- by Stuart Fuller, Head of Brand Services -
The importance of establishing and maintaining an online presence is now well understood. The introduction of new Top Level Domains, through ICANN’s new gTLD program, has brought more competition and choice to the online domain market. For corporations, that applied for and are now running their own DotBrand, the challenge of owning and operating their own TLD, which is a business critical piece of internet infrastructure, is one that they may not have the technical competence, specialist in-house resources and capabilities to operate and deliver a return on investment.
The new gTLD program was a concept driven by the Internet community and is designed to overcome the perceived shortage of Internet addresses, drive competition online and provide a vehicle for innovation. Organizations that now own a DotBrand have the unique opportunity to create a unified and globally consistent digital namespace and demonstrate their commitment and vision to being online innovators.
Each applicant back in 2012 had very clear reasons for applying for a DotBrand, the core reason for most was the protection of their brand name in the competitive digital environment. If anything, that landscape has got more competitive and any advantage a brand has today needs to be furiously defended. Those organization that did apply for their own DotBrand ultimately have a unique asset over many of their competitive peers but only if they choose to use it.
The key benefits that a DotBrand delivers to an organization are the same today as they were nearly ten years ago. Whilst the risks and rewards of being present online have evolved, with more and more consumers joining the world wide web on a daily basis, the constant for brand holders is the need to provide a secure and stable environment for their customers today and tomorrow. Each stakeholder within the organization has their own priorities from the DotBrand, which include:-
These defining reasons are not only important for existing DotBrand holders but are also important for future applicants who sooner rather than later need to consider whether they will see a return on investment in applying for and adopting a DotBrand for their organization. In fact, some organizations have already started their next generation digital strategy by engaging with organizations such CentralNic’s DotBrand Solutions consultancy to create the digital brand objectives that a DotBrand can deliver across the whole organization.
In 2011 Marketing Week heralded the “new domain names that will be a game changer for brands”, highlighting the launch of the new gTLDs and specifically, DotBrands. The article provides some bit-sized examples of the advantages of owning and running a DotBrand would have for organizations, including input from some prospective applicants. It also underlined the ICANN view 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.
The article finished with the rhetorical question, “Can brands afford not to join the party?” Almost a decade later and hundreds of brand holders now have responsibility for their own slice of the Internet. But have DotBrands created that better user experience yet?
I think most people with an interest, whether vested or not, would have expected to have seen more by now from the DotBrand community. There’s only a small number of organizations who have committed the time, resources and innovation to creating a differentiated user experience. However, the good news is that all of the compelling reasons that motivated brands to apply a decade ago still exist today, starting with naming conventions.
Over time, URL structures become more and more complex, with unintelligible strings of alphanumerics. Whilst the user experience is normally menu-driven URLs can be unlimited in length and one look at the browser bar can confuse even the most technically-savvy users. Using a DotBrand allows organizations to press reset and create new URL name conventions that follow sense and logic – for instance www.jobs.abbott/us. That is significantly better and easier to remember that the URL to buy my favourite sausages at a popular supermarket - https://www.sainsburys.co.uk/shop/gb/groceries/meat-fish/sausages#langId=44&storeId=10151&catalogId=10241&categoryId=276041&parent_category_rn=133 43&top_category=13343&pageSize=60&orderBy=FAVOURITES_ONLY%7CSEQUENCING%7CTOP_SELLERS& searchTerm=&beginIndex=0. Using a DotBrand to design a better naming convention and ultimately a new user experience is a key advantage those DotBrand holders have today.
Owning a DotBrand allows an organization to quickly register short-term campaign or information domains. For many brand holders, there are inherent risks in launching a new brand or campaign, hoping that they are not already too late in registering the names they need. Owning a DotBrand allows an organization to have complete control of the domains they register and actively use. For instance, many brands have launched specific information pages on COVID-19 such as www.coronavirus.dhl – because the page is registered on a DotBrand, users know that it is a genuine page. Likewise, keyword rich domain names which significantly improve the search and user experience are easy and quick to create, such as www.drive.bmw or www.applemusicforbusiness.apple.
