GTLD 'Reveal Day' still leaves much to be revealed

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Last week at a press conference held in London, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced that companies and organizations applied for more than 1,900 generic top-level domains—domains such as .SAP and .insurance. The gTLDs will be added to the roster of 22 domains, such as .com and .net, already in existence. The event was referred to as “Reveal Day,” itself a bit ironic since few applicants revealed anything specific about their gTLD plans. Nonetheless, reveal day did show that many b-to-b technology marketers—such as Dell Inc., which applied for .dell, and Symantec, which applied for .symantec—applied for their .brand gTLDs. Fred Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor, a digital brand protection company, said 77 technology companies reserved .brand gTLDs, more than in any other industry sector. Seventy-two media companies, 71 financial services companies and 56 manufacturing companies applied for .brand names. Alexa Raad, founder of Architelos, a TLD consulting firm, said the act of applying for the name isn't as important as the ultimate strategy behind it: “It's not the name,” she said. “It's the business model.” At this early stage, however, few if any of these companies unveiled any details of their plans to use these .brand gTLDs. Josh Bourne, co-managing partner at FairWinds Partners, a domain name strategy consulting firm, acknowledged that many applicants made this first move simply to protect their brands. “They were thinking about getting out early with the name, and [they will] proceed from there to figure out what they were going to do with it,” Bourne said. Other domain name industry observers agreed that many of the applications, which required fees of $185,000, were defensive in nature, as companies positioned themselves if business models for the gTLDs are eventually revealed. Observers said one potential pathway for b-to-b technology marketers could be to reserve the .brand gTLD for their distribution partners. Xerox Corp., for example, applied for .xerox. That name could be used by Xerox's channel partners to provide authorized distributors with a strong brand tie to the company and reassure customers that a distributor with a .xerox gTLD was not selling gray market or counterfeit toner or other products, Bourne said. “It could be powerful from a trust standpoint,” said Daniel Bennett, exec VP at Melbourne IT, a digital brand consultancy. While the tech marketers that applied for .brand gTLDs search for ways to use them, every tech marketer is likely to be impacted eventually by new, so-called “.generic” gTLDs, such as .app or—believe it or not—.sucks. The organizations that applied for these gTLDs have a simple business model: starting new domain name registries to entice (or frighten) enough companies to purchase domains. This is one of the scenarios the Association of National Advertisers warned against in protesting the gTLD application process. If the .sucks gTLD is ultimately approved, domain name experts said it's hard to imagine that marketers of all kinds wouldn't acquire all of the .sucks domains related to their brand just as a defensive strategy. Observers aren't certain that the intellectual property rights protections in place will give marketers the security they need. “There are some modest benefits [to the gTLD program],” MarkMonitor's Felman said. “The question we all have is, 'At the end of five years will the benefits exceed the downside?' ”
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