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CMOs need to look at new domains as an opportunity, not a nuisance

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The look of the Internet is about to go through a major transformation now that ICANN, the organization that oversees the Web name space, has approved the plan to introduce new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). Instead of being limited to domain names that end in the familiar .com, .net and others, companies will be able to put their brand name or category to the right of the dot. So Marriott Hotels could apply for .marriott or even .hotel. The city of London plans to operate .london.

The people following the proceedings for companies have been the trademark attorneys, and they look at this as a huge nuisance that will add to the costs of protecting their marks from cybersquatters and other intruders. If that describes your view, you’re going to miss the boat. You should instead be looking at the potential business benefits of owning and operating a TLD.

A .brand TLD gives marketers much greater control of their online identities. You can now promote your brand at the root of the Internet with shorter, less technical URLs. You can combine all your Web properties, including product sites, campaign micro-sites and country-specific websites under a single brand umbrella.

While the branding benefits are quite interesting, marketing leaders need to recognize that they are not just buying a domain; they are operating a domain name registry, which introduces unlimited new business opportunities. Here are just a few examples of what’s possible:

Canon could foster brand loyalty by giving every camera owner an affinity domain that stores the camera’s unique identifier in the .canon registry and allows users to easily upload to Canon’s photo-sharing site without requiring a login.

Nike could apply for .run, build a community of running fanatics who get email addresses and secondary domains within that TLD, and allow them to track their mileage and pace.

An entrepreneur could apply for .insurance and operate a registry that sells secondary domain and registry services to any business that wants to be associated with the insurance industry.

Cisco could allow its distributors to operate sites under the .cisco TLD to give them added credibility and validation that they are certified partners.

Applying for and operating a TLD is an expensive and rigorous process, and it doesn’t make sense for every company, so you need to do an opportunity analysis to decide before the application window opens in January 2012. But keep in mind that if you do nothing, one of your competitors could get first-mover advantage in your industry.

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