Practical considerations for owners of new .brand Top Level Domains (TLDs)

Written on 17 February, 2012 by Larry Bloch
Categories CEO BlogDomainsTags domain namesonline business

Over the last few months I have repeatedly been asked to comment on the impending launch of the new TLD domain names - often referred to as .brand. For those that don't know, ICANN - the global domain name regulator - has opened the domain name system to allow organisations to apply for Top Level Domains. These are effectively on a par with .com or .net or .au or .nz.

There have been two distinct groups of applicants. The first and probably the largest are the so called "dot brands". These are (mostly) major international brands such as IBM or Canon who can afford the $185,000 application fee and the $25,000 per year license.

The second are "open" or "closed" general namespaces - for example ".lawyer". The idea here is that the operators will run a domain name registry equivalent to .com where applicants can apply for a domain name under the new ending. So the law firm Clayton Utz may apply to register claytonutz.lawyer and use that as their corporate web address, email addresses etc.

For the first group, the reasons provided by some multi-nationals to consider the massive fees are variously for marketing purposes, for brand building or defensive (ie: to prevent another similarly named company to get "their" top level domain).

Whilst I do believe there is a demand for these new "dot brand" TLDs I wonder if all the practical, real world difficulties of using these TLDs have been adequately considered. Here are some that spring to mind:

Email Addresses

Dell currently use dell.com. Email addresses are of the form michael@dell.com. If these email addresses are shortened with the new TLD to michael@dell, I can foresee a few difficulties to overcome:

  1. Many web forms validate email addresses before allowing you to submit. Most expect email addresses to be in the for somthing@somethingelse.anotherthing. michael@dell will simply get rejected by 99% of web forms that validate email addresses.
  2. User acceptance is going to be an issue for a long time. The public are simply not used to seeing an email address of the form michael@dell and will assume it is incorrect. There will be very few addresses of this format for a long, long time.

Website Addresses

If businesses are intending to use the new TLD as a website address, I can foresee significant issues for marketing departments. Lets say IBM decide to put their website at http://ibm.

  1. How do you communicate that in a print or TV ad? Currently at the bottom of advertising we've all but dropped the "http://www." and just have something live "Visit ibm.com for more information". That's no longer going to work - what would most viewers do if a visual ad had "Visit ibm for more information". It's not obviously a web address. So we'll have to go back to "Visit http://www.ibm for more information" or more confusingly "Visit http://ibm for more information". Both are longer than "ibm.com" and seem a step backwards.
  2. Given there will be a miniscule percentage of the worlds website addresses using these new names, there will not be widespread acceptance without a massive marketing spend to re-educate users to this new format that seems to break the current convention. So lots of marketing expense, lots of customer and market confusion and at some point you have to ask "to what end?"

These new TLDs are coming. Despite a spirited campaign against their launch by various groups -notably trademark holders - these names will go ahead. Significant sums are being expended in the process. To my mind, much of the reason for a .brand TLD is corporate vanity - there is no technological benefit to .ibm vs. ibm.com. Apart from appearance there is nothing you can do with .ibm that you can't do with ibm.com. Corporate vanity maybe a perfectly good reason and these organisations may have business cases that will ensure a return on the investment. I look forward to learning what those are. On the subject I remain agnostic, but sceptical.