The next paradigm shift in the Internet is coming in 2013. Are you ready for it? Largely under the radar of even savvy marketers, the biggest transformation in digital since the Internet began is underway and will soon start to impact how consumers search and navigate the Internet. Expanding from a universe of 23 generic top level domains (gTLDs) largely dominated by .com to a universe of 1400+ gTLDs, the first new gTLDs—led by Google, Amazon, Microsoft, half of the world’s top brands and new ventures backed with hundreds of millions of venture capital—will begin to launch in the third quarter of 2013. Never has so much money with such a broad and deep scale been invested in changing the Internet at one time.
Half of the Interbrand’s top global brands have applied, led by big banks, finance, insurance companies, as well as media, entertainment, auto and retail entities. When these big brands begin to promote and migrate their consumers from a .com world to a .brand world, consumers will be educated away from the “typosquatters”, phishing and counterfeiters of the .com world and over to a highly trusted and authentic .brand universe. Additionally, the hundreds of new generics will begin to segment the Internet into categories like zip codes of .family, .fashion, .news and .music, just to name a few of the 900+ to launch in the next 18 months. Search algorithms will be adjusted to factor in gTLDs as category indicators, which will have an impact on how people search and navigate. Savvy gTLD applicants will use their gTLD as a catalyst for disruptive innovation and may introduce new ways of doing business.
Despite the benefits to the global community of expanding the Internet environment, there are many critics of the gTLD program who continue to advise brands to wait and see what happens. You may be listening to them. But consider this: while there were many arguments for and against the gTLD program, it has ultimately gone forward and change is underway. Much like “Moneyball” changed the way managers, coaches and scouts think about baseball, gTLDs will change the way marketers think about domain names. A lot of people with loud voices have said they don’t want anything to change nor see why it should change – just as many in baseball didn’t initially agree with the Moneyball way of building a team until the Boston Red Sox won the World Series by adopting it. Similarly, those who understand and execute first on the new gTLD opportunities will surpass those who thought it was crazy, unneeded and a waste of time and money.
As this shift occurs, the most critical step is to understand the changing role of domain names in your digital strategy. Social media, apps and mobile must now be interconnected with your domain name, and domain names should no longer be taken for granted as simply a .com play. Domain names will become channels of the Internet and a source of innovation – just like they were in the 1990s. However, in 2013, digital marketers will need to incorporate a holistic strategy with all three elements equally considered. By the mid 2014, .com will no longer be the gold standard with thousands of other gTLD options available. As gTLDs that are relevant to your brand category, verticals and customers go live, you will need to secure your desired domain names as quickly as possible—while there are certain protections for trademark holders, if you wait and see, you will lose out.
As mentioned previously, .brand owners might use their gTLD for market advantage by offering greater authenticity and security to consumers. For example, if JP Morgan, Citigroup or Visa (just a few of the financial companies that applied) educate consumers to only trust messages from a website ending in .jpmorgan or.visa, then consumer behavior will begin to shift away from a .com world in favor of .brands. As that shift occurs, brands with their own gTLD will have a trusted digital asset and bolstered customer loyalty.
Many retail, travel and consumer goods companies also applied. These companies can use the enhanced ability for naming landing pages to the left of the dot to create a more robust consumer experience. This is possible through building a more strategic TLD architecture that enables companies to better mine important consumer data for use in tailoring sales strategies and customer-driven initiatives.
Media, sports and entertainment companies may also see gTLDs as distribution channels. Brands that own their gTLDs can provide greater security over their sites and create a superior consumer navigation experience across multiple types of devices. While there are many strategies to deploy, one of the most important is using the .brand to think disruptively and innovate as a first mover in the next generation of the Internet. If you knew the Internet was going to change the way we lived in 1990 or that social media would transform the world in mid 2000s, you may have invested in your business differently. .brand owners have that unique competitive edge, particularly if a key competitor did not apply.
Now is the time to think strategically, understand the timelines and prepare. Analyze who has applied and for which gTLDs, discover where your organization fits into the new digital map of the Internet and prepare to file for the new domain names you want beginning in mid-2013.