One user experience that some brands have considered is how to use individual domain names created under the DotBrand as unique and secure customer identifiers. This would be an interesting concept for financial services customer, who were quick to bring DotBrand to market. Barclays were one of the first major brands to move from a .com to their .Barclays back in 2015, whilst BNP Paribas (www.mabanque.bppparibas) and Banco Bradesco (www.banco.bradesco) retain high rankings still in the Alexa Top million domain names based on traffic. With customer security one of the biggest areas of concern for banks, being able to verify user credentials using a unique domain name could be a perfect example of how DotBrands can drive innovation.
The user experience is a very subjective thing. There is no doubt that the few hundred brands holders who applied for and have subsequently launched their DotBrand have a competitive advantage in the digital world but few Internet users would be able to clearly see the benefits. However, in terms of building safer, secure and innovative solutions around the DotBrand there is no doubt that the user experience will be enhanced and that can only benefit the reputation and ultimately, the revenues of the brand.
Whilst there are multiple opportunities for DotBrand holders today and in the future to be one step ahead of their competitors in terms of owning their own slice of the Internet, one specific area that many applicants will consider to be their priority in owning a DotBrand is in creating a secure, trustworthy online environment.
The DotBrand applicants, both today and in the future, can do this in a number of ways. By owning a DotBrand, organizations own their own slice of the Internet. They control who can and cannot register domain names, which regions can access web content and the levels of resilience and robustness of the DNS. In an age where cybercrime is probably the biggest threat to every business, being able to control the core internal infrastructure is a major security advantage. Being able to control who can access content, when and where puts them brand holder in complete control of the user experience they deliver.
DotBrand applicants are able to create their own security policies and infrastructure, which reduces the reliance and high costs of using third party enterprise DNS solutions. In addition, organizations are able to create their own domain security ecosystem, including implementing DNSSEC on all domains. In a digital world where cyber risks are increasing, having control over security and trust is paramount for successful brands.
“If it doesn’t end with DotBrand then it isn’t us” should be the mantra for ambitious organizations going forward. The active use of a DotBrand, combined with proactive marketing messages will mean that the organizations can significantly reduce the number of domain names they hold today for defensive purposes, which in turn reduces the costs associated with their domain name portfolio. By consistently using the marketing messages around the authenticity and validity of the DotBrand, customers will start to become familiar with the digital branding and consequently, the importance of complex keyword registrations will be reduced.
Whilst we are still waiting for the first DotBrand to actively use their digital asset as a unique customer identification token, it is only a matter of time before one (or more) implement solutions based around a domain name for each user or customer. As SLDs are unique, in the same way that email addresses are, the options for innovation for ambitious DotBrands are endless.
Security is a key consideration for DotBrand applicants and it is the ultimate brand protection asset an organization can own. Whilst many applications are driven from a marketing and branding perspective, infrastructure and security is without a doubt one of the most important advantages that DotBrand applicants can deliver to their customers. In a world where every organization is a potential target of the cyber criminals, owning and managing a dotBrand is a safe harbour in the stormy waters of the unregulated Internet.
By using their DotBrand, organizations have full control over the registration and use of campaign related domain names, not having to worry about potential acquisition costs of gaining control of relevant third-party owned names. In addition, domain names under the DotBrand can be used to create URLs that match existing brand architecture and have high search compatibility, meaning that less is more in terms of return on investment for both Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing. Exact Domain Match (EDM) capabilities also reduce the reliance on AdWords spend and reduce the competitive digital pressures on organizations.
One specific area that DotBrands address is that of the use of vanity URLs. These are generally shorter, customized URLs that complement rather than replace a brand’s main homepage URL and are designed to be easier to remember for web users and consequently often used for marketing purposes. Vanity URLs often redirect to core web addresses that may either be complex URLs that aren’t easy to remember or may look as if they do not belong to the brand holder. An example of a very well-used Vanity URL is www.iphone.com which redirects to https://www.apple.com/iphone/?cid=oas-us-domains-iphone.com – hardly the easiest string to remember.
