Who Should Manage gTLDs Inside Brands?
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 24th June 2013 in 360 Blog

Most brand gTLDs are still sitting in the legal department to complete the acquisition and contracting process. While marketing may have been involved along the way, most brands are struggling with a key issue: no one really is championing or owns the gTLD? This is largely because most brands applied out of fear of not applying with a tight time window from ICANN rather than a full business case and strategy to maximize the use of the gTLDs. But as the evaluation process comes to a close this summer and the gTLDs move into contracting, the time is now to start building an operational plan and integrating gTLDs into the corporate structure.

Brands know that the gTLD should not stay in legal, but does it move into marketing, IT, digital? Whose’ budget does it come out of? Does it impact other digital strategies? I’ve spent a lot of time working with top brand applicants and understand this struggle. Ultimately, if your company has a digital department, that’s where ownership of the gTLD makes the most sense. The gTLD is, after all, a digital asset. And, to maximize the impact of the asset, it will need to be integrated into a holistic strategy with their digital functions such as search, data analytics, social, apps, etc.

If your company does not have a digital function, then it should be owned by the marketing team that manages digital for the same reasons. Your company will need to manage several facets of the gTLD both at the onset of planning and launch and on an ongoing basis. Data mining will be a critical component of the gTLD operation. This is, after all, one of the key benefits to brands. As a closed ecosystem you will have access to raw data about how consumers navigate, use and engage with your top level domain. Designing the site with this in mind and then analyzing that data will be critical to the return on investment of the gTLD. Likewise, its impact on your search engine optimization strategy is central to the functionality of the gTLD. While there are many questions about the impact on search, having good SEO people involved in the team will be important to not only migration from .com, but also to ongoing maximization of the TLD for search. IT and Security will al so be important. As a gTLD you are actually functioning as the registry operator. While you may be outsourcing most of this to another company, understanding the security and IT related issues will be important to managing this valuable digital asset. ICANN policy will become increasingly important as it governs how you operate your TLD. Relationships with other brand gTLD owners could also become important as you have shared interests in the brand gTLD operator space. Moreover, you may want to form strategic partnerships with other companies who did not apply and managing those relationships will be a critical piece to managing the gTLD asset. The architecture, design and engineering capabilities of the site will also be important to how you utilize the more robust capabilities of your web site as a gTLD over .com. And finally, brand protection will become a larger issue for the company not just with regard to use of your gTLD, but across the thousands of new top level domains launching into the internet universe. This means a cross-functional team is necessary for initial planning and ongoing management to develop best practices and policies for maximizing the value of this important internet real estate. It should be managed at a centralized level, preferably by a digital leader and team. Once these core functions are covered, if you have more than one gTLD, the more specific functions of design, operations, ad sales, if applicable, integration into other marketing functions such as social media, apps, etc. could be pushed out into the products, brands or divisions of your company.

If you are struggling with how to manage the facets of planning, launching and operating the gTLD, you are not alone. To maximize its impact, you’ll need a cross functional team and visionary thinking about the unique capabilities and competitive edge you just acquired.