Domain names are an essential but undervalued aspect of any web-presence. They touch pretty much every part of every business - branding, marketing, legal, customer services and sales . However, domains live in a complex ecosystem and those charged with managing these key digital assets are faced with a myriad of challenges.
Each organisation can benefit from some fundamental best practices as far as domains are concerned: what should be registered to best serve the business, where, with which expert provider and how can each domain be optimised and secured.
That’s why BrandShelter spoke with Haydn Simpson, Head of Brand Services, a division of the CentralNic Group, about how companies can best use the right domains in the right way to enable their business to thrive in the digital channel.
BrandShelter: What are digital assets and why do they matter?
Haydn: Digital assets can be considered as the online manifestation of a brand’s intellectual property (trademarks / patents etc) and can include domain names, social media accounts, website content and images. Collectively they make up a brand owner’s identity in digital channels such as the internet and social media platforms.
BrandShelter: What are users of digital looking for?
Haydn: For businesses and consumers alike, there is now a clear expectation that goods and services can be easily found, and interacted with, in the digital channel using secure, and trustworthy, ecosystems.
BrandShelter: How does a business get what it needs?
Haydn: Twenty years ago, digital channels used to focus on providing information on products and services, which could influence what purchasers would buy in bricks-and-mortar stores. In today’s world, digital channels are not just the first point of contact but represent the entire ecosystem used to buy and sell goods and services. For businesses to thrive online, a clear strategic understanding of how these channels work and the opportunities they provide, is essential for future success. Specialist providers are there to help with the complex tasks of acquiring, managing and protecting digital assets such as domain names, social media presence and overall digital strategies.
BrandShelter: How do brands excel at doing business online?
Haydn: Having the right digital assets in place so that the right people can find the right content at the right time is fundamental to doing business online. That’s why domain names, and SSL certificates, are so important. They are the key mechanisms for establishing and providing a trusted environment where interactions and transactions can take place. Without these assets, brands run the risk of losing customers, either through lack of trust or to third party brands, counterfeiters or fraudsters.
BrandShelter: How do domain names relate to digital IP assets and why are they important
Haydn: Domain names are fundamental digital assets and a significant part of a brand’s online presence. IP, brands, goods and services are often represented directly by domain names and they remain a trusted go-to platform for buying and selling goods. Unlike trademarks, domain names are unique. There is only ever one polo.com (it belongs to Ralph Lauren) and there is only one polo.co.uk (it belongs to Minninnooka). Securing the right domain name in the right jurisdiction can provide a brand with a platform from which to launch its online presence and to clearly signpost its business.
Proactive domain name strategies can secure valuable portfolios that drive traffic and revenue, becoming principal destinations for digital engagement.
BrandShelter: How has the domain landscape changed over the last few years?
Haydn: While the digital landscape has and will continue to greatly evolve, the principles of domains and domain name management have remained relatively stable. Having, and consistently reviewing, the right domain portfolio to match your business needs and reinforce your trademarks is crucial.
This goes hand-in-hand with key focus areas of controlling online costs, maintaining the correct security and protocols around portfolio management and optimising portfolio use. In talking with brand owners, in most cases there are still areas for improvement in the above, particularly now that more companies are principally relying on digital channels to generate sales.
BrandShelter: What's your advice for understanding how to build and maintain the optimum portfolio of critical digital assets?
Haydn: There are three key areas of advice for brand owners:
(1) align the strategy for your digital assets to your corporate strategy and your business goals, making sure key products, geographies and future initiatives are covered;
(2) set up a digital assets council within your organisation, involving key stakeholders such as Legal, Marketing, Finance and IT Security, to give relevant colleagues maximum visibility of the part digital assets play in a successful business;
(3) understand the ROI that these assets give to your business, and visualise this internally with Execs, helping them to see the power of online channels. This will give a solid foundation for future recognition of the importance of these assets and goes a long way to securing relevant budgetary funding.
BrandShelter: What are common challenges?
Haydn: You can’t register every domain name or social media handle. You can’t monitor every digital channel and take action against all infringements. This is the single biggest challenge that our clients tell us they face: how to strike the balance between defensive registration and proactive brand protection. Ultimately, it is normally a question of coverage and cost: cost of registrations v. cost of monitoring and enforcement v. cost of infringements and lost revenue. There is no set formula as each brand’s needs are different. Most of our strategic work is about helping clients to obtain the best coverage for their budget and, in some cases, how to regain control over their brands online.
BrandShelter: How best can a brand owner get visibility of their IP risk and maintain control of their IP online?
Haydn: There are lots of tools and expertise available to help you to understand what is happening in digital channels. Depending on your brands and your business strategy, you may want to focus on specific channels, geographies or even individual platforms. Tools can be affordable and effective – for example, domain monitoring gives a cost-effective “real-time” view of what is happening in the domain space, allowing for proactive decisions to be taken about what infringements to take action against. Pick and choose your battles and maximise every budget dollar.
BrandShelter: How does a robust, secure, protected and optimised domain portfolio benefit a business?
Haydn: The benefits of having control over your domain portfolio and visibility of the domain environment are many and varied. Some of this depends on individual strategies, products and geographies, but there are three central tenets that will benefit any business who has an online presence: Digital channels are here to stay – embrace the opportunity.
Sometimes the pace that digital channels evolve means it is difficult to keep up. However, one thing is clear, they are here to stay. One of the top phrases I keep hearing that has come out of the Covid crisis is “the new normal”. It is hard to say what that is, but all the signs point to digital channels being the most important route to market for almost all B2C and B2B businesses in the future. Early digital adopters are reaping the benefits, and many can follow the same path. Domain names are an integral part of that, critical in how your consumers find, interact with and buy your products and services.
BrandShelter: So, having a solid domain strategy is the only thing to consider thinking about digital assets?
Haydn: Domain name registrations are only part of the story. Creating a trusted environment where your consumers can interact with you in a secure manner is key, particularly as cybercrime is soaring. Robust DNS, effective SSL management and domain locking are some of these key cogs in the wheel and are easy to implement. Plan, execute and maintain strategies that overtly show that you are offering a secure ecosystem and you will reap the benefits.
BrandShelter: That sounds like an expensive plan …
Haydn: Your digital asset portfolio can, and should, be seen as a revenue generator rather than a cost centre. Sure, domain names cost money, but a portfolio that is well managed can contribute many, many times as a critical part of a revenue-generating ecosystem. As an extreme example, amazon.com is the gateway to millions of dollars in revenue every minute, yet costs less than $10 per year to register. An outage on a site like Facebook can reduce its share price by billions. Protect, measure and share the success of your digital assets, promote how IP is helping you to win and shine a light on how important domains are to your business.
BrandShelter: That’s a good point and a nice conclusion. Thank you Haydn, it was great talking to you.
Haydn Simpson is the Head of Brand Services at CentralNic PLC. CentralNic develops and manages its own proprietary software platforms for the global distribution of domain names to all five major customer groups: small businesses, corporate customers, resellers, domain name investors, and domain name registries (both government-operated and privately owned). Additional complimentary products include brand protection, SSL Certificates, domain name and website monetisation, marketing tools and others.
As Head of Brand Services, Haydn Simpson is responsible for working directly with brand owners to optimise and protect their businesses online. He has more than 20 years' experience in the domain and brand protection industry and specialises in helping global brands positively address opportunities and challenges across the digital channel.
Haydn Simpson previously worked at NetNames, CSC and GoDaddy Corporate Domains.