DotBrand thinking for 2017

Stuart Fuller

The news that hotel and leisure company Belmond has decided to terminate its dotBrand application for the iconic Orient Express brand will have undoubtedly passed under the radar for many people, but it represents the 20th such withdrawal of a dotBrand since the program started in earnest back in 2013.

Although it’s a small number in the overall volume of dotBrand applications (over 550 are still active), the financial loss incurred by each applicant cannot be simply swept under the carpet. Every one of those 20 dotBrand applications will lose the original $185,000 application fee paid to ICANN, and many will have incurred additional fees relating to the set-up of their TLD, at approximately $50,000 a year.

Since the Korean firm Doosan withdrew its application for dotDoosan in October 2015, there has been a regular beat in the termination of dotBrand applications. Before Christmas, we saw engineering firms FLSmidth and Emerson Electric withdraw their respective applications, whilst Mitsubishi terminated its dotMtpc TLD (Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation), choosing to divert its resources into the dotMitsibushi dotBrand. The Guardian Media Group has been the most active organization, withdrawing all five of its applications at significant cost.

As of 31st December 2016, 107 dotBrands were live, supporting nearly 600 active websites. That’s under 20% of the original applications now being live, more than four years into the program. So why have so few actually launched? And why are some applicants deciding to throw in the towel years after they had done all the hard work?

ICANN dictates that unless there are mitigating circumstances, dotBrands are expected to have actively launched within a year of delegation. Last year, ICANN sent termination letters to ten applicants who had overstayed their welcome in the post-delegation hotel, including to nine African organizations, among them dotMnet, dotNaspers and dotSupersport. It’s unlikely that they will be alone, as the 12-month anniversary ticks around for other dotBrands in the next few months.

The lack of an activation strategy is the biggest danger to any dotBrand. Having done the hard work in battling through the ICANN red tape and check boxes, paying a king’s ransom for the privilege, many applicants then turn over the strategic planning on how to use their new digital asset to... well, that’s half the issue. Many applications were made by the legal and IP team (more as a preventative measure) rather than digital marketers who saw the possibilities of the dotBrand revolution in the Internet naming space.

The pioneers such as CERN, BNP Paribas, Monash University and Sandvik may not all be household names, but their foresight will forever earn them a place in the history of the Internet. They all saw the potential of an application for a dotBrand (or three in the case of Sandvik, a Swedish construction company) and created launch strategies not only for the migration of their existing domain names into the dotBrand but also new micro and campaign websites.

They have today been joined by global organizations such as Canon, Shell and Barclays – famous brands moving into the braver new digital world. Each and every dotBrand that has launched today will have a clear strategy, with criteria for success and stakeholders across the business. That’s the key to success for any dotBrand – ensuring it is treated with the same respect and reverence as other critical assets such as trademarks and patents, coupled with the opportunity to create something innovative with their digital presence.

I’m hoping 2017 is the year that the few become the majority in terms of dotBrand usage. There certainly needs to be a mindset shift within many of the organizations that applied back in 2012 – especially as we appear to be on the cusp of a second round being formally backed.