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New gTLD Brand Congress Emphasizes Consumers and Innovation

The New gTLD Brand Congress held earlier this week in New York provided terrific insight into how brands and New gTLD businesses are approaching the space. We saw evidence of forward movement and decision making. Overall, the main takeaways were:

• Established brands need to focus on enhancing customer experience in a new .brand world; and

• New gTLD businesses or registries will find security/stability to be critical for gaining public trust and connecting with representative communities.

Big Brand Decision Making Case Study – CITIBANK (.citi)

Mr. Louis Cohen, Citibank SVP of Internet and Digital Marketing, identified the critical questions that informed Citibank’s decision making. The first question was “what extensions might be relevant?” Because Citibank has a wide scope of financial products/services, the Citibank team came up with hundreds of potential strings to consider, including .fin, .bank, .mortgage, .citibank, .creditcard etc. Next, Citibank considered how it might use a new string, and whether that use would enhance Citibank’s customers’ experience. Lastly, Citibank looked at whether its competitors would gain an advantage by pursuing certain strings and whether there were any “risks” to the Citibank brands. According to Mr. Cohen, Citibank “spent months” thinking through these questions.

Ultimately, the value proposition for Citibank, according to Mr. Cohen, was to work toward creating a better consumer experience. The result will be taking Citibank’s very large/diverse digital footprint and consolidating it into one .citi footprint that will be simpler for consumers and easier to protect from a security standpoint. “Citbank sees opportunity in consolidating its digital footprint into something only we can control” and will allow it to unite its global internet presence “making it easier across the board”, stated Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Cohen noted that Citibank would still be active in the .com/.net world and that it would have considerable work to do on the SEO front in order to make sure it adapts its content to be searchable in a New gTLD world and an increasingly “mobile first environment.” Citibank is also considering the possibility of giving its customers their own .citi email address and contemplating how to treat 2nd level domains in a .citi TLD.

Donuts – A Data Driven Process

Mr. Richard Tindal, COO of Donuts, also spoke at the Congress and discussed the evolution of Donuts and its business plan. Donuts has garnered a lot of press because it applied for 307 New gTLD strings.

Mr. Tindal explained that the Donuts process of picking strings was “intensely data driven.” They considered terms which scored high in tests gauging factors such as longevity, usage, rate of entry, potential for conflict with existing brands etc. Donuts has created a proprietary algorithm to consider all these factors.

Mr. Tindal stated that Donuts views its business as being similar to a “content agnostic” Internet Service Provider that would offer consumers “great domains” in interesting spaces and that Donuts planned to implement trademark/brand protections beyond those required by ICANN.

Overall, Mr. Tindal estimated that Donuts would likely end up owning over 200 of the 307 gTLD strings it applied for.

Innovation in the New gTLDs

The final panel of the Congress focused on innovation and the future of the New gTLD space. Mr. Roland LaPlante, SVP and CMO at Afilias, Mr. Hal Bailey, Strategic Partner Manager at Google and Mr. Tim Switzer, CFO and COO of DotGreen, all spoke on the issue.

The panel first discussed the existing challenges to the New gTLD system. Mr. LaPlante offered that the biggest challenges would be government interference and attempts “to control the [Internet’s] naming system” as well as how ICANN and consumers respond when TLDs fail or are decommissioned. He wondered how this type of “shock” to the DNS system might affect Internet stability.

From Google’s perspective, Mr. Bailey explained that “consumer confusion” was a huge issue because the general public “doesn’t know and doesn’t care” about New gTLDs, and that it will confuse people and require a transition for users over a “consumer confidence” barrier, which he believes can be made rapidly.

On the ICANN side, Mr. Switzer of DotGreen explained that many of the details regarding New gTLDs are “still in play,” including important issues like the registry agreements. These would need to be resolved quickly in order for ICANN to meet its deadlines and will be important topics at the upcoming ICANN meeting in Beijing. He also noted that DotGreen has taken a hands-on approach to its involvement with the relevant “green” community by working with green organizations in local communities and creating “green” partnerships. This type of interaction will be an important part of making sure that DotGreen (and other gTLDs) connect with consumers.

The panel also discussed the future of the DNS system in a New gTLD world. Mr. LaPlante cited unpublished research commissioned by Afilias (to gauge potential consumer attitudes and behaviors) which seem to indicate a positive reception for New TLDs:

  • 78% of consumers are unaware of New TLDs
  • 39% of consumers would likely trust a .brand TLD
  • 28% of consumers less likely to trust a .brand TLD
  • 48% of consumers believe .brand security would be better than generic TLD
  • 37% of consumers believe not having a .brand shows lagging behind competitors

Lastly, the panel agreed with Mr Bailey’s assessment that there would be “a very large upward swing in technology over the next few years” and that the New gTLD system could bring innovation and fresh ideas to businesses.

By David Mitnick, President DomainSkate LLC

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