Why Digital Marketers Should Care About ICANN
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 26th November 2013 in 360 Blog

The 48th meeting of ICANN, celebrating 15 years of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers, came to a close on Friday, November 22, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As you might expect, the halls were filled with lawyers and policy makers, technical experts, registrars and registry operators discussing the hot topics of the week. So, why, you may be asking, should digital marketers care what happens at ICANN?

The simple answer is: the outcome of that policy has a direct impact on digital marketers. ICANN is the global organization managing the policies that govern how we use the most important communication tool in our marketing toolbox – the web. Whether your digital strategy is focused on mobile, social, or new ways of engaging consumers with dynamic content, how the internet functions and operates is central to the success of your business. Over the last fifteen years, as the internet has emerged and dominated your marketing plans, volunteers from all over the world have been working hard to make sure it remains fair for the people of the world and businesses alike. In fact, the new gTLDs, administered by ICANN, will have a profound impact on how consumers use the internet and how search works as we experience a big bang from 23 gTLDs to more than a thousand. Google will operate close to 100 and Amazon close to 76 top level domains. Half of the world’s top brands like SC Johnson, JP Morgan, American Express, Walmart and hundreds of others will start to operate their own top level domains and change what consumers trust and expect from their favorite brands online. While many marketers may not be able to justify the time and travel expense to attend ICANN meetings, paying attention to what happens and engaging with your policy makers may become increasingly important. If you’ve ever tried to secure a domain name from a squatter, tried to transfer to another registrar or generally just struggled to acquire a domain name you wanted, then you’ve interfaced with ICANN policy. The rules that govern registrars and registry operators, including when and how the new gTLDs roll out to the public, is all set by ICANN. While you may defer to IT or lawyers for most of it, the issues evolving at ICANN will become increasingly important in a world of thousands of top level domains and an exponentially increasing domain name environment.

I’ve provided a brief overview of the highlights and encourage you to stay apprised of ICANN happenings that could impact your marketing future.

Global Internet Governance. A big theme of this ICANN meeting was the increasing attention on the globalization of the internet. While many countries have expressed concerned about the recent Snowden revelations, attention has turned to how the internet is governed and what can be done to address these issues. While ICANN is focused on the names and numbers systems, the emergence of globalized interest in ICANN should be on your radar because it could evolve or change in the future as a result. What you may not realize is that ICANN works for your interests right now. The current structure of ICANN is what’s referred to as a bottom-up multi-stakeholder model. This means that volunteers and people who represent the interests of the global commercial and non-commercial users (meaning businesses and people) work hard to create fair policies with a checks and balances system in place. While there are many critics of some of the procedures or outcomes, the system has been working – which is why as digital marketers you haven’t paid much attention to it. But if that system were to change, it could impact the ability of business voices to have a direct influence on policy, which could impact your future in search, domain names and navigation of the internet, not to mention privacy issues and how your most valuable asset is administered. This is a critical issue of which digital marketers, who rely upon the internet, should be aware as a change in this structure could negatively impact your digital anchor – your online presence.

Launch of the new gTLDs. Also of key importance to digital marketers is the roll out of the new gTLD program. While largely still under the radar, as new gTLDs start transform search and competitors roll out their own brand gTLDs, digital marketers will begin to ask who controls this new platform and who allowed these new domain names? The answer is ICANN. ICANN policy will determine when the next round of gTLD applications will be accepted, and continue to set policy for the time frame, quality control and security of the new gTLDs. While your lawyers are likely on top of how to protect your brand, you need to know what is available to have input on where you want your brand to reside in the digital neighborhoods of the new gTLDs. If you don’t secure this valuable internet real estate, a competitor might. This means all brands need to consider what domain names could be helpful campaigns in the future. No longer chained to a home page, brands may find consumers, particularly younger consumers, receptive to the idea of memorable campaigns like welove.mom or beautiful.day or fall.fashion, to name just a few.

Name collision. Another big issue is that of name collision. This is where computer systems essentially get confused because there are similar internal systems using a similar name or number and the web browser misdirects the user. ICANN has produced a list of millions of combinations that it will not allow in the new gTLDs because of name collision and continues to issue reports on the security and stability of the internet. Many brand TLDs have potentially thousands of blocked sub domains due to name collision. Depending upon what’s on the list, this could be an issue for your digital marketing initiatives. As you start to consider campaigns in the future or future rounds of gTLDs, this will become an increasingly important issue to avoid confusion across the internet. http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/announcements-and-media/announcement-2-17nov13-en

Strategy of ICANN. ICANN has also launched numerous strategy panels to build a strategic plan for ICANN to respond to the many changing issues in technology, the multi-stakeholder model, and identifier technology innovation. These strategy panels, appointed by the CEO of ICANN, are essentially making recommendations for the future of ICANN. These panels are all seeking input from people like you who rely on the internet for marketing your business. http://thegovlab.org/live-a-call-to-action-help-us-design-a-21st-century-icann. If you haven’t been involved before, this is a great opportunity to voice your opinion.

New opportunities will continue emerge because of ICANN policy as digital giants like Google and Amazon deploy a large portfolio of new domains and offer products and services to respond to this new market shift. From solving problems about squatters, to setting rules about security and stability, pricing to registries and registrars and privacy, ICANN is where that policy occurs. Digital marketers may not need to know the details, but as the new TLDs transform the way marketing campaigns are run on line with newer more memorable domains available, the business of ICANN will be more relevant than ever to your future campaigns.