Last week I published a blog looking back on the year that was 2015 and reflecting on some of the challenges and achievements for new TLDs. Turning our gaze forward, I think 2016 is shaping up to be the biggest and best year that we’ve enjoyed to date and will surpass many expectations as we continue the push towards mainstream adoption of these wonderful, innovative digital assets.

Source: http://www.circleid.com

by By Tony Kirsch, Head of Professional Services at Neustar

The year of the .brands

With almost half of all .brands already delegated, many will be starting 2016 with internal discussions on how this investment could move from IP protection to marketing in order to recoup some return on investment.
As I alluded in last weeks’ blog, 2016 will be the year of the .brand — and more importantly, the evolution of the ‘Digital Superbrand’ — a concept very close to my heart.

I’m extremely fortunate in my role at Neustar to work directly with some of the world’s most prominent brands every day and already our workshop diary for 2016 is filling as general interest in other .brand’s initiatives (such as how Barclays and Sony have begun using their respective TLDs) is turning into conversations of « what can we do with our .brand? » and « how do we use it to ensure that our customers realise we are truly different? »

How fast will it roll out? Time will tell, but I’m positive that 2016 will be an opportunity for .brands to really start making a mark on pop culture and move further into the mainstream.

Here’s a few reasons why:

It’s a data driven world – Brands are seeing the opportunity to use their TLDs to learn from data they’ve never before had access to. By controlling their own digital ecosystem, brands have never-before-seen insights into customer behaviour as well as the opportunity to influence that experience to the minute detail.

.brands are about much more than domain names – Organisations are coming to understand that a .brand TLD should be viewed holistically, as part of the wider digital strategy and strategically aligned to genuine business objectives. Simple « promo.brand » domain names are nice, but won’t really get any serious traction or support from corporate executives.

This is an opportunity to really differentiate – Those that really understand the value and importance of their .brand TLDs will begin using it to create genuine differentiation for their brand and customer experience. Competitors can continually work to match your products and services, but a .brand is an asset that cannot easily be replicated or copied.

Second round pressure (watch the rear view mirror) – As more brands move towards launch and utilisation and their successes are made public, demand for a second round of new TLDs will grow, particularly amongst other big name brands who want to access this opportunity themselves. First mover advantage is being eroded daily, and savvy .brand applicants know that competitors who apply in the second round are likely to be much quicker to market and will have learnt from the mistakes/successes of first round applicants.

For many brands, progress may be slow, but nothing will be learned by sitting on the sidelines so I expect to see many brands future proofing their businesses and learning via strategic use of their .brand TLDs rather than the wait and see approach. Leading innovation brands have signalled their intention during 2015 and I think 2016 will see us reach a tipping point for .brand awareness across the globe.

Plenty more in store

There are many other aspects of our industry that I predict we can expect to see some change in as the year progresses.

  • TLDs still in contention have faced many challenges and may continue to do so. Unfortunately for those involved, political issues and lengthy appeals processes may frustratingly cause the processes to continue to be stalled, which may further delay these TLDs becoming available to the public during 2016.
  • New TLDs will continue to gain momentum, including location-specific or city TLDs, as they find a comfortable place within their communities and gain recognition in the media.
  • NamesCon will become the premier event for the commercialisation of our industry as some of the industry’s focus shifts from the previously held policy and technical concerns to the commercial realities.
  • Domain Investors may increase activity as we learn whether events such as GoDaddy’s acquisition of Mike Berkens’ portfolio are signs of things to come or just one off activities (stay tuned for the DNA University session — www.thedna.org — to hear my recent interview with GoDaddy’s GM of Aftermarket Paul Nicks’ views on the acquisition of Mike Berkens’ Worldwide Media portfolio).
  • Smaller new TLD Registries will need to look wider and think of new ways to make revenue outside of domain name registrations as many suffer from the challenges of sustainability. They will need to get smarter and more community driven than ever before in order to drive awareness of their TLDs, and ultimately survive.
  • We will get more mainstream media as we see greater and greater interest and thus, coverage of our innovative projects. We are seeing this shift already — I was recently interviewed alongside a number of other industry names for an article on Bloomberg BNA, and many tech and marketing publications excitedly published details of Taco Bell’s brand new website, to be hosted at the domain www.ta.co.

With increased adoption of new TLDs in general, and .brands emerging substantially, 2016 is going to be a year when we break out of our own ‘bubble’ industry and elevate domain names to their deserved place in the marketing, branding and business strategies of the world’s businesses.

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