October 10th, 2018

Big Brands “Waiting in the Wings” to Apply for .brand TLD

Recently, I published a Q&A with Cole Quinn, Senior Program Manager of Corporate Domains, TLDs and DNS at Microsoft, about his new role as President and Chairman of the Brand Registry Group (BRG).

Cole and I also talked at length about what he sees as the major benefits of .brand TLDs, why more organizations should take advantage of them and what success in the .brands space looks like.

Cole has an impressive level of optimism around not only the potential advantages of .brand domains but also of the strategies and launches we’ve already seen from .brand TLDs.

Tony Kirsch: What benefits do you see for organizations using their .brand?

Cole Quinn: There are a number of things that brands can achieve using a brand TLD. These include greater brand trust and integrity, enhanced security and control, more effective brand presence, rapid response to trends and new opportunities, and a more focused corporate message, to name a few.

I think particularly at the moment, the ability to use .brands as a signifier of safety and security is an invaluable feature. With the recent changes around GDPR and WHOIS registrant redaction, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to validate that the content they’re looking at is coming from who they expect. But with a TLD, there’s 100 percent authenticity in who’s presenting the content. Typical spoofing, typo and confusability tactics simply do not work where the consumer expects web content to reside on a .brand TLD.

In a practical sense, the ability to limit defensive registrations is another clear benefit. It used to be that there were a handful of TLDs and a domain manager had a list of strings to register to ensure no one else got them, and many of them would sit dormant year after year. That’s not really a scalable approach in the world of thousands of new TLDs – we suddenly have this exponential “z-axis” to deal with. A successful .brand strategy, however, reduces the overall squatting risk and allows you to take a more realistic approach in defending your important strings, and because as awareness of your TLD increases, people will come to know that a site, service or email is only authentic if it’s within your TLD namespace.

TK: What are some of the best examples of .brand usage you’ve seen?

CQ: I get really excited to see campaigns like Canon’s switch to .canon domains, and Neustar’s .neustar transition, and there are many more examples that I’ve seen in the wild. A real ‘wow factor’ moment for me was arriving at Sea-Tac Airport (in Seattle) last year and seeing buildon.aws advertised on shuttle trains and billboards. Walking through the airport and seeing that clear message communicated was such an excellent example of creating a focused corporate message and making use of their digital presence.

We’ve also seen a lot of great examples in Europe – BNP Paribas, SEAT, Sandvik and Barclays come to mind immediately. There could be many reasons for this, but a likely correlation is that people in that region aren’t as attached to .com and there’s more openness to using differing extensions. Wide use of a variety of ccTLDs have made it easier in these markets to introduce the idea of new TLDs, both generic and .brand.

I must admit I feel a twinge of jealousy when I see some of these fantastic examples – our strategy at Microsoft has been much more conservative so far. And I can see the potential benefits, so it’s been great to see where other brands are using their assets. I remain optimistic that Microsoft will be among the success stories in the future as we envision our namespace strategy for the next decade.

TK: What are some of the most important factors in increasing awareness of .brands?

CQ: One thing we need to do is expand our reach and find a new audience when we’re advocating and promoting the existence and use of .brands. Particularly when we’re dealing with a finite number of companies and the advocates within our normal industry circles, we can end up ‘preaching to the choir’ and it isn’t always totally inclusive of different parts of the community.

In the process of trying to intentionally include more of the global south and other under-served regions for example, the BRG is looking for ways to find a seat at the table and reach a larger audience. The expectation is that through outreach efforts and word of mouth, the ideas that helped to form the foundation of the Specification 13 in the first place will catch on and become part of the conversation in those markets.

We really value candid, community conversations and are looking to expand our sphere of influence in those concentric circles of the world. As a Microsoft employee, this approach aligns perfectly with our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.

TK: What can we as a community do to support this awareness-raising, especially within our own organizations? How do you approach this in your role at Microsoft?

