An update on dot Brands and New generic Top Level Domains

With so much chat going on about domain name management and the new opportunities to use new dot brand and generic top level domains, this month we caught up with Penny Hearn a director of Demys Ltd. Demys are internet intellectual property specialists based in Edinburgh that are a leading provider of corporate domain name management and ICANN accredited registrars.

GW: Penny, thanks for taking the time to chat, some of our larger clients are looking into addressing the brand or generic top level domain opportunities, what do you think are the biggest issues and opportunities regarding brands and companies buying up branded domain names and generic TLD’s?

PH: Probably the biggest issue facing brand owners is one of operating a sensible and economic blocking portfolio. Historically, this has been fiscally prudent given the limited number of open generic domains, however, with the advent of 100s of new TLDs, the economics no longer stack up. Brand owners face the choice of either investing in costly blocking or electing to monitor the new TLDs for potential infringement and take the necessary enforcement action depending on a variety of factors that need to be determined on a case by case basis. For example, if the TLD is of limited visibility and the domain name doesn’t appear until page 5 of Google, then these could be considered mitigating factors and no action would be necessary. Equally, if the domain name is, for example, in a GEO TLD (referring to a location) in which the brand owner has a significant presence and the registration is likely to cause confusion, then a different approach would be necessary.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the new TLDs do create the potential for creative marketing initiatives. However, the success of the new TLDs will ultimately come down to adoption by Internet users and just how much traction they are capable of achieving.

GW: Counterfeiting using the online medium has always been an issue, the new range of creatively using TLD’s has been identified as an opportunity to address this, can you expand on this?

PH: Some of the new TLDs have created stringent nexus policies that prevent parties not associated with a specific industry from securing a registration. With the right marketing the Registry Operators will be able to provide assurances that only brands that operate at dot.sector are the genuine article. That said, expecting rights owners to migrate from what will probably be a highly established dot com or dot UK domain may be a very big ask.

GW: Branded domains seem to be an opportunity for a brand with different locations or business units or verticals to underline their branded authority. Has there been much take up of buying these domains? Has anyone implemented a dot brand domain and has there been any measurable outcomes from this ?

PH: Of the 1200 applications received by ICANN in April 2012, approximately 600 of these were from so called dot brand applicants. Thus far, less than 10 of these names have been delegated, i.e. able to effect registrations. Examples include BMW, Monsoon, Sky and AXA. At the time of writing most of these organisations have yet to publish anything other than a single web page at nic.[brand] so at this stage it is difficult to determine what direction each will take. One of the key considerations at this point will be the taxonomy of the domain, e.g. what goes to the left of the dot? This should be driven by user experience however it is akin to the chicken and the egg – at this stage users may not understand the new space and dot brands therefore are not entirely sure as to how to structure their names. Further, there are some hurdles that require clearing in terms of gaining the appropriate authority from ICANN, or indeed world governments, to deploy either country names or indeed two character country codes to the left of the dot.

Although not strictly a dot brand applicant, The Australian Cancer Research Foundation launched its dot cancerresearch TLD today (4 Feb) and has reportedly reserved around 80 domains for its own ‘promotional purposes’ including, for example, home.cancerresearch, donate.cancerresearch and news.cancerresearch. This represents an interesting example of what could be done with navigation in a dot brand.

GW: Google have entered the domain industry, why do you think they have done this and can you see TLD’s becoming a signal of trust or intent that will then be used in search marketing?

PH: To my knowledge, Google have never committed themselves as to whether a new TLD will affect search engine ratings. I think they will watch how the market develops and respond accordingly. Beyond this, anything else would be mere speculation at this stage.

GW: Some may say that the latest interest in GTLD’s is another way of ICANN and domain registrars making money. Where does a company draw the line? When do you stop spending money on domain names? And why?

PH: The new gTLD programme was introduced by ICANN to create innovation and choice given the dearth of available domains in, for example, the dot com space. There was a non refundable application fee of 185,000 USD per application so, it would be reasonable to assume that ICANN has profited from this exercise. However, much of this money was spent on evaluating the applications while some is reserved for potential litigation that may result from what some see as a contentious development. Registrars, too, stand to increase revenues from the sale of a significantly larger product set. However, as noted above, and as reflected in our advice to clients, a strategic approach should be adopted. This includes an assessment of investing in domains that could be effectively marketed to good use versus the fiscal implications of such actions. Further, a client may elect to effect no registrations and instead police the space and take the necessary action as the need arises. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all response and much will be dependent on sector, brand visibility, dependence on on-line transactions and any number of other factors.

GW: So there you have it, straight from the domain name management specialists. If you do go ahead with a domain name change, even if it’s just to go HTTPS, please also consider the entire website migration process and everything that is involved in moving your entire library of digital assets.This may affect your bottom line profits in both the short and long term.

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