FairWinds hosted its annual Beyond the Dot Internet conference at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, DC on January 21st to explore the opportunities and challenges global businesses face with new gTLDs and .BRANDs. For the second year in a row, Beyond the Dot brought together over 100 attendees from corporations, ICANN, the domain name industry, the U.S. government, and academia, in addition to speakers from organizations such as Dell, Marriott, Abbott Labs, Google, the Federal Trade Commission, the European Union, and the Better Business Bureau.
Below is a recap of some of the themes covered throughout the day: branding and marketing; brand protection; IT considerations; and Internet governance and policy shifts facing the Internet today.
How are New gTLDs Changing the Equation for Branding, Marketing, and Protection of a Company?
Innovation Keynote by Dr. James Fowler
- Where Dr. Fowler unpacked the question of, given the social beings that humans are and the technology now available, what can we predict and advise about new gTLD adoption and use?
The program opened with a keynote address from network scientist and University of California professor James Fowler, who offered insights into how consumers’ real-world connections and friendships impact the way information and ideas are shared and adopted online.
Dr. Fowler left the audience with an important message that was echoed at various points throughout the conference: that the ultimate success and adoption of new gTLDs – both .BRANDs and .GENERICs – will require their operators to establish trust among Internet users.
Where do .BRANDs Stand?
- It became clear that some companies, like Marriott (which announced the launch of Nic.Marriott to much applause) are looking at 2015 as a time to experiment with their new gTLD but many companies envision 2015 as a time to learn concrete ways to measure the success of a new gTLD.
The first panel of Beyond the Dot asked representatives from Dell, Abbott, and AARP to share with the audience where in the new gTLD process their organizations currently are, as well as what motivated them to apply for their .BRAND gTLDs. The speakers revealed that most .BRAND applicants fall on a spectrum regarding their new gTLD efforts, with some wanting to move forward quickly and others more interested in taking a wait-and-see approach.
One thing the panelists agreed on, however, was the need to engage with various stakeholders from multiple departments within the corporation and get adequate buy-in from executives in order to get the resources necessary to pursue the new gTLD initiative. This is something that many brand owners who applied for their .BRANDs for defensive purposes struggle with, especially given that new gTLDs are still relatively new and untested.
What’s Ahead for Businesses in .BRANDs and Other New gTLDs
- Brands that are involved in or at least well-educated on the New gTLD Program know the need for:
- A plan to buy domain names in new gTLDs that related to their industry
- A strong technical infrastructure that can accommodate new gTLDs
- If they have their own .BRAND, a way to create a measurable connection with their audience
During the second half of Beyond the Dot, the conference program turned to the specific issues that brand owners face in the new gTLD space, both with their own .BRANDs as well as with other new gTLDs that continue to launch. These issues range from the challenge of preventing trademark infringements in new domain names, to determining which metrics will measure success and a positive return on investment once marketers start launching their .BRANDs to the public, and finally to how corporations can encourage the adoption of new gTLDs by ensuring their systems are compatible with the new extensions, especially those containing Chinese, Arabic, Russian, or other foreign characters.
Digital marketers Christie Susko and Andrea Fuller, as well as brand representatives discussed how new gTLDs provided a new tool to build communities and target audiences, and covered the need for benchmarking, testing, and establishing success metrics as these opportunities are explored. As Susko aptly summarized the situation: The challenges that [brands] face now are the same as 20 years ago – the medium is just different. The core is still the consumer.
How are New gTLDs Changing the Way Internet Policy is Discussed and Decided?
ICANN, the IANA Transition, and Global Internet Governance
ICANN plays a critical role in all aspects of new gTLDs, from approving applications to ensuring ongoing compliance of gTLD registries. As such, no discussion about new gTLDs is complete without mentioning ICANN.
Over the course of two panels, speakers from all over the world discussed the changes that the New gTLD Program has instituted within ICANN, as well as how the process for developing policies and Internet governance in general have evolved since the Program began. Speakers also provided the audience with some much-needed background information and context around the impending IANA transition, where the U.S. government intends to cease the contractual oversight role it has had over ICANN and the technical functions since its creation.
What was clear from Beyond the Dot was that new gTLDs still remain unchartered territory for most brands. Ensuring that .BRANDs and other new gTLDs will be successful additions to the domain name space will require their owners to build trust among users and for all stakeholders to work together to raise awareness of these new domain names. However, brand owners largely seem up for the challenge and are eager to collaborate and learn from each other.
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