Your own TLD. Hit or miss?
A few years ago, ICANN opened the door for anyone to ask to create a new top-level domain. Nearly two thousand applications were made in response, about a quarter of them for 'brand TLDs': internet extensions based on brand names. A 'specification 13', as it's known, gives a brand owner complete control over the corresponding TLD.
More activity with .brands
For a long time, not much seemed to be happening with .brands. A few companies, including HTC, actually gave their brand TLDs back to ICANN. They could no longer see any added value in having TLDs of their own. Or they decided that setting up and running a TLD was too much trouble.However, recent data released by ICANN shows that .brands have now overtaken the geoTLDs in terms of DNS query volumes. In other words, there's a lot of activity going on with .brands.
Not many registered domain names
Under the .brands, there are far fewer registered domain names than under the geoTLDs. At the last count, there were just 153,183 domain names with .brand extensions. That's not surprising, given that a .brand normally includes only domain names for the brand owner's own use. Nevertheless, six .brands now have more than a thousand domain names each. And companies using their own TLDs have seen big drops in the amount of internet abuse cashing in on their brand names. They've been able to tell customers not to trust any sites or communications that seem to be theirs, but don't use their .brand.
SEAT and HSBC backing their own TLDs
In other words, corporates are starting to make active use of their own TLDs. Of the domain names with .brand extensions, 57 per cent are now being used. Two of the most successful brands to take the TLD route are Seat and HSBC. Both companies are backing their TLDs strongly. Starting in Spain, Seat is giving every dealer a .seat domain name, so that they can profile themselves as authorised outlets and service centres. For an example, take a look at www.castellanamotor.seat. HSBC began quietly, initially using their own TLD just for social posts. The thinking was that every social post was helping to position the brand. One advantage of using your own TLD for short links is that your statistics remain private. By contrast, if you use a mainstream short link such as bit.ly, anyone can find out how things are going, including your rivals.
Many corporates opt for gradual migration to brand TLDs
Although different organisations have followed different strategies for switching from an established domain name to a .brand, the most popular pathway is this:
Redirect from the .brand to the domain with the familiar .nl, .com or other extension
Use of the .brand for short links in social media communications
Individual marketing campaigns based on the .brand
Conversion of website(s)
Conversion of e-mail
Another ten thousand .brands in the next round?
No one really knows whether there will be another opportunity to create a new TLD any time soon. Under ICANN's multistakeholder model, every decision is carefully considered. As a result, decisions often have long lead times. Given everything currently happening within ICANN, I'm not expecting another round of TLD assignments before 2020. Nevertheless, there's already plenty of speculation about how many more TLDs might be created when the next round takes place. At the Brands and Domains conference, people were talking about ten thousand applications for brand TLDs alone. In the last round, 62 per cent of .brand applications came from European organisations. And nine involved Dutch brands. Therefore, if the historical pattern is repeated, there could be six thousand new European .brands within a few years. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen. However, it's now increasingly clear that a brand TLD can be made to work. Providing, that is, you've got a sound strategy and you understand registry management. We'll continue to monitor developments carefully.