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Prepare Your Brand, The Internet is Changing Forever

In this increasingly digital world, your website is your most critical brand touch point. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: “What was once delivered is now found.” What was previously marketed and communicated in a targeted, proactive manner is now more often than not simply discovered online as your brand is subject to Internet searches and advanced consumer research methods. Your website is likely where your brand first makes contact. This goes for both B2C and B2B.

But when you hear that the Internet is about to undergo its most drastic development since its inception, brand managers had better be listening. How your website is perceived and how you use it to communicate with your audiences may be affected sooner than you might think.

Listen up, because there are things you should be doing now to prepare.

To cut right to the chase, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is about to introduce over 1,000 new top-level domains to the world. Naturally, this raises some fundamental questions:

What is a top-level domain (TLD)?
Essentially a TLD is what comes at the end of your website’s root URL.
TLD

Before 1998, there were only eight available for use including: .com, .net and .org. In 2000, seven more TLDs were made available by ICANN including .biz and .info. Finally, in 2004, eight more were added to the list. Now however, they have opened the floodgates. In 2012 ICANN held open applications for new TLDs and for the low price of just $185,000 you could apply for your place in the web’s future. Nearly 2,000 new top-level domain applications were submitted by some of the world’s largest and most well-known brands. Under review for over a year now, ICANN is about to begin making those domains approved by the organization a reality.

What new TLDs are coming out and can I register them?
It is estimated that of the nearly 2,000 TLDs applied for, the final number that will be approved will be more like 1,200. Still, compared to what’s been added/available in the past, this is a huge shake-up for what people have come to know. The final list of approved TLDs is still yet to be released, but here’s the complete list of all the domains applied for.

The other outstanding question is how many of the final, approved TLDs will actually be available for you to register and use? As I mentioned before, the applications came from some of the world’s most influential brands and some are going to most assuredly be locking down the use of their TLD vs. making it available for registration by other organizations. For example, McDonalds isn’t going to be too keen on letting just anyone use their trademarked .mcdonalds TLD. Other companies such as Amazon are expected to allow registration for their broader category TLDs: .buy, .play, .coupon, .read, etc. and utilize them as an added source of recurring revenue. Only time will tell which will be up for sale. The release date for the first series of new TLDs is at this time still undetermined (but anticipated to come within the next couple of months).

Wolfedomain created an informative infographic illustrating the most involved brands and most popular new TLD categories. Very interesting is the list of brands that opted not to be involved in this new round of TLD creation.

What’s going to happen to .com?
This is a hotly debated topic, but as more and more TLDs come into use throughout the remainder of 2013, there will likely be a period of slight confusion and uncertainty as the general public gets used to the idea of these new domains. Within that time, “.com” will continue to be king. And even after brands have begun to widely adopt the new extensions and have included them in their marketing efforts, their “.com” domain will remain intact — if for no reason other than to forward visitors to the new address. The reality is that today we find companies online by either typing their name into a search engine or by taking a shot in the dark with “www.brandname.com”. This will not change overnight.

What can and should I do now to prepare?
Whether you’re sitting there thinking “I need to get one of those new domains” or not, brand managers need to be considering how to proactively protect their trademarks. You don’t want to wake up one day and see YourBrand.sucks has become a big hit online. Obviously ICANN has thought this through as well. In the process of opening up TLDs to such a wide group of applicants, it has also created the Trademark Clearinghouse. The website for the Clearinghouse states quite boldly (and quite accurately) that it “is the most important rights protection mechanism built into ICANN’s new TLD program.” Essentially, it was established to ensure you’re not left out to dry when new TLDs go live. And it does so by allowing you to submit your trademark to their database.

By registering your trademarks with the Trademark Clearinghouse, you are granted two critical benefits:

1.) If someone tries to register a domain that in any way infringes on your trademark, you will be notified and you can advise on the best course of action.

2.) During what has been deemed the “Sunrise Period” you will be guaranteed the right to purchase new domains associated with your trademark before they are available to the general public.

These trademark services are now open and I would recommend that you move quickly in submitting your trademarks to at least ensure yourself some peace of mind. While we wait to hear how and when the new TLDs are to be released, give some thought to the domains that could most benefit and accurately represent what you’re trying to do with your communications online. New TLDs open up the opportunities to better express your business’ focus, create memorable addresses to ensure better retention, better market your products and services online through custom URLs, etc. etc. The possibilities are endless and the concepts are in their infancy. It’s time to put on that thinking cap and figure out what makes the most sense for your brand.

But in the meantime, you’ve got some trademark submissions to get to.

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