Why you should be wary of .brand domains

Should brand owners invest in ownership of their own “.brand” domain, or is this just one last ICANN effort to monetise a no-longer-so-important monopoly? 

Three years ago, rumour first began circulating about the possibility of private ownership of top level URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). On June 20 2011, ICANN, the governing body for online domain names, formally approved a decision to allow organisations to register their own names at the top level of the Internet naming hierarchy — appropriately referred to as Top Level Domains, or TLDs for short.

We are all familiar with generic TLDs, .com, .co, .eu, .qa or .ae, but soon we will start to see company domains such as .microsoft, .apple and .bmw. Countries, cities and destinations may register their own domain names too, for example; .newyork, .dubai and .london. Companies will also acquire keywords that relate to their products and categories, consider; .hotel, .computer, .camera or .sportscar.

Big brands with big budgets (US$185k+) will be able to register their .brand domain names early next year — with the process of application opening on 12th January 2012, but only running until the 12th April 2012. It is speculated registration will reopen 2-3 years later.

Online commentary suggests the new TLDs are likely to change the way we find information on the Internet — influencing how we are to organise our profiles and brands online. But I am not fully convinced this will have as significant an impact as the media suggests.

Whilst the recent decision may open the door to many possibilities and opportunities for all manner of organisations — no matter which category you belong — I believe, it may only be for the short term. As consultants and specialists we should not only be aware of how TLDs are to be implemented, the potential implications to naming, trademark registration and our clients’ rights to ownership, but, perhaps more importantly, whether the investment in acquiring a .brand is actually necessary.

As technology evolves, and we continue to develop new and innovative ways for our brands to connect, engage and interact with the audience, in the wider scheme of things, is ICANN’s decision to allow TLDs a last effort to monetize something already en route to becoming irrelevant and obsolete? A slow decision to approve, a phased and filtered process of activation, combined with the high registration costs, suggests it might be.

With the growing popularity of dedicated, branded apps, improved search engine functionality, auto-complete address bars, intuitive web browsers for smartphone and touch-screen tablets, the importance of having the perfect domain name (for people to find and validate our brands) may be coming to an end. Today, having the right .com is still important, but as the devices and tools we use to access content continue to create new methods of interaction, domain names (whether .com or .brand) will not be as crucial to online business success as they once were.

As always, I am very interested to hear your thoughts and opinions on this and any other related subject.