The Brand Case for Top-Level Domains

The coming new generic top-level domains announced last summer by the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers were greeted by howls of protest from advertising trade groups. The critics paint the advent of brand- and business-specific domains — .coke, for example — as nothing but a shakedown and an invitation to confusion. They’re wrong.

There’s immense opportunity for brands, business, organizations, cities and communities of all stripes in the world of new generic top-level domains. It has the potential for changing how brands look, behave, travel and sound across the connected life of us all. It’s also likely to be a home run for consumers.

We have become so accustomed to seeing the same handful of top-level domains — .com, .org, .net, .edu – that anything else is hard to picture. But for those entering this now fully digitized world we’ve cobbled together over the past 20 or so years, the expectation is hollow. The truth is we’re wasting valuable real estate to the right of the dot. And the reason it’s wasted is because that’s how it’s always been. That’s not good enough.

The potential opportunities are legion – perhaps only outnumbered by the scary variables and unknowns — when it comes to how brands will implement and humans will respond to this fundamental reconfiguring of the name of things in our connected lives.

Several years ago, many of us recognized that humans simply weren’t inclined to visit branded websites with any frequency, and so we moved away from the idea that your “home page” was the online center of your brand’s universe. Some of us explored the potential for your Facebook page to serve as one type of branded home online. In other cases, we realized that distributed apps and utilities were serving as satellite homes, driving repeat opportunities for brand-to-human engagement and service. But we have yet to crack this illusive idea of a digital home. That’s a big reason why we haven’t seen the flood of brand dollars online that many have predicted would quickly follow eyeballs.

This time next year the world will see how some of the first mover brands and industries come to market with their new naming strategies for their connected presences online. There are intriguing questions about what will gTLDs like .bank or .insurance provide consumers and the financial service brands who build stalls across these coming community domains. What will .music offer — replace? — when it comes to connecting musicians and recording artists with their fans and colleagues. And should iTunes or Spotify be nervous? Picture Apple offering its tens of millions customers and partners their very own address.

For all our cosmopolitanism, we remain a deeply tribal species, constantly seeking to align and adhere with like-minded humans across a mad mix of shifting dimensions – family and work, hobbies and passions, politics and sports. And yes – brands and products and services too. The concept of “home” is ancient and hard-coded in us all, freighted with meaning and a complexity of feelings and interpretations. It’s time we rethink what home means in the digital world.


Thom Kennon is the former director of strategy at Y&R and currently a partner at Architelos, where he advises clients on top-level domain strategies.

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