By Tony Kirsch
I’ve got enormous respect and admiration for the passionate individuals who are still championing .brands for their organisations in the new Top-Level Domain (TLD) program.
I have the pleasure of assisting quite a few of these on a daily basis and I’m sure their experiences aren’t isolated with other applicants across the globe.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Delays, some stupid process called Digital Archery, GAC Advice, names collisions and negative media – just to name a few of the confidence-sapping issues destabilising the program for applicants. This is without mentioning the difficulties of confidently influencing such an enormous change with their key stakeholders.
Sure, they knew there would be challenges at the forefront of digital innovation in online brand strategy. However, in the words of Coldplay’s Chris Martin in The Scientist: “Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.” (If you’re at NamesCon this week and can provide a guitar and a little liquid courage, I’d be happy to do a very ordinary rendition for you!!).
I’m sure the recent reports about the high costs of switching to a .brand had some applicants thinking their new TLD plans are a car crash waiting to happen.
That said, there are still rewards at the end of the new TLD tunnel for those applicants that have the intestinal fortitude to persist with the rigmarole. It’s not all gloom and doom and with the right strategy you can be singing Queen’s We Are The Champions with your shiny new TLD in your hands. (No, there isn’t enough liquid courage in the world to have me attempting a Freddie Mercury ballad).
Why make the switch
It’s naïve and short-sighted to think switching to a .brand will be anything but expensive and complicated. Attaining any form of real differentiation is difficult and takes immense effort. But what’s your key advantage? Isn’t it simply because YOU CAN (and others can’t)?
You’ve all heard the benefits of a new TLD, from improvements to SEO, message recall, domain name asset management and trademark protection. But how does a new TLD set you apart from the competition?
We know that organisations across the globe spend their entire lives competing on pure product and service improvements to get ahead. Yet despite how far we’ve come in a globalised digital world, it’s hard to differentiate yourself in today’s highly competitive market – and when you do get a half a percentage point gain, it’s only days later when your competitors catch up and copy your innovation, eroding any advantage you may have attained.
Products and services are prone to replication. Differentiation at the brand level is where the most significant gains can be made.
And this is where a new TLD provides an unmatched competitive advantage for the savvy brand.
New TLDs and brand differentiation
The ability to do something that the majority of your competitors can’t do is the holy grail of business success.
If you look at the long-term impact of a new TLD for a brand, it’s one of the ultimate differentiators of all time.
We know that first round applicants are likely to have a huge leg up on their competitors for anywhere from two to five years, which is a competitive advantage luxury you will never get anywhere else.
The only problem is; how do you get there?
While there are no previous .brand examples to demonstrate as case studies, we can look at brands which have performed more traditional digital asset rebrands as examples.
Take www.carloans.com.au for example. In June 2013 the company rebranded (moving away from beep.com.au) and the business saw an immediate increase in website traffic and customers, a decrease in marketing spend, 40% reduction in AdWord spend, and overall growth of 60% to generate turnover in excess of $100 million.
The company’s Director Shaun McGowan said of the rebrand: “Our business is not unique and we have many competitors. In this marketplace, you need a competitive advantage.”
Clearly they found their competitive advantage and achieved it through a successfully deployed transition strategy.
The strategy to switch
You need to have a long-term and a short-term return on investment strategy for your .brand asset.
Obviously, the end goal for your long-term strategy is where you completely deploy your TLD across the organisation and achieve full brand differentiation.
But what can you do now that achieves success whilst building towards your end goal?
My advice is that you launch your .brand around a project that has its own ROI and in doing so, also try to launch it so that it’s working in alignment with either a new product or project. Importantly, in the short-term it must be launched to be complementary to the existing core brand.
Too many people have the misguided mindset that a successful .brand strategy involves turning your .brand on and your brand.com off. It’s simply not the case because it would be too expensive, with a high degree of risk and cause terrible confusion for customers and stakeholders.
Success is about how you launch a .brand in parallel with your existing digital brand that will be complementary to your current operations, but with the ability to achieve long-term goals without the need for drastic corrections.
The question is; what do you do between now and then? Do you sit on the fence and do nothing, or do you take a strong leadership position to become one of the organisations that embraces new TLDs and reaps the rewards of changing the face of digital?
The decisions you make today will ultimately dictate how you get to your long-term goal.
Strategy to success
Mark my words. It might be tricky, but someone is going to get this right. In fact, I know they will because they’re working on it as you read this.
The brands that get it right will be positioned as the leaders in their space because it is one of the few differentiators you can ever achieve that is not easily replicable.
It’s worth remembering that (almost) all applicants applied for a new TLD because they recognised the opportunity presented, even if they didn’t have a strategy for actually achieving it.
Much like the film clip to The Scientist, the new TLD process starts off happy and ends happy. It’s just a bitch in between.
Head of Global Consulting
ARI Registry Services
P.S: You could be forgiven for thinking the words to Coldplay’s The Scientist were actually written as an anthem for all new TLD applicants. Give it a listen for a laugh and tweet me your thoughts: @TonyKirsch_ARI.