CQ: Repetition is a big factor. For me at Microsoft, I refer to our .brand TLDs as often as I can. For example, I’ve used a vanity .microsoft domain to forward to our corporate domain management tool, so whenever I speak to someone about creating tickets for DNS or domain name requests, I always point them to domains.microsoft. Sometimes I get a curious look, like perhaps I’m not finished with the web address – and it’s a good chance to reinforce that it’s a valid domain as-is. It often leads to some great questions and conversation.

We’ve had interesting discussions with our security team for example around Azure subscriptions and how to quickly determine whether they’re first-party or third-party, as there are differing requirements and governance criteria between them. I suggested that perhaps using the .azure TLD for those subscriptions could be a potential solution, which sparked another interesting conversation around the namespace and increased awareness that .azure was even a thing.

I like to keep it top of mind and regularly find ways to inject .brands into conversations. That’s something each one of us that believes in the premise and value of .brands can do – act as a ‘hotspot of goodness’ and keep generating that word of mouth, be a .brand evangelist. If you think about the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘gospel’, it literally refers to ‘good news’ – and I believe it truly is good news for companies with their own TLDs because they have a whole new world of options that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

However, to get leadership on board, I can’t simply approach them with enthusiastic promises and stories that might in fact undermine the naming strategy they’ve worked to establish. I need to think of creative ways to use our .brand TLDs that complement and support this strategy instead of challenging it. For example, there’s low-to-no risk in using vanity .microsoft domains, redirecting them to one of our High Value Domains for the time being – and what that allows is the chance to get people using the domains, socializing them in the wild, and getting customers and users familiar with seeing them.

The fact that the domains may not host unique content or hold any SEO value themselves is irrelevant, because building momentum is key to getting a project from a position of zero to some level of velocity. Once you get the product teams thinking about incorporating .brand TLDs, they become part of your company’s culture and vernacular, and in time it’ll be a much lighter lift to propose something more substantive.

TK: What’s your perspective on a new round of TLD applications?

CQ: This has been a very long-running process and a hot-button issue in the community. We’re clearly not going to see a new window as quickly as we had originally thought.

From my perspective, it can’t get here soon enough – I know for a fact there are brands waiting in the wings to apply for their own TLD. Some missed out the first round, and some are new brands and companies that have been created since that time.

A lot of the debate in subsequent procedures discussions don’t necessarily apply to .brands. TLDs under Specification 13 have incredibly low occurrences of domain abuse for example, which is one of the major concerns in opening a new application window. Given this, there may be a case to fast-track Spec 13 applications – though I know this may not be a popular notion in some camps of the community. It’s not about expecting entitlements or favoring one group over another, but simply about putting ideas out for consideration and advocating for brands’ interests, which is exactly what the BRG exists to do.

TK: Finally, in your perspective what does success look like?

CQ: First and foremost, I think it’s important to recognize the timeframe of a change like this. I’ve mentioned before the proverb that says ‘The best time to have planted a tree was 100 years ago. The second best time is today.’ Not all updates and projects are designed to be enjoyed immediately – some are undertaken with the vision that they’ll benefit future employees, customers or generations.

Similarly with .brands, companies need to consider where they want to be in 5, 10 or 20 years and work backwards from that strategic horizon point. I believe that, as painful as it may be to get there, the company that invests in and focuses on their own guaranteed namespace can block out a great amount of the otherwise distracting and expensive noise, and focus on delivering value.

In terms of recognizing success, maybe it’s a little like hearing your band’s song on the radio for the first time. When there’s an awesome Microsoft ad run during the Super Bowl that fades to black and the end card is a powerful, memorable .microsoft domain, it’ll be a pretty special milestone. Spotting these domains out there, being leveraged creatively, incorporated with other new technologies and being used to increase the level of consumer trust and security, will all be incredibly rewarding.

 

Cole was incredibly generous to share so much of his time and insight with me for this interview. If you’d like to know more about the BRG, visit brandregistrygroup.org. You can also see some of Microsoft’s .brand domains on our .brands Spotlight – and if you haven’t already, read part 1 of this Q&A now.

*This article was originally published on makeway.world in Sept. 2018.

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