Using a DotBrand allows organisations to create URL structures at will and at virtually no cost that are readable, meaningful and memorable – three of the key pillars of search as defined by the major search engines and a number of DotBrands have been able to use their digital asset to great effect during the last few months where updating customers with information on COVID-19 has been essential – such as www.coronavirus.dhl or www.covid19.google.
DotBrands are also now starting to look at using their domains as EDMs, taking advantage of the benefit they can achieve in search rankings – recent examples of domains being used to great effect include www.3door.mini, www.service.bentley and www.365.microsoft.
There was a fear that using a DotBrand would have a detrimental effect on search rankings but more and more brand holders are now investing resources in creating search strategies based on their DotBrands. Surely but slowly momentum is building and it will only be a matter of time before it is the norm to see them at the top of search ranking results.
At the start of the program innovation was related to moving from an existing TLD to the DotBrand. Those first few organizations set the standards for the rest in terms of how to deal with the transition, dealing with Google search rankings and universal acceptance issues. Now, organizations have the opportunity to gain significant positive PR by creating innovative solutions using domain names in a new way. We are yet to see any real new ideas yet by DotBrands in terms of innovation but the opportunity is certainly there for those organizations who want to be seen as pioneers in the DotBrand space.
By owning a DotBrand, organizations have unique advantages in their competitive market to create a new digital identity that few other competitors are able to. The key to taking advantage of this situation and ensuring that organizations are one step ahead not only of their competitors but also those who may have intentions to harm the brand is to have a clear, documented strategy which increasing brand reputation and value not only in the industry sector but also within the geographies operated in.
One of the most important decisions a DotBrand owner has to take is how to activate their TLD – some have gone for the “big bang” approach, moving from a high-ranking existing domain name to their DotBrand whilst others have adopted a policy to launch all new websites using the DotBrand, building user trust and familiarity in the TLD. The right approach is that which is aligned to the organisation’s digital objectives. Whilst the major shift of URL from a traditional TLD to a DotBrand is headline grabbing, implementing incremental webpages and sites using new domain names holds many advantages.
Because there is no “history” in the new domain names being created, they have no search engine history and thus start with a clean slate. That allows organisations to build compelling user experiences in very specific areas and gain natural search traction which will make them stand out in a crowded digital market. For those organisations who are looking at innovative strategies based on their DotBrand, there has never been a better time to gain a competitive advantage in using their digital asset.
A DotBrand is a single, intuitive and secure location at the pinnacle of the domain universe that will vastly improve online marketing, fraud prevention and intellectual property protection. Owning a DotBrand for many organizations is about more than just protecting their own digital presence. It should also encompass new digital concepts, usage scenarios and centralized domain name strategies which will allow an organization to have a complete and cohesive view of when and why domains should be registered, define who has responsibility for domain names and what parameters should be used to expand or contract the domain name portfolio. For those organizations who are yet to determine a strategy for their DotBrand, it is important that a pathway is defined to move the TLD from its current delegated state to active launch and usage.
With more positive noises being made by the ICANN community on a second application round, now is the perfect opportunity for brand holders who want to be one step ahead to consider the advantages that a DotBrand would have for their organisation.
CentralNic Registry Services, a subsidiary of CentralNic Group Plc (LSE:CNIC), have been working with global organizations across all territories and industries since the inception of the new gTLD program on applications, launch plans, use case scenarios, naming convention and day to day management of their DotBrand TLDs. Today, CentralNic manages over 25 DotBrands for 20 clients, with approximately one-third of all registered domain names through DotBrands being on the CentralNic platform.
Utilising the market-leading registry platform, world-class DNS and a team of TLD experts, CentralNic offers products and services for DotBrands at every stage of their development, whether that is stakeholder engagement, activation planning or ICANN eco-system management, backed by the expertise of one of the leading TLD registry operators in the world today.