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Corporate TLDs - Why Keeping Mum Seems to Be the Order of the Day

Global brand protection powerhouse MarkMonitor recently released survey results revealing the intentions of their corporate clients with respects to new gTLDs (see survey here).

After reading the report, it’s fair to say that I’m not surprised by the results, but continue to be frustrated by them. Where are all of these forward thinking and revolutionary online marketers and brand managers? Are they so unaware of the opportunity that has been placed before them or are they just being very savvy?

Whilst 22% of the 97 respondents stated their intention to apply—that’s 21 for those madly reaching for a calculator, a whopping 55% (53 respondents) were ‘unsure’ as to their intentions.

Given the likelihood that ICANN will shortly be providing some long awaited clarity around application dates for the new TLD program (looking more and more likely to open in Q1 early 2011) it is disappointing that such a large number of corporate organisations are still undecided as to the direction they intend to take.

I fully appreciate that with the limited clarity on how to effectively utilise it, public support for the .brand TLD concept has been lacking. However look closely and it screams out to be heard, this is an amazing, one of a kind, opportunity for brand owners to make a huge statement of leadership, innovation and a commitment to the digital space.

Sure, I can hear the trademark attorneys sitting up in their chairs, ready to fire their arguments that the corporations of the world are the ones most severely impacted by this new TLD program and that the large brands have been victims of fraudulent activity both online and offline for years.

I hear you and the ICANN community hears you… your case has been well made over the last few years within ICANN circles discussing the policies for the new gTLD program.

However, at least in my slightly biased view, this is the one time where organisations have the opportunity to ‘redefine’ themselves and rise above the noise cluttering their online messages and build a new home where consumers can begin to easily identify and trust you again.

I agree that brand holders shouldn’t have to go and register their names in every new TLD. However, what I’ve been suggesting to a number of trademark holders around the world is that there is a different way at looking at this program that can seriously benefit your organisation.

Surely some of the millions of dollars you spend each year in protecting and promoting your brand could be used to take it to the next level (and perhaps open yourself to strategies that might actually reduce your expenditure in years to come)?

One can only assume the rationale behind the lack of announcements and/ or the apparent indecision is the result of either one or a combination of the below reasons;

  • No benefit in announcing early – Have the early adopters such as Canon and Deloitte really gained much of an advantage? Hard to say right now but expect to see a few more in the next few months.
  • Confidentiality constraints – For many, in particular brands with acronyms, announcing early may bring unwarranted attention at this stage of the game.
  • Lack of Awareness – Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. ICANN’s communication program for this hasn’t even started yet so expect to see a lot more attention on this in the second half of this year.
  • Uncertain timeframes – Now this I really understand. Brand managers have no doubt been approached by people discussing this new TLD program only to be told that there is no end date and no idea when there will actually be one. Believe me it’s as frustrating for me as it is for you.
  • Implementation Concerns – How do I do this when I’ve just spent millions on my .com address or a new promotion? How do I transition? All common concerns we’re hearing which encourage a ‘wait and see’ scenario.
  • Questions of how to actually use it? – Do I engage with my customers and provide them with a tonykirsch.brand domain name or just use it internally? What value can I add to my customers on top of a clear marketing message that will really help our organisation?
  • Buy in – Getting approvals from all of the relevant stakeholders and sharing the idea internally could be simply too hard. Who is championing the cause at your organisation? They probably deserve a raise.
  • Cost – Many have suggested the USD 185,000 application fee to ICANN is too expensive. In reality, by the time you put together your application, your bank guarantees and your Registry Services it’s going to be much more than this. So if you’re worrying about the USD 185,000 and can’t see the enormous branding benefits and the possibility of reducing your expenditure on brand protection into the next decade, then this opportunity probably isn’t really for you anyway.

All these points are entirely valid and depending on the organisation, could shape the decision on whether to apply or not in early 2011.

However, organisations can no longer afford to be complacent regarding application timeframes. ICANN have specifically stated that they will ‘continue with the current implementation plans leading to the launch of the New gTLD Program’ (see announcement here) and have made significant inroads into the Final Applicant Guidebook which is currently slated for an October or November 2010 arrival.

Examination of the most likely path forward therefore indicates that the program is due to begin accepting applications sometime in Q1 or early Q2 next year and it’s important to note that there is a limited 45 day window so those that don’t submit their application and miss out may be waiting for quite some time for another opportunity and risk being disappointed.

For many organisations, these timelines represent a significant challenge. Whilst it all sounds easy, there is significant time required to educate and motivate key stakeholders to take this innovative step as well as find the right partners to help you with the necessary application and registry services.

MarkMonitor’s conclusion from their research is the same as mine - Given the significant amount of work required for a new TLD application and the obvious necessity to obtain buy in from internal stakeholders, the time to begin these discussions is right now.

I for one can’t wait to watch this unfold.

By Tony Kirsch, Head of Professional Services at GoDaddy Registry

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