Who, me?

By Haydn Simpson


One of the most common challenges that NetNames helps brand owners to solve is the key question of where the responsibility for the management and protection of their digital assets lies within their organisation.  The strategic considerations, policy development and control over how brands should be present, protected and ultimately prosperous on the internet often remain unresolved to this day.  This is astonishing considering the opportunity and risk that online activity provides to companies from all industries.  The use of the internet as a channel to market should be central to any current and future strategic business strategy, and as such it deserves clear attention from multiple stakeholders in any business.

When NetNames first launch its corporate domain name management service in 2002, it was commonplace for brand owners, even with relatively well developed domain name portfolios, to have a multitude of domain name providers dealing with by many different functions within their organisation.  Who had registered which domain names, using which provider and with which contact details was one of the most common challenges faced by the newly elected “domain name manager” to solve.  In reality, the responsibility for domain name management tended to be thrown on to the desk of a colleague in Marketing, IT or Legal.  Whomever was chosen for the responsibility, they tended to have, though no fault of their own, little knowledge of the historical domain name registration policy and the processes required for the renewal and maintenance of the portfolio they had inherited.

It got to the stage where millions of pounds of revenue were being generated through a domain name that was registered to the personal email address of Bob in marketing who had left the company three years ago.  Renewals were pot luck.  The revenue and reputational risk attached to losing key domains and business continuity was not recognised.

It’s true that many businesses have now prioritised the need for a clear strategy that protects and optimises their digital assets, domain names included.  Internet generated revenue, through both direct sales and more intangible reputational management, has rightly risen up the agenda to become central to a key part of brand development and marketing messaging.  Uber, Amazon, Alibaba and Airbnb have all blazed a trail to become number one in their markets using the internet as a route to market.  Their innovation of product, aggressive launch and subsequent exploitation of strong online brands, which more often than not equate to strong online revenues, should be enough to convince more ‘traditional’ companies sit up and take note.

This still isn’t always the case.  In many organisations domain names, a brand’s key online presence, are still the bête noir of the Marketing, IT or Legal functions.  They are seen as a purely administrative spoke in the online wheel, with price the key driver in terms of strategy and partner selection.  There is no doubt that proper budgeting should play an important role, but it goes well beyond this.  With such a complex landscape showing no signs of becoming simpler, there are other aspects that need to be considered above the price of a domain name portfolio.  Will a provider who is delivering rock bottom prices proactively deliver  the strategic reviews, advice and insight that allow brands to reduce costs and increase revenues?  The short answer is a resounding “no”.  One of the key aspects of NetNames’ strategic partnerships with its clients is the optimisation of their domain name portfolios, often resulting in divesting domains that they don’t need - smaller portfolios equal lower overall costs.

With some notable exceptions, this lackadaisical approach manifests itself in the new gTLD space.  Many brands have not, and will not, even consider the opportunities that this evolution of the online space offers.  There is a degree of understandable frustration driven by the sentiment that some of the new gTLD extensions are there just to fuel additional defensive registrations and cost brand owners more money.  However, a careful and strategic consideration of the space often leads to a surprising amount of industry or brand specific suffixes that should be considered within the already delegated new suffixes.  NetNames’ Internet 2020 report spoke at length about this (download a copy here), and the views held in that report from brand owners are still valid.  New gTLDs can often provide the opportunity to enhance or even replace large parts of an existing portfolio.

What is the cause of this reluctance to even consider the wider opportunities presented by the ‘new’ online infrastructure?  NetNames has the opportunity to discuss this at length with many ambitious global brands on a daily basis.  The overwhelming opinion is that a lack of ownership within the organisation restricts the debate and the decision making process.  In some cases, there is no joined-up approach between Marketing, IT and Legal, let alone other stakeholders such as Sales and Executives.  The discussion simply does not happen as it is not driven by ownership within the brand owner itself.

Often, it’s the same for online brand protection.  Granted, we are seeing an increase in brand owners in particular industries (Pharmaceutical, Luxury Goods, Apparel, Consumer Electronics...) appointing online brand protection officers to their staff, but more often than not these roles still have to be absorbed by other parts of the business as with domain name management.  This leads to limited time and resource to address the challenges, and ultimately a lack of understanding as to what the landscape looks like and what can be done to minimise risk and maximise opportunity.  Meanwhile, brands continue to lose customers and revenue to third parties.

There is no magic wand that can be used to solve this challenge.  It’s down to each brand owner to understand their own structure, to assign responsibility and to ensure that there are resources in place to develop and protect their online operations.  This can seem daunting, but the risk that comes with doing nothing becomes higher by the day.  There is help out there – one of NetNames key areas of activity is to help brand owners to understand the online landscape, to design and implement domain name and brand protection policies and to help them execute those policies moving forward.   More often than not the advice is as follows:

• Ensure that there is a single point of responsibility within the organisation for domain name management and  brand protection
• Set up and run multi-function stakeholder groups to debate, decide and drive forward policy decisions concerning digital assets
• Engage with partners to help understand, prioritise and execute your policy across all internet channels