’Dotbrand’ might sound like yet another buzzword, but in less than three months it could have a significant impact on a brand’s digital strategy because it offers marketers the opportunity to graft an additional domain name onto their organisation’s web address and enhance both its SEO strategy and defence against online counterfeit operations.
Deloitte, Canon, Hitachi, Motorola and Unicef have already said that they want to file for a .brand address, also known as a generic top level domain (gTLD). If successful, that would allow Canon, for example, to register .canon as a domain name.
Although the $185,000 (£118,000) cost of applying for a .brand domain name and yearly running costs of up to $200,000 (£127,500) may appear prohibitive, global brands cannot afford to ignore this opportunity because the open nature of the new gTLDs – allowing for the registration of common words and brand names – means there is likely to be a whole new way of surfing the web from the end of next year.
In much the same way that many consumers simply type what they are looking for into a search engine rather than remembering a URL, .brand domains will essentially allow a brand name to become an entire web address, giving the brand owner freedom to create its own sub-domains.
For example, if McDonald’s was to register .mcdonalds as a new domain, it could also open up countless sub-domains such as menu.mcdonalds, olympics.mcdonalds, jobs.mcdonalds, down to individual store locations such as oxfordstreet.mcdonalds. Individual store managers could even have their own page, with their name ahead of the .mcdonalds domain.
In the case of a department store or online retailer, brands could even issue customers their own pages, opening the way for real personalisation opportunities.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) – which is running the application process – is highlighting such uses as one of the main benefits of .brand. It claims that owning their domain names will give brands unprecedented control over their web presence, while getting even closer to customers all in the name of loyalty and engagement.
Not only could .brand enhance a brand’s SEO strategy with greater connections to relevant search terms, but it could also help in the fight against online fraudsters, who set up fake websites, and cybersquatters.
These online defences against counterfeit operations should be top of mind for those considering whether .brand is worth the investment, according to Simon Briskman, digital specialist and partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse. “Counterfeiters will still be out there, but in time I think the new domain names will give brands an absolute stamp of authenticity,” he says.
But for the growing list of brands to publicly announce their intention to file for a .brand domain, which also includes cities such as London and Berlin (see Dotbrand: What brands are doing so far, far right), protecting their brand trademark is just a small part of why they want to get involved.
Many interested parties cite increased audience accessibility and communications as the reasons for their interest in .brand. Indeed, Deloitte specifically sees it as a way to reflect its ideals of innovation and being a market leader.
Not only could .brand enhance a brand’s SEO strategy with greater connections to relevant search terms, but it could also help in the fight against online fraudsters
Deloitte online communications leader Bill Barrett explains: “Some of the aspects are unknown, but being a first mover has risks and great rewards. It aligns with Deloitte’s positioning around being innovative and one step ahead.” (see Viewpoint, below)
Barrett says the professional services firm is conducting a thorough cost/benefit analysis, and that there is support all round for the potential value it could bring to the business. He adds that businesses should understand the implications of their competitors having a .brand domain and that companies that have been abreast of developments from the beginning will have the upper hand.
The success of .brand will also rely on consumer take-up of this new way to browse the web. However, there are further promising insights for .brand, with 60% of consumers saying they simply type a brand name into a search engine and only 25% saying they remember website addresses, according to a YouGov poll run last month for consultancy Melbourne IT.
Additionally, 85% agreed that companies should help consumers to distinguish between real and counterfeit sites – something .brand has potential to alleviate.
Icann will not be running a marketing campaign to inform consumers of the change so the onus will be on brands to educate their audiences, which is one of the reasons why Deloitte’s Barrett says it will feature its new .deloitte domains heavily in marketing collateral. This will follow the pattern of Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags featuring in current advertising campaigns, he adds.
Icann chief executive Rod Beckstrom insists his organisation is there to establish the guidelines and oversee the application process, rather than push benefits of the new scheme. And it will be up to companies to educate consumers about new ways to find them online.
“The introduction of a .brand domain is almost like a logo change, and new marketing will need to be done,” he says. “But I think word will spread pretty fast. You are talking about some pretty major entities in the world that will have their name after the dot and their collective marketing power greatly exceeds that of Icann.”
Icann vice-president of communications and marketing Barbara Ann Clay warns that companies should carefully weigh up the risks of taking a .brand domain name because these will also be different for different businesses.
“A brand should have a creative in-house team that can take this and run with it,” she says. “There are many risks involved that all need to be considered, but innovation is at the core of great marketing.”
Innovation is certainly a brand characteristic Deloitte is hoping to leverage through its .brand strategy, but Barrett acknowledges that if the risks began to outweigh the benefits it would withdraw from the application process.
“There is always the chance that we could end up at a point where we might not be able to justify the investment costs,” he says. “But we see a lot of potential value in it so far, and I think our competitors do too.”
Bill Barrett, online communications leader, Deloitte
We started looking at filing for a .brand address several years ago and when it was confirmed last autumn we put it into high gear. We are doing a full assessment of the opportunities, the benefits, the risks, the governance, costs and operational impact.
From a branding and business standpoint this does seem like the right thing to do. It sets us apart from the pack – being a first mover has risks but also great rewards. It offers improved accessibility certainly from a client standpoint. We could have innovation.deloitte or tax.deloitte, which would be more intuitive than the long URLs we have today.
It gives us some flexibility for the future, as we roll out mobile initiatives and products. We wouldn’t then have to go out and bid on other domains. And for security, if everything sits on your own brand domain, it’s more authentic and your clients can feel comfortable that it’s your real site.
We have spent a lot of time looking at the cost, but if you step back and look at what you spend in other areas of marketing, such as printed brochures or an advertising campaign, those costs can get high too.
There is the risk that perhaps this won’t become the hot new thing. But there is also the risk that if this does take off, you may have actually fallen behind your competition.
Dotbrand: What brands are doing so far
Canon – “Canon will make full use of the .canon domain name to increase the convenience and effectiveness of its online communications.”
Unicef – “As time goes on, a name such as www.donations.unicef or www.cards.unicef will become more intuitive in a more crowded internet space.”
London & Partners, on behalf of the city of London – “We believe that owning the .london domain name will not only generate increased opportunities for the promotion of the capital, but will achieve benefits for businesses and organisations across the city.”
The .brand application period through Icann will run from 12 January to 12 April 2012. The list of applicants will be published in April 2012, with evaluations to proceed through to November, when the outcomes will be announced. The next chance to apply will be in 2015.
Alongside .brand domains, Icann is inviting organisations to register more generic terms, such as .hotel, .bank, .music, .london or .nyc. The registrars could then sell sub-domains onto smaller organisations. For example, independent stores could register their trading name under the relevant category.
If a category-led domain holder has specific criteria for its category, it must enforce that criteria equally, for example, stipulating that sub-domains of .bank will be awarded to banks only and sub-domains of .eco will be awarded to environmental organisations.
Icann will favour trademark holders for trademarked brand names but will award the registration of common word domains to open communities over brands. For example, HMV would be the likely winner of .hmv, but it would not be granted .music. Once registered, .music could then be the home of sub-domains for smaller businesses to register.
A brand with a common word name such as Apple could face a battle from an organisation such as an apple growers’ union. However, a brand could settle privately with the opposing organisation.
Brands can file an objection if they feel someone is infringing on their trademark. If two parties are applying for the same domain name, a panel of experts outside Icann will decide which is the rightful candidate. If no resolution can be achieved it will be awarded to the highest bidder at auction.
Sources: Icann and Melbourne IT