Archive for August, 2015

Challenges for .brands – from strategy to implementation planning

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Corey GrantBy Corey Grant
27 August 2015

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts discussing the strategic and operational challenges faced by .brand TLD owners and the processes involved in getting them ready for use. Previously I discussed how to turn your ideas into a .brand TLD strategy, which you can read here.

While your strategy and objectives speak more broadly to why you’re launching a .brand TLD, your implementation plan covers the all-important ‘how’.

Once you complete your strategy workshop session to agree upon objectives and approach, how do you actually launch a .brand TLD?

You need an implementation plan to guide you from strategy to launch, and beyond. At its core, the implementation plan is a checklist; just like a pilot landing a plane, you need to run through your checklist to ensure you don’t miss any crucial elements. It only takes overlooking one small step to lead to disaster.

While developing your implementation plan is far from the most exciting step in launching a .brand TLD, the project planning work done here will lay the necessary foundation for the creative promotion and engagement activities to come. It will also provide confidence to internal stakeholders that their needs have been considered.

What is an implementation plan?

An implementation plan considers the broad range of internal departments and external participants involved in the launch and operation of a .brand TLD.

One way to think about the implementation plan is to treat it as a risk prevention and mitigation tool. Because of this, several factors contribute to its complexity.

One is the very nature of the complex ICANN ecosystem and intricacies of the domain name industry. Another is the involvement of such wide-ranging areas of the organisation, making it easy to overlook items from areas outside the control of the project owner, if the items are not identified and listed in the implementation plan.

The internal project owner should take the implementation plan and develop it into a fully detailed project plan with timelines and assignments that fit in with all participating resources.

How do you create an implementation plan?

Building upon Neustar’s experience in launching major .brand TLDs around the world, we have built a proprietary implementation plan to help .brand TLD owners navigate the launch process. Outputs typically include a RACI matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) and a Gantt chart.

The intention of the implementation plan is to ensure every deliverable of the strategy is accounted for. This means getting into the minutia of tasks required of internal and external stakeholders.

For example, here are four common topics the Neustar TLD consulting team has covered in the past with clients in our implementation plan:

1. Reserved names – Creating a list of reserved names which need specific sign-off to register. Reserving these names reduces the likelihood of the names being accidentally released to an ineligible internal applicant.

2. Call centre readiness – Ensure the public-facing call centre is trained on upcoming domain name launches. It is no use promoting the .brand TLD only to have a call centre operator direct a caller to a legacy TLD website.

3. Test third-party software – E.g. payment gateways. There may be certain systems which currently rely on connecting to a legacy domain. A plan with IT needs to be developed.

4. PR strategy for analysts – For publicly-listed companies, analysts are likely to pick up on any news surrounding the launch. Be sure there is an educational document so analysts can understand what the company is trying to achieve with the initial use of the .brand TLD.

The implementation plan is an excellent tool to support the broad cross-functional nature of launching a .brand TLD. Your implementation plan lowers your risk and keeps you on track.

What we’ve learnt is that after developing a strategic plan and looking towards the launch of your .brand TLD, the implementation plan brings structure and confidence to the project. For the project owner, it also helps disperse the not-insignificant load of delivering on the strategy.

If you combine a great strategy with a seamless implementation plan, the launch of your .brand TLD will provide your organisation with an asset which will become the foundation of your future digital brand.

Corey is part of the Registry Services team at Neustar, based in Australia. Corey previously worked for ARI Registry Services – part of the Bombora Technologies Group of companies, which was acquired by Neustar on 30 July 2015.

Challenges for .brands – Transforming ideas into strategy

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Corey GrantBy Corey Grant
19 August 2015

This is the fourth post in a series of blog posts discussing the strategic and operational challenges faced by .brand TLD owners and the processes involved in getting them ready for use. Previously we discussed the importance of engaging stakeholders in the decision-making process around operating your TLD, which you can read here.

The importance of engaging with all the necessary stakeholders in your .brand TLD and ensuring you have company-wide buy-in cannot be understated. But once you have all these players in a room together, what’s next?

Every brand launching its own TLD will move through the process differently. Unfortunately for those managing this project, there is no single, ‘off-the-rack’ strategy that will suit every .brand TLD’s individual requirements. Most importantly, the strategy for launching a .brand needs to be tied to what your goals are as an organisation, as well as reflecting your culture and the brand itself.

Once you’ve engaged the right senior stakeholders, your next vital step is to develop a high-level strategy which you can all agree on and allow the project to progress.

The three main benefits of holding a strategy workshop are:

1. Buy-in. The .brand TLD project will require support across the organisation. If senior stakeholders participate, they are much more likely to buy-in to the strategy.

2. Risks and opportunities identified. Only when ideas are explored and challenged, do the risks and opportunities reveal themselves.

3. Shared load. This project is too big for one person, or even one department. The strategy workshop will enable tasks and deliverables to be shared fairly.

