‘Security is the big selling point for a dot brand’

8th June 2018

Sarah Rees headshot

Sarah Rees

Constant reinvention is the endless challenge for marketers, even those agencies with the stability from having large, long-term clients. “We have to keep bringing something new to the table,” admits Zack D’Arcy Willett, co-founder and managing director of h2o creative, a global marketing agency established 13 years ago to find a ‘better way of doing business’.

The company has grown from a two-man team to operating on a staff of 30 and working with substantial names from Harley-Davidson® and Audi to the European Science Foundation. One of their ongoing challenges is helping these brands ride the wave of digital transformation to maintain relevancy in a changing digital world.

“Technology brings many new opportunities, but you need a filter to separate the good from the bad,” explains Zack. “Some models work for some people and not others – to succeed though, you must be open to change.” One of the most recent digital ideas that h2o is keen to explore further with its clients is the dot brand, having perceived the potential afforded by this valuable piece of internet real estate.

“There are many strings to having a dot brand so it offers huge benefit to large corporates. It’s definitely the security element and peace of mind for brand reputation that is the key selling point,” he says.

“The rise of fake news and phishing has made brands nervous about losing the trust of their consumers,” he continues. “By having their own name after the dot – for example, operating on .bbc rather than bbc.com – brands can make it clearer and easier for customers to trust the site and recognise imposters. A brand would own all domains that are registered with its gTLD, so phishing scams become harder to pull off.”

“A dot brand also lends itself to the way we search online for websites. When we search for a company, we just put the name in.”

Further appeal lies in how certain companies approach their marketing and client relationships. Harley-Davidson customers, for example, can be fanatical about personalisation, customising their motorbikes with a huge selection of parts and accessories.

“Harley-Davidson might enjoy the option of creating individual domains for customers – such as zack.harley – to offer aftercare services and to keep in touch with them. Also, for a fashion retailer for example, wouldn’t it be great for customers to log on to a site and see everything that is available within their size? Customer convenience and personalisation is a real selling point today.”

Zack and his team have already started talking to clients about a dot brand and “the first concern is always the price point.” Although the exact cost for lodging an application is yet to be confirmed by ICANN. “It is an investment for the long-term. When you look at the whole digital spend of big companies, it would just be a drop in the ocean.”

He also suggests brands could consider allocating security budget rather than marketing money to secure the dot brand. “The problem is that often the marketing and IT departments are not working together – a simple discussion could help bring the right people together to see the big picture benefits for all of a dot brand.”

His quest isn’t helped by the limited visibility of other big brands using their unique domains, despite over 600 applications being made in the first ICANN round.

“They need to see others in their sector using them before they feel confident about it I think,” said Zack. Banks are the most high-profile users of dot brands, with Barclays and BNP Paribas already operating on their new domains, but h2o works with a different client base. “It’s something that needs to be considered now as businesses are already planning budgets for the next few years and ICANN’s Round 2 of applications for these is expected to open from 2021.”

One stumbling block is that large enterprises often focus on strategies around market growth and the current demands of the customer, while Zack is cognisant of what may happen with technology in the future. Digital developments will likely make fundamental changes to the way people access their brands, and companies must think ahead to safeguard their relevancy.

“One of our clients is in the business of cladding buildings with interactive glass. One day, you may be able to walk past a building that would know it was you, and give you your information as you’re on the fly.” Whatever happens in the years to come – and however we engage with our brands – digital platforms will remain a key communication channel. Securing a dot brand is one of the few ways for companies to safeguard their online space to be ready for whatever lies ahead.

Read more on unique domain names and dot brands on our website.