3 Things You Should be Doing this Spring and Summer … if You’re a new TLD Applicant Published by Thom Kennon EVP, Digital Brand Strategies

It would have been difficult to plan for this no-man’s-land period we find ourselves in this spring as ICANN rectifies, resets and finally closes their new TLD application window.  But for those of us with applications in the black-box hopper, we soldier on.

From a marketing standpoint, there are three things we are working on with our partner clients with applications submitted, and if you’re in the game too, you might want to consider similar actions. The most important piece of advice we have is this: You should get started immediately because there’s no good reason to wait for ICANN to complete its TAS phase before start marketing your new TLD.

#1 – Building the brand

Historically, most TLDs have not been terribly successful at building and sustaining an actual brand in the marketplace. Most have done little if any direct brand marketing and awareness to the prospective registrants or end users.

Traditionally, most TLD marketing has been promotional discounts targeting the channel. In addition, all TLD registry marketing meant for the registrant market has been massively disintermediated by the channel. But that need not be the case for many new TLDs. Your job will be to start building a brand on day one and take that brand along with its promise, power and demonstrable value to the marketplace.

Your spring and summer 2012 homework here includes collating all relevant research – competitive, consumer, category and technology – and developing a strong brand identity platform. This should include a mission statement, logo, color palette and visual identity, as well as your preliminary marketing materials e.g. website, press releases, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ presences. After all, even at this early stage, if you want to distinguish your application, you need a clear identity. It’s always better, when you are in charge of creating it rather than your competition. Which brings me to the next point.

#2 – Making new friends

Those of us with TLD applications in play are prepping for an intriguing summer, half high school dance, half high-stakes game of chicken among competing applicants and ICANN. If you are an applicant that anticipates stiff competition for your string, the best way to make the case for your application over competing applications is to establish both the perception and the reality of unassailable credibility.

In today’s world of 24-hour news cycles, saturation social media and pervasive connectedness, there is a simple but powerful way to build this credibility: association with and endorsement by credible authorities within the industry, vertical, or interest group related to your application.

Your summer homework here is simple: Use the tools of social media and digital PR to identify the key influencers in your relevant category and connect them to your compelling story. Getting key influencers to endorse and even independently advocate for your TLD is a critical step toward building the unassailable credibility your application will need to carry the day if and when you enter negotiations with competing applicants and avoid a costly auction.

#3 – Taking the hill

Like all marketing, there are elements of what we must accomplish which share much in common with warfare.  The most obvious is the competitive advantage created and exploited by brand momentum.   By creating the first the perception and then the reality of marketplace demand for your gTLD you will be capitalizing on the credibility established in #2 above and moving your brand story into a prominent, dominant positioning versus any competitive applicants as ICANN reviews applications and the possible horse-trading commences.

This is the most critical piece of your brand building homework for a simple reason — the momentum your brand messaging and presence creates in the marketplace this summer is the foundation upon which you will be building your business as you move successfully through delegation.  Focusing on these three key areas of baseline brand building in the coming days, weeks and months is your best next steps in ensuring your ultimate go-to-market strategy is grounded, authentic and competitively robust.

Don’t wait until the reveal date to get moving. We’re not and chances are neither are the smartest competitors.

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