Brand domains: Marketing magic or madness?

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Jennifer Wolfe, president, Wolfe Domain
Jennifer Wolfe, president, Wolfe Domain

The Internet is about to dramatically change.  More than 50 % of Interbrand's top brands have applied for one or more of the thousands of new generic top level domain (gTLD) names set to begin launching in late 2013. While bold moves were made by Google with 101 applications, Amazon with 76 and Microsoft with 11, other industry dominance were revealed in applications in the automobile, finance, insurance, technology, luxury goods, pharmaceuticals, and retail sectors. 

These new gTLDs, and the evolution of the Internet that ensues once they launch, will have a significant impact on the direct marketing industry. Online and digital brand strategies must evolve, too. 

With the sheer scale of the launch of 1,400 top level domains (TLDs), owned by some of the most powerful companies in the world, the Internet is set for a paradigm shift. For some brand powerhouses like JP Morgan, PNC, Hartford, Gucci, and Tiffany's, their digital strategy efforts will likely focus on encouraging consumers to only trust the .jpmorgan or .pnc top level domains, thus trending away from .coms to safeguard their customers' data privacy against phishing sites intended to mislead or misdirect unknowing Internet users.

Catering to each customer through gTLDs

Companies like L'Oreal, Safeway, and even financial institutions will now be able to own their data and personalize their messaging and promotions to cater to specific customers. As an example, L'Oreal, which applied for 14 gTLDs including its sub-brand lines, such as .Garnier, .Lancome, as well as generic terms such as .beauty, .salon, and .hair, will be able to drive customers looking for particular makeup or beauty lines to destinations like haircolor.garnier.  L'Oreal will own and control that domain suffix and all the data that comes along with it, specifically customer preferences and buying patterns—thereby enabling the company to create a truly personalized experience.

Likewise, Safeway applied for domains such as .safeway, .grocery, and .just4u, which is the brand used for its “Just for U” mobile app to enhance the consumer shopping experience. The big difference between owning the TLD of .just4u instead of managing a just4u.com domain is that Safeway will have an increased amount of data at its fingertips to understand its customers' buying patterns, preferences, likes, and dislikes, as well as their preferred channels of communication including social and mobile. For example, if I had a jenwolfe.just4u address where I could build my entire shopping list, recipes and coupons, then Safeway could have a platform to gather critical data to tailor loyalty shopping programs specifically for me.

Direct marketers with brand-specific TLDs will particularly be impacted by their increased ability to directly gather research and consumer data.  Combined with data collected from social media, these forward-thinking marketers will be able to better understand what consumers want, and when and where they want it.

The generic play—those that didn't apply

Brands that didn't apply will still need to develop plans to block their trademarks and represent themselves in the new world of gTLDs. This includes pursuing opportunities to observe the companies that will own the 900+ new gTLDs that will launch in 2013 to determine their strategies and initiatives for these domains.  Brands in almost every category will find a generic term related to its industry (e.g., shopping, food) and should consider these terms as a new platform for their domain name. Additionally, from an SEO perspective, brands with category-specific gTLDs will likely see a rise in their position within search results based on increased category relevancy.

Interestingly, some big brands were noticeably missing from those making a play for TLDs:  Nordstrom, Saks, Neiman Marcus, Procter & Gamble's family of brands, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, KFC, Hershey, Kraft, Unilever, Facebook, and Twitter. While many of these brands didn't apply because they have too many product lines to consider and the process was overwhelming, they still have opportunities to participate in the expansion of the Internet through partnerships with big generics or other brand or community sites.

What's next? 

Direct marketers, like most marketing professionals, are just now learning of the pending paradigm shift gTDLs will likely bring.  Although the new gTLDs will not go live until late 2013, now is the time to begin gathering important research and analytics and collaborating with team members on possible actions. The first step is to understand your industry segments and map where they fit within the new brand and gTLD landscape.  Search and navigation will evolve in an expanded Internet environment, so once you have the knowledge about what's happening and what's likely to come, it's time to rebuild your search and domain name strategy and connect it with your social media and mobile strategies as one holistic digital strategy in the next generation of the Internet. 

Jennifer Wolfe is president of Wolfe Domain.

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