Not another yearly recap: what 2018 tells us about .brands
By Tony Kirsch
Head of Professional Services, Neustar
It’s that special time again!
Time to unwind, spend time with loved ones – and to reflect on another 12 months of progress across the .brand movement.
Over the last few years, we’ve used this end of year assessment and our efforts with MakeWay.World to show you how the industry is being embraced globally – through a range of examples, statistics and predictions about how the year ahead will be our best ever.
Now…I’m not promising that there won’t be a little of that in this blog – but I was reflecting recently on where we’ve come from and pushing myself to really consider how last year evolved and what we’ve learned.
And as you’ll see below, the situation with .brands is a little different than perhaps how we had predicted.
No ‘big bang’ moment: where we got it wrong
A lot of the time, the news you’ll see from me will relate to .brand site launches, from well-known brands in the most influential sectors and industries. And like many .brand watchers, we’ve long been hanging out for that one massive, shining example: the day Google or Apple or some other highly prominent household names start to use their TLD which causes an amazing domino effect and others instantly go ‘all-in’ on their .brands.
Yet, these massive organizations (and many others) have actually done some amazing things with their .brands in the last 12 months, without the expected fanfare and explosion of .brand usage across the industry.
Why you may ask? Whilst it’s difficult to say with 100% certainty, I think one of our key lessons in 2018 was that organizations are embracing .brands for their own reasons, and in their own time.
We’ve seen trends develop around the use of .brands to secure and improve social media links, to save money and time in managing corporate domain portfolios, and to redirect visitors to existing web content.
This leads me to believe that the importance of aligning to your company’s strategy and ensuring that sufficient support and education has been garnered appears to be more important for this type of innovation, as distinct to responding to competitor movements or other industry trends.
Similarly, a number of our clients used their .brand last year for the first time simply due to the fact that a .com domain they wanted for a promotion wasn’t available (or was at a high price) so they ended up registering in their .brand very quickly and inexpensively. Having realized how simple and reliable it is, they’ve told me they won’t ever revert to that legacy behavior again.
“The maturity in 2018 of the .brands movement across the world was equally rewarding last year, if not more so.”
All of these are ‘simpler’ strategies than the marketing and advertising revolution we predicted – but they are no less valid or clever options. In fact, they’re probably easier to get started and will be more sustainable and scalable for many .brands.
You see, it’s really education and awareness that is the key to continued adoption on the .brand space. Use of a .brand is neither complicated nor risky, and the vast majority of folks that have put their toe in the water rapidly advance to talented swimmer status relatively quickly.
Whilst there is unquestionably a groundswell of new .brand usage each year (which I’ll go into a bit more below), the previously-held view that we’re waiting for one big thing to tip the scale across the world for .brands shifted significantly last year and I think it’s reasonable to assume that this will be a continual and gradual pattern of adoption in the years to come.
The stats don’t lie – .brands are a maturing space
In 2018, 46 new brands used their .brand TLD for the first time. This meant we welcomed to the fold companies like American Express, Bosch, AOL, Nikon, Visa and many more.
Meanwhile, we also saw more growth in domains last year than we did in 2017 – by more than double. The industry sectors with the most domains registered (automotive and banking & financial at the time of writing) were also the ones that grew the most. Not only this, but actual usage of these domains (i.e. they’re actively resolving or redirecting to content) is also still on the increase – up 18% in 2018.
And honestly, this is exactly how a maturing space should behave. In any new technology, you expect an initial spike of activity – but this isn’t sustainable. In order to see longevity and future innovation, there have to be periods of settling and stabilizing between the peaks.
The first .brand TLD to be delegated went live in 2014. We’re over four years past that now, and the fact that we’re still seeing growth in domains and in usage is an encouraging sign for .brands in the long term.
This is another key takeaway for me as I reflect on 2018.
In previous years, we’d been very focused on maximizing growth at all costs, but the maturity in 2018 of the .brands movement across the world was equally rewarding last year, if not more so.
The highlights reel
Having said all this, I couldn’t let a 2018 recap go by without calling out a few great examples of usage that emerged last year.
In September, Apple launched its new iPhoneX using experience.apple, a mobile-based, promotional product site. As with anything Apple does, this gained huge media attention and likely drew a lot of eyeballs to the experience.apple site. Apple has also had newsroom.apple redirecting to its corporate news page for several months.
Following its move to a new international site at global.canon, Canon announced its move to .canon email addresses, explaining that “by leveraging the simplicity of the TLD, which is easy to remember and easy to understand, Canon aims to enhance the Company’s global brand value.”
As we commented on earlier in the year, the Australian Football League promoted its premiership finals series on finals.afl, exposing the domain to millions of viewers in Australia via advertising on television, radio, social media and out-of-home.
We saw several new corporate sites on a .brand TLD from Google, including safety.google, gradient.google, elections.google, ai.google, app.google, wellbeing.google, diversity.google and more. Google’s use of .google shows no sign of letting up and their passion towards this and other vital topics such as HSTS will continue to inspire others in years to come.
The automotive space continued to lead the way in .brand usage, with sites like tt.audi, gt-r50.nissan, geneva2018.lamborghini, global.honda and yours-customised.mini.
This is just a tiny, flyover sample of some of the sites that got us excited last year. But the sheer volume means there’s no way we can give a full overview. If you want to see more of these, check out our Showcase on MakeWay.World.
So, was 2018 ‘the biggest year yet’, with 2019 set to blow it out of the water?
Or have we just witnessed a vital pivot, cementing .brands as an innovation that will continue to drive the evolution in digital identity and branding for years to come?
Time will tell, but as we look towards the year ahead of us, let’s not put ourselves under any illusions. 2018 showed us that .brand adoption will continue to be steady, but it also relies heavily on the community sharing our lessons and successes to help the marketers of tomorrow understand the inherent brand, security and efficiency benefits.
As for 2019, I for one am really excited to see this industry continuing to mature and finding its feet as a stable, sustainable part of brands’ long term tech and marketing arsenal.