Time to Rethink Your Domain Name

Move over, .com, .org, and .edu. Thanks to a decision last summer by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), additional generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, such as .web, .bank, and .africa, are coming to town. Perhaps even more important to businesses looking to strengthen their identities, new brand-specific designations, or .brands, will become available as well.

ICANN is already expecting to receive several hundred applications for new designations when it begins accepting them on Jan. 12; the acceptance period ends on Apr. 12, 2012. If you haven’t thought about a .brand domain for your business, now is the time.

The idea of applying for their own .brands—imagine .ibm, for example—looks attractive to some large companies because it would let them establish “branded islands” on the Internet. A corporation could populate such an island with franchisees, resellers, affiliates, and agents, ensuring that company policies are followed in sales channels. Or perhaps each product under the brand umbrella could have its own home on a .brand island, providing greater visibility.

Most businesses with plans to apply for .brands are staying silent on the subject. Notable exceptions are Canon and Hitachi, which have stated publicly their plans to apply for .canon and .hitachi, respectively.

When considering whether or not to apply, businesses should ask themselves the following questions.

Would a wide-open domain namespace bring particular value to my company?
Are you frequently launching new products, services, or titles? Are you often forced to purchase domains on the secondary market? If so, having access to .brand registrations to promote your various offerings makes sense.

Does my company name lend itself to a .brand domain name?
Some business names are simply too long to make sense as a .brand. And if you’re looking to register multiple variations of a name, such as .lego and .legos, you’re out of luck: ICANN’s rules forbid it.

Will there be other contenders for the .brand I want?
Companies that mull this question may have already faced the same type of problem. (Think Delta Airlines vs. Delta Dental vs. Delta Faucets when you think .delta.) Unlike in the .com world, where delta.com can coexist with deltadental.com, there can be only one .delta. In fact, ICANN will not allow two applications for names that are similar enough to create user confusion. And if multiple businesses request the same name, the highest bidder in an auction would win it. If you fear competition, apply early.

Can a .brand solve inconsistency problems for my company?
As a .brand registry, you’ll get to set rules for how the domain will work, as well as define what happens when the rules are broken. This can provide a great way to rein in noncompliant affiliate or dealer networks, for example, that are flouting the terms and conditions of agreements with you.

Can we afford the costs and resources involved?
The application fee is $185,000 and operational costs can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to seven figures annually. A completed application typically will run at least 225 pages, requiring detailed descriptions of operational, financial, technical, and administrative plans. Parties included in helping you decide whether or not  to apply for a .brand should include marketing, e-commerce, IT, legal, sales, and channel-management personnel.

Nobody knows just how popular .brands will be, but in the event that they are the greatest thing since .slicedbread, having one may signal that your company is an innovator, just as lacking one could make your enterprise look behind the times.

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