How 900+ Communities and Generics Will Reshape the Internet
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 26th April 2013 in ClickZ

As the new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) are set to begin launchinglater this year, perhaps the most profound strategy to be deployed by brands will be tapping into their gTLD as a catalyst for disruptive innovation through enhanced online search and navigation.

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Some of the more innovative and bold moves made by brands in filing for gTLD applications include Johnson & Johnson with .baby; Bridgestone with .tire; Safeway with .grocery and .just4u (tied to its mobile app); L’Oreal with .beauty, .hair, .makeup, .salon, and .skin; Dish Network with .network, .data, .direct, .dot, .locker, .mobile, and .phone; Hughes with .stream; and Microsoft with .live, .skydrive, and .docs. Unfortunately, Hasbro with its powerhouse .transformers and Heinz with .ketchup among other national household names have recently withdrawn their applications. But the remaining brand applicants have a game-changing opportunity to innovate and develop disruptive new digital models around their top-level domains.

Smart companies are already strategizing about ways they can innovate using their top-level domains. Innovations include creating more niched social networks within categories related to brands or Groupon-like offerings driven by enhanced data collection across the top level. Likewise, brands will likely build subscription-only-based services or content and partner with other non-applicants in their brand category to proactively address the devolution of cable and increased demand via mobile.

Brands with top-level domains such as Safeway can more meaningfully connect .just4u, the gTLD, as an anchor, to its mobile platform of its just4u app. Brands also need to be prepared for cable as we know it to dramatically change and begin to think of their brand as an online channel and content publisher providing a single source of information on products, content, services, marketing, messaging, and communities all connecting interested consumers in a more profound way.

Brands will also look to use their gTLD for enhanced security and cloud-like features both internally and externally with vendors and consumers. B2B clients will tailor their platforms to customer needs while also integrating internal platforms for greater economies of scale and more efficiency in a virtual, cloud environment. Personalized pages will be more easily developed and tracked within a top-level domain environment, providing easier navigation and nomenclature for consumers to remember. Likewise, search will evolve from the big search engines dominating the Internet to more niched site and searches looking for categories of content. As the big generic top-level domains, such as .mom, .tennis, .golf, and .restaurants create Zip codes or categories on the Internet, search engines will streamline results focused on more tailored requirements.

Many argue all of these strategies are available in .com. And currently, they are right. Certain innovative companies like Google, Microsoft, Groupon, Pandora, etc., are taking advantage of the capabilities of the .com world and innovating. However, in the new gTLD world, greater security, faster resolution, robust data mining, and easier navigation will be available to enhance the user experience and radically transform the Internet. And, unlikely companies like Safeway and Walmart with .grocery just might rethink the entire industry in a way that the world wasn’t ready for with back in the 1990s. With the scaled number of top-level domains and half of the world’s top brands and digital leadership by Google, Amazon, and Microsoft (each with large portfolios of gTLDs), consumer behavior will begin to shift.

How Do Brands Start to Innovate Around the gTLD?

Start by throwing out old assumptions that .com is the gold standard. Look to past paradigm shifts in newspapers, music, phones, social media, and technology for guidance. Question and push how the use of mobile and app technology will change search and navigation, and explore how gTLDs could serve as an important anchor to digital strategies to achieve business objectives. Collaborate with a creative team willing to push thinking into new dimensions and be prepared to disruptively innovate around an expanding Internet environment. Keep in mind that innovation and consumer adoption of new technologies is occurring at an accelerating pace. In the 1990s we didn’t use email or the Internet. In 2000, we didn’t know what social media was, let alone that it would transform our world by starting revolutions and changing lives. Today, we live in a digital age and a digital world. Most of our innovative new business models of the last decade are spawned in a digital world, connecting people and business in a new way. Savvy brands will recognize that above all, the primary benefit of a gTLD is the ability to use it as an innovation platform.

Brands with an eye on the future must be willing to take a leap of faith, set some new assumptions that a paradigm shift in the Internet is coming, and bring together their most innovative thinkers to strategize and push the thinking from just migrating .com over to .brand and instead ask: “What else can we do?” “What makes it and us better for consumers?” and when faced with those who believe nothing will change, ask “Why not?”