Brands have long fought for their own real estate online, ensuring they have control of the requisite domain names for their business in domain spaces such as .com and .co.uk. However, this digital landscape is going through a dramatic change, terraforming to a world where brands have access to what comes after the dot in addition to what comes before it.

This year has seen the arrival of hundreds of new Web extensions, otherwise known as top level domains (TLDs). This means a host of new extensions ranging from generic terms like .ORGANIC to fully branded spaces like .BMW. How will new TLDs change the online landscape? What can marketers do now that they couldn’t before – and build even stronger brands?

Let’s think about what marketers want to achieve most: customer experience and closer customer connections. According to Gartner’s “Presentation for CMO Spend Survey 2015: Eye on the Buyer,” which reported on a surveyed of digital marketers in the U.K. and U.S. in the summer of 2014, customer experience is their number one priority and better connection with customers is one of their top challenges. The different types of new TLDs, by their very nature, help improve customer experience, strengthen trust, and offer powerful branding opportunities.

“.Brand” TLDs Redefine the Customer Experience

Over 600 brands around the world have applied for their own branded Web extensions, described in the industry as “dotBrand” or “.Brand” domains. Using .BMW again for illustration purposes, consumers are likely to remember and easily relate to a microsite at “www.experience.BMW” than one at “www.BMW.com/experience.” Brand connections deepen automatically as random letters like “.com” disappear and the brand is the focus of every web page, email, and service message. Consumers will have a clearer and more focussed experience with the brand wherever they go digitally.

In a .Brand domain, the brand owns and controls the entire web extension. This is dramatically different than legacy domains like .com, where anyone can own one with no verification or checking whatsoever. .Brand operators can decide who can get an address on that extension and how the address can be used. This allows .Brands to keep out the bad guys and only allow known and trusted registrants like franchisees and resellers. As a result, consumers won’t have to worry about counterfeits or service quality anymore when they shop online because all they’ll have to do is to look at the site’s web address and ensure it is on the brand’s .Brand domain.

Research we conducted earlier this year found that almost one in three consumers (31%) in Britain believe that the .Brand extensions are more than or equally as trustworthy as traditional .com or .co.uk Web extensions. 13% of people would feel that brands are “behind the times” if they were not using branded Web extensions.

What’s more, the .Brand operator has access to all the behavioural data they get from owning the web extension. Unlike owners of a .com address, they can run much deeper analysis to better understand customers’ needs and optimize their digital architecture, content, and offerings – all of which contribute to the customer experience.

“Restricted” TLDs Enhance Consumer Trust

Not all businesses will need or want their own .Brand TLD (it is a substantial financial investment to apply for a TLD and manage it). Another alternative is to use a descriptive but restricted TLD: web extensions that tout a specific industry or purpose that only qualified entities can use. For instance, the “.ORGANIC” TLD is restricted to bona fide organic community members. Registrants in the .ORGANIC TLD must pass a verification process (e.g. provide their certification number). Applicants who cannot pass the verification are rejected. In the new restricted TLDs such as .ORGANIC, qualified companies can now stand apart as the real deal, especially when compared to their competitors in .COM, whose only qualification is their ability to pay.

New Generic TLDs Offer Creative Ways to Reinforce Positioning

With hundreds of new generic TLDs now available (and hundreds more coming soon), marketers can get creative and look for the TLD that best represents their business and their brand’s characteristics. For instance, if the brand is about raising breast cancer awareness, “.pink” will be a great TLD for a new address. If the brand is about a luxurious lifestyle, “.rich” is a smart choice. If the brand is targeting the mobile consumers in China, consider “.移动” (“mobile” in Chinese). This is a paradigm shift to many marketers – that they can (and should) tell consumers what their brand stands for right from the web address itself. In many cases, that web address is the customer’s first experience with the brand!

Take Advantage of the Change Now

For the 600 or so brands who have already applied for their .Brand domain, my advice is to develop a long-term digital migration plan. Start small by putting new products on the new .Brand address, or migrate a section of the current corporate site to a .Brand address (e.g. the investor section or news section). Put a current promotion on a .Brand address. A gradual migration of traffic will capitalize on your SEO investment while upgrading you to your future platform. Test and learn: this is a brand new territory for all marketers after all. It is important that marketers start planning and experimenting NOW, see how that’s impacting the customer experience, and continue to optimize the migration plan.

For large brands that have not applied yet, pay close attention to the .Brands in this first round of pioneers. Watch how they transition. Look for successes to replicate and mistakes to avoid. The second round of .Brand applications will likely begin within 24 months. Now is the time to research, learn, and get ready for the application.

Finally, for the rest of the brands in the world, the first step is to reconfirm what your brand truly stands for. Then, start reviewing all the new TLDs to find the one(s) will help reinforce your identity. This is a major brand enhancement effort and deserves your marketing team’s full attention.

How brands and customers interact online will continue to change – and quickly! I believe that five years from now, most brand leaders will be utilizing these new TLDs to expand and deepen their relationships with customers. The customer experience will indeed start from the web address.

 

By Roland LaPlante, CMO at Afilias

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