In the past, we have conducted a number of workshops with .brands that have involved two or three days’ worth of brainstorming and extraction sessions. This might sound like a large commitment of time, and it is, but spending the time up-front is the best investment that can be made in the .brand TLD project.

One consistent factor is that while our formula for running the strategy workshop remains the same, each one evolves very differently depending on the brand and the people involved. A strategy workshop is a challenging exercise, so bringing in a qualified external facilitator is recommended.

By getting all the major stakeholders involved in a strategy workshop, you are educating and motivating them, as well as building a strategy. You ensure that no major stakeholder is taken by surprise and most importantly, you demonstrate a genuine desire to get their input and have a great opportunity to learn how the project will impact their department.

This participation up-front will mitigate disagreement later down the track, by allowing all those involved to get all the information they need, have their say and be a part of the decision.

Once this is completed, you’re ready to begin developing your implementation plan. This is a far-reaching process which I will delve into further in the coming weeks.

Corey is part of the Registry Services team at Neustar, based in Australia. Corey previously worked for ARI Registry Services – part of the Bombora Technologies Group of companies, which was acquired by Neustar on 30 July 2015. 

Challenges for .brands – How to engage internal stakeholders

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Corey GrantBy Corey Grant
12 August 2015

This is the third in a series of blog posts discussing the strategic and operational challenges faced by .brand TLD owners and the processes involved in getting them ready for use. Previously we discussed the delegation process, which you can read here.

Developing a .brand TLD strategy requires resources and input from almost every function in your organisation.

Unfortunately, most organisations that applied for a .brand TLD have successfully de-prioritised the project to the point where even the executives who signed off on the project in 2011/2012 may need to be reminded what it is.

Funding allocation may or may not still exist. Your digital brand roadmap may or may not include reference to the TLD. You’re essentially starting an internal awareness campaign from scratch.

Yet the stakes couldn’t be higher. Think about the importance of your .brand TLD. To achieve its potential, it will eventually become the backbone for your digital brand. And in today’s business landscape, you can replace ‘digital brand’ with simply ‘brand’.

To add to this challenge, the project won’t succeed without support from across your organisation. Just try to think of an area that will NOT be impacted in some way by your .brand TLD.

To develop a strategy for your .brand TLD, you’ll need to spend considerable time with senior stakeholders in a workshop environment in order to explore options and agree on a strategic direction.

There is one guiding principle that rises above all others when organising your strategy workshop; the need to engage every facet of the organisation. You will need to bring together senior people from all functions – preferably at the executive level.

Why? Three reasons:

1. There is never a shortage of good ideas, but the real challenge is in prioritising them. Opportunity must be balanced against risk, which requires all impacted functions to be represented.
2. Even if senior stakeholders don’t love the final strategy agreed in the workshop, at least they were involved in its creation. This means they will (almost!) never shoot it down later, and are much more likely to actively support it with time and resources.
3. You can’t do this on your own. In order to share the workload of launching and operating the .brand TLD, you need to start distributing the responsibility.

How to bring senior stakeholders together

We’ve held a number of workshops with major brand clients on developing their .brand TLD strategies. Achieving the right mix of participants in the room is always a challenge.

To understand why they should attend, people first need to understand what the .brand TLD is and how it impacts both their department and the whole organisation.

You’ll need a presentation that can capture that story. Remember that you’ll have an audience with differing priorities – what appeals to the marketing team will be different to what appeals to the IT folks. Communicate verbally wherever you can – with so many new concepts the message can easily become lost or confused.

Wherever possible, have the executive of your function raise awareness and gain buy-in from other executives. This will save you time and effort and greatly improve your chances of success.

Who needs to attend?

You need to involve senior stakeholders from all functions of the organisation. This will ensure risks are addressed and there is much less chance of internal roadblocks as you progress.

This doesn’t mean that you need the same level of representation from each function. As a general rule, the three areas which will need to be heavily involved in the strategy workshop are:

1. Marketing (digital, agency, brand)
2. Legal (risk, contracts, governance)
3. IT (web, infrastructure, security)

Plan your approach

We know that change can create fear and uncertainty, and the prospect of launching a .brand TLD will likely be incredibly intimidating for some stakeholders. It’s understandable that some executives might intuitively seek to block the launch of a .brand TLD if it’s something that is being forced upon them, especially if they already have a heavy workload.

That’s why it’s important to engage these internal stakeholders early and seek their input and co-ownership of the .brand TLD project. If your internal stakeholders feel as though they’re included in the change and can influence the outcome, they will be more likely to support the cause.

Your strategy workshop for your .brand TLD is a critically important event. It is worth putting the effort in to bring together the most senior, influential stakeholders you possibly can.

ARI Registry Services is part of the Bombora Technologies Group of companies, which was acquired by Neustar on 30 July 2015. Corey is now part of the Registry Services team at Neustar, based in Australia.