Building the gTLD Road Map
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 19th February 2014 in 360 Blog

Most brands applied for gTLD(s) to protect their brand and ensure they didn’t miss an important new opportunity, but few had a clear business case for how they would use the gTLD platform when they applied. While the $185,000 price tag was substantially more than acquiring a typical domain, the short window of time to apply and ability to receive a partial refund made it a risk worth taking. Once the world learned that Google applied for 101 top level domains and Amazon for 76 and half of the world’s top brands all applied (not to mention there will be 900+ new generic terms entering the internet in the next two years), most brands determined it was worth staying in the game. Many remain skeptical about serious erosion of .com, but the potential for change at an accelerating pace cannot be overlooked. Most teams can see some advantages and ways to use the gTLD, however, the business case, ROI and strategy remain elusive.

Over the last 18 months, brands have worked their way through the initial evaluation process and are now ready for contracting. In most companies, the legal department has been charged with acquisition and policy management. As legal moves into contracting, they continue to call for their digital marketing, IT and business counterparts to step up and build a plan. To do so requires creative and visionary thinking, new assumptions and objective facilitation to move a diverse group of business leaders to mobilize around this opportunity. Because there is no external driving force or clear road map, it’s easy to let this one languish. But, with all brands moving into contracting, the opportunity to be an innovative digital leader in the marketplace is now. Bridging the gap between IT, Legal, Marketing and Digital Operations with clear direction from the C-Suite on overarching strategy is not most company’s strong suit. But building a roadmap ahead doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start with the basics:

Step One: Leadership Briefing & Education

The first step is essential, and yet often overlooked, as many companies move rapidly into planning and ideation. But, educating your top level executives about who applied, for what, and the potential paradigm shift of the internet is critical. Your leadership must understand the pervasiveness of this new technology. A gTLD is a technological platform at the very root of the internet and as a brand, you own it for your own purposes. It’s not a $10 domain name you bought on a whim, it’s a critical digital asset with technological capabilities not even invented yet. The C-Suite needs to be aware of the pending digital transformation of the internet and the implications across the organization. Before your company can really build a plan, you must ensure your leadership understands the strategic implications of the new gTLDs so that they incorporate this into their long-range thinking and provide important organizational policy direction.

Step Two: Goal Setting for the Next Generation of the Internet

Once the C-Suite is aware of what’s happening, a strategic advisory board with C-Suite access can be established to provide policy guidance to the development of strategic plans, including how it integrates within existing company operations across legal, IT, marketing and digital operations. A working group should also be formed to focus on the deep dive strategic planning that will be necessary to build out an implementation plan to maximize the impact of the gTLD. Once this strategic advisory board and working groups are formed, a goal setting session should clearly articulate goals for the initial roll out of the gTLD and long-range planning. For most companies, it is not realistic nor good policy to simply migrate your home page into the gTLD environment, but rather to build key campaigns by tapping into the power of the gTLD platform. To start the process, it’s helpful to identify the four primary platform uses of the gTLD and then prioritize uses for the company in the goal setting session.

Digital Marketing Platform. The gTLD can provide clear new paths to campaigns, landing pages and robust consumer experiences. By tapping into existing data you can extrapolate new ways to use the gTLD platform as your exclusive channel of the internet. The gTLD becomes the anchor to your digital world. It’s most critical to focus on building a creative strategy that sets you apart and then build a long-term platform for creative thinking and new ideas. It will also be important to consider how new campaigns and domain names are approved, allocated and maintained.
Data Analytics & Tracking. The gTLD could be a robust source of data for your company long into the future. Designing and architecting a long-range plan for the gTLD requires foresight and thinking about how it could be used years from now. Tear down old assumptions, push your team to think creatively and root it all back to existing data you have to support clear decision making.

Disruptive Business Models & Technology. The gTLD, more than anything else, is a catalyst for disruptive business models and technologies. It is disruptive. Tap into future thinking about what new business opportunities could emerge for your company, what new technologies might be developed and build a business case for your leaders to consider.

Internal Platform for Knowledge Sharing. Finally, the gTLD platform can be a powerful internal tool for knowledge sharing and secure access for your internal use. As your own exclusive internal cloud, the gTLD could transform the way you access secure information across your organization, not to mention build a more intuitive approach to knowledge sharing.

Step Three: Strategic Planning

Once you’ve set goals and identified digital platforms, the next step is gather important data to be used in the strategic planning process including: web analytics and digital marketing analytics, campaigns and use of social media and mobile/app technology, current domain name analytics, brick and mortar trends and campaigns. The key is to have the right people and the right data to truly understand the consumer experience with your company’s digital world. It is at this intersection, the planning for the gTLD must not just begin, but continue to evolve. The gTLD is the anchor to a digital strategy that extends into social media, mobile and how your consumers search and navigate the digital world. You are creating your digital world and it must be rooted in data that tells us what the consumer wants, expects and even forecast their future needs.

Working groups can build out plans through a series of deep dive sessions to understand the complexity of the gTLD environment, and explore possibilities, including innovative outside the box opportunities. Based upon outcome of strategic planning, the team can then develop a detailed time frame for implementation including key milestones and benchmarks of success.

This planning will need to include discussions about search, the home page, technological capabilities of the gTLD, social, mobile, and marketing integration. During this phase, many issues must be considered and integrated into the plan.

Step Four: Architecture & Design of the of the gTLD

A key component of the implementation plan is to develop a framework and naming system for the gTLD that matches up with your marketing strategy. Careful discussion about the navigation and design of the digital world of the gTLD is essential. How do you drive consumers where you and they want to be? Build in social, mobile and other digital strategies into thinking about the architecture of the gTLD. As you build the plan, identify data points to track success so you can continually improve the digital experience for your consumers.

Step Five: Digital Integration Planning & Implementation

Once you have your strategic plan and the architecture of your site mapped out, it’s time to integrate how the subdomains will be managed internally. Additionally, it’s time to build the consumer education and marketing plan. There are opportunities to collaborate with other brand gTLDs since there is a shared interest in marketing to consumers the new way of navigating gTLDs.

Step Six: Evaluate & Feedback into Strategy

Once initial campaigns are launched, it is essential to evaluate its effectiveness benchmarked against goals, strategy and world-wide consumer adoption of gTLDs and integrate as a feedback loop to future strategic planning and continuous improvement.

While the gTLD is much like any large project requiring goal setting, planning, implementation and a feedback loop, its uniqueness as a new asset requires careful planning to tear down old assumptions and build out innovative thinking as a critical new digital asset for your company. The roadmap ahead is a 12 – 24 month process to design, plan, implement and refine the roll out of the gTLD. For most companies, small steps will be rolled out this year, with longer range plans unfolding in the coming years. Consumer adoption and transformation is likely a 2 – 3 year window. Accordingly, the brand gTLD roadmap must set a course to navigate the uncharted road ahead.