Sitting on the plane after a tightly packed 3 days in Amsterdam for the regional registrars meeting, I’m bursting with ideas and thoughts. The highlight of the event for me was the meeting organized by Google to propose the creation of a trade association on behalf of TLDs. Brilliant and long overdue. The comedy of the situation the domain name industry has lived with since its inception is the fact that it actually doesn’t exist in the eyes and minds of the average business or consumer. Domain names are simply a by-product of websites, or possibly even web-hosting. The term ‘domain name’ is familiar to a dinner party of friends, but it never ceases to surprise them when you say there’s actually an INDUSTRY behind it, carefully governed, very international, and no, not a pack of bandits running away with the money they’ve extorted from brand names.
The new TLD program has begun to show this little industry that we are about to be catapulted on to the world stage of business and informed consumers. Dare I say, we’re not quite prepared for all that such a shift implies to us as business professionals. Scratch implies: DEMANDS.
I am delighted to welcome the likes of Google and Amazon to our space. With their entry comes credibility, recognition, advocacy, and access to the digital masses by association with their brands. I was also pretty thrilled to meet the clever German advertising fellows they introduced this week, who gave us a glimpse of a possible industry-wide awareness campaign. Their example gave the concept of domains a much-needed visual reference – the Dot, represented by a little green cartoon dot character. Perfect. With this kind of newfound professional vehicle, like a trade association through which to finally speak as a collective, the industry can take advantage of shared resources such as consumer visibility, PR & marketing, and channels of distribution. Pull all this together and the business of Dots might even begin to look like a real industry. Maybe even to those ‘real people’ I met in the elevator in Amsterdam and explained what we were all doing in the hotel.
So, given that I’ve spent my marketing career in and (possibly more importantly) outside of the domain business but always online, I thought I might share a little MARKETING TLDs 101 lesson for those just entering the game and eagerly awaiting their launch. Bear in mind, the following can take about 6 months to completely assemble and deploy. Add an additional 3 months to see and record measurable results. So if you, as an applicant, have been grumbling about a 2013 launch being a longer delay than you would like, you’ll come to appreciate the time to plan and properly prepare for a launch. The time to begin these activities is NOT when you learn your delegation date. That is precisely 3 months too late for EXPERIENCED domain launchers (who also know marketing).
May the two be as one as often as possible in the coming years to ensure the success of this program. Internet users need to be educated about the existence and benefits of new TLDs. While the industry and the program would benefit from general PR and marketing efforts introducing Internet users to the new TLDs via BENEFIT driven statements, the applicants themselves need to begin gaining recognition in their respective niches. This applies in particular to geos, communities, and niche names. But generics will need every bit of brand recognition they can muster when it comes time to launch.
The Basic TLD Marketing Toolkit
- Design a logo for your TLD. You need to begin establishing visual familiarity in your market.
- Create a set of benefit driven messages: WHY is your string useful to its buyer? You must communicate UTILITY.
- Build a website and chose the RIGHT domain name. Anything with the word TLD might not be it. Brand the string not the business behind it.
- Explore the international markets you suspect might be good targets for your string. Map out the existing networks that bind your market and which media outlets bind their content.
- Prepare and establish an advocate relationship long before you go live. Think REDBULL.SKI on billboards at downhill competitions.
- Conduct a survey in your market to determine how open users are to your TLD, which buying objections you will face, and, who your market actually is based on the sources of responses you get. The FB page/group you may have been building is a perfect vehicle for this. Speaking of which, continue actively building that page.
- Chose a spokesperson and arm them with the right messaging, content and positioning to work the media and effectively communicate the brand. This might be an industry figurehead, or better yet, get a celebrity if you can afford it.
- Put a preliminary Premium Names list together based on how you’d like to see your TLD used in public ways. Think NEWRELEASES.MOVIE. You know your TLD better than anyone at this stage. Start demonstrating its use through examples.
- Start talking to registrars if you believe your string will be right for their customer base. Their intent is to offer only what works easily for them. Find out what that is.
With these tools in place you are in a position to begin building your profile in your space. You will need many months to achieve initial brand recognition (3-6) across the space. Once you have an actual audience you need to begin qualifying them. i.e. identifying listeners and supporters open to your idea who actually understand what you are. At this point you can begin asking them to commit to your product. This is also when you hope your Sunrise Date is announced so you that are ready to begin the selling phase of your marketing. Gaining the purchasing commitment will likely take that 3 month window you will have from the date your launch is set. (Have a peek at my colleague Pinky Brand’s TLD Delegation Date calculator for an approximate estimated date for launch.) But do not go promising your audience any timeframes. Not only is it unnecessary for the purpose of an awareness campaign, we know better than to bet money and customer beliefs on the ICANN schedule. On that final note, the ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade gave a great speech at the Amsterdam event. However, he said one thing that caused a little TLD applicant heartache (maybe a lot).
If it were up to me, this program would be delayed another year.
At the risk of interpreting his words, and based on a brief chat I had with him afterwards, what he meant was:
We are working SO HARD internally on getting everything in place, on time, within our current very stretched (human) resources, I WISH we had another year.
He did not give me the impression he had any intentions of actually TAKING that year, only that he is pushing his staff to their limits and expecting start up level output from them. Forge onwards Fadi, you continue to impress us all.