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Halftime Is over for the New gTLD Applicants: Musings of a Hungry Marketer

As I sit in Schiphol airport awaiting the final leg of my journey home from ICANN Toronto, I’m thinking of all the work that lies ahead in the coming months. The sense of being caught in the holding pattern that descended over the industry after the Prague meeting and lasted into September, is evidently over. The wheels have thankfully begun to turn again on the path towards the new TLDs finally going live.

The future is bright, and it’s clear people are liking ICANN a little more at the moment. As the ICANN meeting wraps up it’s marathon of sessions, hallway meetings, and some great social events, the announcement of the rollout timeline has ended the halftime break we were on, and the game is now back on.

Certainly, the plan announced for the rollout invited the usual quips ‘Why IDNs first?’, ‘Are we really being asked to pay $100?’ ‘Would $1 not have sufficed after our $185,000?’. Of course the concern remains that there will be a few unexpected delays in our short-medium term future. However, the support for Fadhi ChehadĂ©‘s new commercially flavoured momentum, his decisive moves thus far, empowering his teams to act with authority, has left everyone with a renewed sense of excitement. There is new confidence that ICANN and the extended business and government constituency ecosystem, will manage to collectively bring the new ‘Gs’ to life starting next Fall.

With some of the ICANN process barriers now set aside (all we needed was certainty on the timeline!!) the pressure now lies firmly in the hands of the applicants. The critical success factor of this program depends on new TLDs being introduced to the internet and digital marketers at large, in a manner that clearly demonstrates their value and leaves no question as to their application. Their place online needs to be validated through usage cases and anchor tenants—right at the point of launch.

I have always thought that brands coming out first would serve us all well. It would give new TLDs a broad stamp of approval and lend much needed credibility to new domains. If global consumer brands were seen using a TLD, the concept would invite the right kind of attention and prompt businesses of all kinds to start thinking through how they see their own brands positioned in light of the arrival of these new digital marketing tools. Although few of the brands who have applied intend to begin using their TLD immediately, a handful have well-thought through strategies. Some intend to use them to break up their existing websites into smaller, better defined consumer access points. Others plan to use the TLD to position sub brands, as well as several other clever brand strategies which will leave their competitors feeling a little sheepish over their initial negative attitudes to the new gTLD program.

The new generics and geographic names can take a page from the brand book as well. Those who manage to nail down early partnerships with brands and other online properties willing to be promoted using their TLD, will be far more likely to enjoy a successful launch.

One of my favorite moments during the Toronto event was a chat I had with Lori Anne Wardi, known for the great success and indeed, innovative marketing campaigns of .CO. Most in the industry would cite .CO, (with .ME close at it’s heels - I LOVED that video), as the touchstone of success for marketing done right when it comes to domains. During our conversation, Lori described the long battle of winning over the few initial brands to use .CO; ‘Some of them were fairly open and curious during my first calls. But when I followed up to confirm, they had consulted friends and colleagues who had questioned their intentions to use the domain. They were dismissive and condescending and asked if .CO was in fact a fake name or some kind of scam’. Everything took off for .CO when the first names were used by brand titans such as G.CO for Google and T.CO for Twitter. It told the Internet at large, this name is cool and we chose it because we believe it will gain us a strategic edge in our digital strategy.

Using known brands should be the number one goal for new TLDs looking to plant their flag on the summit when they finally reach the end of the long rocky climb that has been the application process. Get your name used by someone well known and you have arrived on the Internet as a TLD worth using. From there you can go on to use every other tool in the domain marketing bag of tricks; from promoting select premium names pre-launch, co-branding/bundling with other services, to using search marketing to appear in your niche market as if it always belonged there.

But start with looking real.

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