Did you know someone actually owns the .com domain?
Companies such as Verisign (which runs .com for the U.S. government) contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to gain ownership over certain top-level domains. ICANN opened a window of time to register for new domain extensions, which closed in January 2012, and companies jumped on the opportunity — ICANN received more than 1,900 applications for nearly 1,000 different new domain names.
For an application fee of $185,000 (and some additional fiscal requirements), companies could apply for the rights to turn any letters or words into top-level domains. From tech giants such as Google and Amazon to global brands such as BMW and Nike — and even some startups — companies raised millions of dollars in capital to get in the game. This new crop of unique domains range from local (.nyc, .miami) to intuitive (.clothing, .bank) and encompasses a broad range of topics and verticals to help websites stand out from the .com multitude.
Owning a top-level domain is like being an exclusive manufacturer of a one-of-a-kind product. As the registry, owners get paid for every registered domain name ending in their top-level domain name. They are responsible for the technical maintenance that keeps our domain space secure and functional while allowing accredited registrars, such as GoDaddy, to sell domain names on their behalf.
Success in any industry is about breaking away from the pack by providing products that customers both recognize and desire. Entrepreneurs can learn from the following strategies, which helped us and others in the domain name space find success:
1. Understand your distribution and sales channels.
As the “manufacturer,” top-level domain registries don’t have total control over our product’s sales process. Every company that sells indirectly through third-party retailers must work to establish strong channel relationships and build financial and creative partnerships.
Even for online retailers, “shelf space” is limited. With new competing products regularly entering the market, letting relationships lag can lead to new players snatching channels of exposure from you. To maintain and strengthen our relationships, we travel to our key retail partners for face-to-face meetings and work to support them with co-marketing funds, creative asset assistance and more.
2. Build your brand to create pull.
While distribution plays a critical role, the best way to gain shelf space (either physical or virtual) is for your retailers to sense a strong demand for your product.
If their customers are asking for it, you can be sure retailers will want to offer and highlight your product. At my company, we engage in ongoing social media campaigns to build and grow our brand and help drive customers to our retail partners.
3. Encourage and facilitate your customer community by supporting end users.
There’s no advertising like free advertising, and no one is more trusted than an unpaid spokesperson. Shine a light on your best customers to build a strong community around your brand. Set up a section of your website dedicated to promoting your best customers and showing your products in use. Share their successes and posts in social media; make them feel special. This kind of engagement turns customers into brand advocates.
Registries look for promising companies and startups who use their top-level domain names and feature them on their blog and in social media, then help those companies find other ways to gain exposure that will improve their mutual prospects. Successful customers create successful businesses – the more they can publicize their customers’ successes, the more likely it is that others will see how that specific top-level domain helped them get there, and thus think about the potential to use that top-level domain name themselves.
Regardless of product or service, entrepreneurs whose companies act as true partners to their retailers and distributors (and who advocate for their customers beyond product delivery) have enormous advantages over those who disappear after the sale. It’s very much a buyer’s market today – countless choices exist for a domain name (and for your product, too). Entrepreneurs must build strong sales and distribution partnerships and establish a strong community around their ultimate end users.
Photo credit: placester.com