Ask The Experts: Key Benefits of Owning a dotBrand

ICANN, the body in charge of maintaining and coordinating the Internet, launched the first round of applications for its new gTLD Program in 2012, in which organisations could apply to operate their own Top-Level Domain (TLD). Among the approximately 2,000 applications that were received, over a quarter were from organisations that applied to operate their own closed new gTLD matching their brand, known as dotBrand TLDs. Solely for the registrant’s own use, dotBrands offer a secure and trusted ecosystem for organisations to fulfil their strategic goals, protect their brand online and control their internal technology infrastructure. Ashley Roberts, Head of New TLD Consultancy at Com Laude explains how to assess whether a dotBrand TLD is right for your organisation and what the application process for the next round in 2023 will entail. 

Are you seeing much interest from organisations that want to apply for a dotBrand?

We have seen a considerable increase in enquiries about the next round of gTLDs in the past year. Security is a major motivator, driven in part by the increase in remote working and reliance on online channels as a result of COVID-19. The need to ensure system integrity has become crucial and the dotBrand, which is a part of the Internet you control and operate, is a key tool in a company’s armoury in this respect. Many view it as a platform for future innovation.

Although the exact rules and timings for the next round of new gTLD applications have not yet been confirmed, the system is expected to open for applications in early 2023. Now is a good time to begin assessing the potential value of a dotBrand for your organisation and to start preparing the groundwork for submissions.

What are some of the key benefits?

Every company will use its dotBrand in different ways (visit our Dot Brand Observatory for some helpful use cases), but there are a number of common benefits that have emerged.

At the top of the list for many is security, as having your own dotBrand registry gives you complete control of all domain names within your dotBrand – third parties are not permitted to have domain names ending in your dotBrand. In turn, this means your customers can have trust that anything ending in your dotBrand is authentic, helping to protect them and your reputation. A dotBrand can also improve security internally, with staff being able to trust anything they receive which ends in your dotBrand, and helps to safeguard critical online infrastructure from internal email servers to external e-commerce sites.

Secondly, there are valuable marketing benefits to owning a dotBrand. With your brand name secured at the right side of the dot, you have more flexibility in what you can do on the left side of that dot. It’s also much quicker to secure domain names when the TLD is managed in-house, as opposed to having to go to a third-party registry.

Third, is the added flexibility and control. A dotBrand gives you complete control of your own online ecosystem, so you have the freedom to register whatever you want without the worry that it’s already been taken.

How do you know whether a dotBrand is right for you?

The first key step for any interested party is to evaluate the opportunity for their organisation, not just in terms of where it would add value but also what is involved in operating a dotBrand.

Operating a dotBrand is very different to a standard domain name, bringing with it advantages but also additional obligations. Companies that apply will be committing to invest in a long-term asset for their organisation.

Therefore, it’s advisable to assess how you might use your dotBrand which should involve consultation with all potential stakeholders in the business.

Are many companies using their dotBrands?

There has been a tendency to judge the success of a dotBrand based on the number of domain registrations it has. However, dotBrands are fundamentally different to traditional open TLDs that sell domains to the public. DotBrands are assets used to support a business or broaden their product or service offerings. Therefore, the services and initiatives the dotBrand supports (for example, one domain name could support a digital platform used by millions of customers) is a better indication of value than the volume of registrations it has.

Our Dot Brand Observatory features some helpful examples of how companies are using their dotBrand assets including interviews with Amazon and KPMG. You can also contact us for a free assessment to see if a dotBrand TLD is right for your business.

Innovation in dotBrands

We have observed 10 common models of use following the first round of applications, many of which are used in combination by brands to fulfil their strategic goals:

