Angie Graves explores the current state of .brand top level domain names.
Dot brands have made great strides in the two years since the first delegations in the most recent round of new gTLDs. According to calzone.org’s gTLD calendar, CITIC Group Corporation, a banking group in China, was the first, with the delegation of .中信 in January 2014. A Google site search today for “.中信” yields more than 5000 results.
As a class of new gTLDs, brand gTLDs are distinct, so much so that ICANN has recognized them with a special provision in its Registry Accreditation Agreement.
In the marketplace, brand TLDs—new gTLDs established by companies, also known as “dot brands”—have been quietly creeping in to customer awareness, mainly in geographies outside of the US.
The dot brand proposition for many companies is dubious, though. People like to walk on firm ground, and there are many unanswered questions that come with venturing into this new territory. Add to that more immediate and pressing matters faced daily by marketing decision-makers, and it’s possible to understand why more companies are not talking about establishing dot brand namespaces for themselves today.
Even among companies whose dot brand has been delegated, use of their TLD’s is limited or non-existent. This makes sense, because companies in the latest round of applications were led most often by legal and intellectual property interests, and because marketing and customer relationship strategies were not necessarily a component of their plans.
“There is an historical element of ip and legal and, in some places, technology. But the value and the benefit that [a dot brand] brings to the organization is at the brand level, and with the marketing function,” says Tony Kirsch, head of Professional Services at Neustar.
Evolution from a defensive legal or technology posture to an offensive marketing posture is beginning to take place, but from a look around the Fortune 50, it hasn’t happened yet. When dot brands as a marketing tool take hold, it will be highly visible to us all. Until then, we are left to watch as they gradually enter the marketplace.
According to a CSC brand marketplace report published in May, there are 90 brand TLDs categorized as “active,” 32 of which have an Alexa ranking, meaning that at least one domain under the .brand is ranked in the top million. Most high-rankers are in the finance industry, including France’s mabanque.bnpparibas and mabanquepro.bnpparibas, Brazil’s banco.bradesco, and the UK’s home.barclays and home.barclaycard.
But domains.google is also ranked in the Top 10 dot brands at Alexa, which by itself is a highly visible recognition of dot brands in a non-financial vertical, adding to credibility and public awareness of gTLDs more broadly. (Google is also the only US-based company in the Top 20 Dot Brands ranked by Alexa, according to the report.)
Still, it will take a lot more adoption and usage to put dot brands on people’s radars, especially those of corporate decision-makers, and their advisors in the online marketplace.
Social marketing strategist and author Ted Rubin has been employed in the online ecosystem since the late ‘90s, and has carried this knowledge with him to the work he does today. With nearly 400,000 Twitter followers, Rubin’s perspective has the attention of a large audience.
Rubin says it’s a no-brainer to make reasonable domain registrations as a way of covering bases, but when it comes to establishing a registry and using a brand TLD in marketing, “I don’t think a lot of mind share should go to how we promote and do that,” he said.
He explained that dot com is sufficient for the needs of most companies today, and that major search engines usually do the job right when it comes to connecting searchers with brands online. “[With] the brand-level names—like dot nike, dot berkshirehathaway, dot kraft—I don’t see a lot of interest,” he said.
One exception Rubin noted in the new gTLD space was .CLUB. “I do hear talk about certain [TLDs], like dot club [as being] relevant.”
This is the challenge and the opportunity for Kirsch and his peers in the industry—communicate to companies the need to incorporate a dot brand into their marketing efforts, or to at least plan for it.
“The world doesn’t change overnight, but it’ll be a gradual, and a strategic thing that people are going to move to—as it should be,” Kirsch said.