much higher.
The three main categories that will apply for a new tld seems to be:
1. Geographies/Communities: .nyc, .moscow, .gay
2. Generic words: .bank, .poker, .shop
3. Brands: .facebook, .hitachi, .canon
Number 1. Geographies and number 2. Generic words will both try to sell domain names in one way or another. But number 3. Brands is a very different category, with a very different agenda. What will they do and why?
The one big reason to buy a tld for a trademark owner
Why should a brand owner even consider buying a new gtld? The core sales pitch you can hear focus on two aspects:
- A short and attractive url – .SQUARE instead of SQUAREUP.COM
- New marketing possibilities – DRIVE.BMW instead of DRIVE.BMW.COM
I think most owners of big brands will think: “Why bother? I don’t need that. I already have the url I want and I’d rather spend that money on something else.”
True, but my guess is that they will reconsider and actually try to buy the new tld. Why? For one big reason:
You don’t want anyone else using your brand as a top level domain.
Some trademark holders, with really famous, well-known trademarks, will be able to stop others from getting the tld. But most trademark owners will not be able to stop an application, because they don’t have all the trademark rights (all classes, all markets). The only certain way to stop it will be to buy the tld yourself.
What you should do: 3 cases
In short: If you can afford it - both the fee and the future marketing costs - you should buy your own tld. But for a couple of different reasons.
Case 1 - “Facebook”
You own the relevant .com and there are no other identical big brands competing for the new tld.
To-do: Buy the new tld primarily for defensive reasons. You don’t want anyone else to own it.
Case 2 - “Apple”
You own the relevant .com (like Apple Inc does) but there are other identical brands (like Apple Records) competing for the new tld.
To-do: Buy the new tld primarily for defensive reasons. You don’t want anyone else to own it and in the long term there might be advantages using it.
Case 3 - “SAS”
You don’t own the relevant .com, like Square, SAS (the airline), Next (many) etc. This group is highly motivated and they are the dream clients of the "helping-you-get-the-tld-you-deserve" industry.
To-do: Try to buy the new tld to get an attractive url. And be prepared to invest heavily in marketing your new domain.
The .com vs new gtlds
For the foreseeable future, 3-5 years, I believe the .com will continue to be the prime real-estate online. The new top level domains will form a new, second rate domain class, just below the .com domain.
Why? Because most big brands, that already have the .com, will not bother to invest huge amounts in teaching people a new url. Even if the url is shorter, it still is a change of address. And as long as the big brands stay on the .com with their main sites, it will continue to be the prime address.
Benoit Fallenius Founder and CEO
In this blog I will mostly write about two subjects:
1. Trademarks, domain names, naming and branding - Four separate areas that often are not that separate.
2. Markify news - Features, markets, pricing, challenges etc.
Feedback and questions are always welcome. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.