  1. IP protection: Secure your master and/or core brands. Ring-fence unique assets and protect your trademarks before a third party beats you to a unique asset.
  2. Full migration: Migrate your primary corporate website (from a .COM domain) to your own dotBrand for added control, trust and authenticity. Discover why KPMG migrated its global network to HOME.KPMG.
  3. Internal and external communication: Support internal communication through the creation of restricted (employee-only) sites or services through a single domain, such as a company intranet. Send marketing emails with your dotBrand that consumers immediately recognise and trust.
  4. Transactional use: Build trust by using a dotBrand domain to ensure consumers only reach websites offering authentic goods or services. Find out how the French national railway provider, SNCF, protected millions of consumers by migrating its official online ticket and information portal to OUI.SNCF. Others include MABANQUE.BNPPARIBAS and BANK.SBI.
  5. Geo-located content: Ensure you communicate the right information to the right people using geo-located country and regional websites of your dotBrand, or use the platform to manage a global network of authorised retailers or franchisees, as is the case for car manufacturers such as AUDI and SEAT.
  6. Promotional campaigns: Register and delete domain names at will for no marginal cost. dotBrands provide the flexibility to launch an infinite number of short-term campaigns, as with XMAS.LIDL and PLANT-A-TREE.DHL for example.
  7. HR and Career: Set up dedicated recruitment-related sites, as with CAREERS.SAXO or JOBS.SCHWARZ.
  8. Customer support: Use your dotBrand to deliver a safe and secure customer support channel, as with SUPPORT.SKYPE.
  9. Education: Build sites emphasising innovation aimed at attracting prospective students, as with FUTURE-CITY.LATROBE, or home guidance for using technology with FAMILY.GOOGLE
  10. Social media: DotBrand domains are instinctively memorable, short and appealing, which makes them ideal for URL shorteners and evocative social media branding. Examples include GRP.HSBC, GO.ZARA and ON.CITI – instantly recognisable and trusted by users.

Discover more use case examples and detailed analysis at: https://observatory.domains

What are some of the lessons learned as part of the first round?

One of the main takeaways from the first round of new gTLD applications is that many dotBrand applicants submitted an application to protect their intellectual property (IP), without having a use case in mind.

While IP and brand protection is, of course, crucial to online strategies, we would encourage applicants to involve different stakeholders at a much earlier stage, even if IP departments continue to lead the application.

Early discussions with teams who are most likely to use the dotBrand, such as marketing, IT and security, will ensure your organisation will hit the ground running once the dotBrand is approved and delegated.

What is the process for application?

It’s been well reported that the first round of new gTLD applications took longer than forecasted. ICANN expected only 500 applications but received more than 2,000 with many systems and processes being developed on an ad hoc basis. The next round should be much smoother now that systems and processes have been already established. We already have a fair idea of the rules for the next round, based on the recommendations from ICANN’s five-year Subsequent Procedures Policy Working Group, in which Com Laude was an active participant.

As a general rule, however, we would advise outsourcing the application to a specialist such as Com Laude, as the process is complex and time-consuming. For the first round of submissions, for example, applicants were required to submit 250 pages of written answers, including detailed technical and financial plans, covering everything from hardware to funding plans. To make it more manageable for applicants, we handle all of that for our clients, from writing their applications to managing the entire evaluation process with ICANN, overcoming any issues that might arise, signing the contract with ICANN and finally, the delegation of the dotBrand into the root of the Internet.

Sounds like a big learning curve – can you manage my dotBrand once it is live?

A lot of clients prefer us to take care of the ongoing compliance and obligations to ICANN, ensuring they remain compliant once their dotBrand has been delegated into the root of the Internet.

Part of our service is to pair you with a technical partner to handle the intricate operations of your dotBrand. Plus, we manage the reporting, payment of fees to ICANN and represent our clients’ interests in ICANN policy development. Our goal is to take the headache out of it for clients and enable them to maximise the value of their new dotBrand assets.

What is your key piece of advice for interested companies?

I would advise taking the time now to consider the potential value to your organisation; for example, how a dotBrand may help you achieve your strategic objectives and which stakeholders need to be involved in the process to deliver those goals.

The next opportunity to apply for a dotBrand will be limited – likely a window of four to five months – and it’s uncertain when any further rounds will be announced, let alone take place. Therefore, it’s important to consider and prepare for the opportunity now.

Cost can be a concern for some companies, but if your business relies on the Internet to support its services, communications and operations – which applies to most organisations today – then you need to measure that cost against the opportunity a dotBrand offers to secure your digital presence today and in the future.

To find out more about Com Laude’s client-shaped dotBrand services, please contact us.

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