Big Branding News on the Internet Domain Name Front

ICANN logoIt was only a matter of time. Internet domain names are now poised to move to a new level of branding sophistication.

This past week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided to broaden domain name suffixes to encompass pretty much anything. Instead of being restricted to suffixes like .com and .net that we’re so used to seeing, beginning in January 2012, companies will be able to apply for the use of any suffix.

At one level, there’s a practical reason for the change in policy. As happened with telephone lines in an earlier era when a host of new FAX numbers and cellphones came onstream, the inventory of available web addresses under the original system of .com, .edu, .gov and .org has been drying up. Recent moves to authorize the use of .biz, .us and .xxx have been merely stopgap measures that have done little to alleviate the pending inventory crunch.

But the latest ICANN move will likely have ripple effects that go well beyond the practical issue of available web addresses. Industry observers anticipate that the new policies will unleash a flurry of branding activity as leading companies apply for the right to use their own brand names as suffixes.

In fact, Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN’s board of directors, believes the move will “usher in a new Internet age.”

It’s expected that major consumer brands like Coca Cola and Toyota will be among the first to nab new domain suffixes like .coke or .toyota.

It’s a natural tactic for companies to employ as a defensive step against unscrupulous use of their brand names by other parties. But it’s also an effective way to gain more control over their overall online web presence via the ability to send visitors more directly to various portions of their world in cyberspace.

Of course, we can’t expect these new suffixes to be acquired on the cheap. Gone are the days when someone could purchase an address like “weather.com” for a just few dollars … and then sell it later on for hundreds of thousands.

In fact, it’s being reported by the Los Angeles Times that the cost to secure a new domain will be in the neighborhood of $185,000 – hardly chump change. At that price tag, only well-established organizations will be in a position to apply – and those applications must also be able to show that they have the technical capabilities to keep the domain running. So no cyber-squatters need apply.

Bloomberg Businessweek predicts that leading companies may invest upwards of $500,000 each to secure their brand identities online and to prevent them from being “hijacked” by others. It certainly gives a fresh new meaning to the term “eminent domain”!

Online Display Ad Effectiveness: Skepticism Persists

Online Display AdvertisingAs the variety of options for online advertising have steadily increased over the years, the reputation of display advertising effectiveness has suffered. Part of this is in the statistics: abysmal clickthrough rates on many online display ads with percentages that trend toward the microscopic.

But another part is just plain intuition. People understand that when folks go online, they’re usually on a mission – whether it’s information-seeking, looking for products to purchase, or avocational pursuits.

Simply put, the “dynamic” is different than magazines, television or radio — although any advertiser will tell you that those media options also have their share of challenges in getting people to take notice and then to take action.

The perception that online display advertising is a “bad” investment when compared to search engine marketing is what’s given Google its stratospheric revenue growth and profits in recent years. And that makes sense; what better time to pop up on the screen than when someone has punched in a search term that relates to your product or service?

In the B-to-B field, the knock against display advertising is even stronger than in the consumer realm. In the business world, people have even less time or inclination to be distracted by advertising that could take them away from their mission at hand.

It doesn’t take a swath of eye-tracking studies to prove that most B-to-B practitioners have their blinders on to filter out extraneous “noise” when they’re in information-seeking mode.

This isn’t to say that B-to-B online display advertising isn’t occurring. In fact, in a new study titled Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B, marketing research and consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. reports that about seven in ten B-to-B interactive marketers employ online display advertising to some degree in their promotional programs.

And they do so for the same reasons that compelled these comparnies to advertise in print trade magazines in the past. According to the Forrester report, the primary objectives for online display advertising include:

 Increase brand awareness: ~49% of respondents
 Lead generation: ~46%
 Reaching key target audiences: ~46%
 Driving direct sales: ~41%

But here’s a major rub: Attitudes toward B-to-B online display advertising are pretty negative — and that definitely extends to the ad exchanges and ad networks serving the ads. Moreover, most don’t foresee any increased effectiveness in the coming years.

That may explain why Forrester found that fewer than 15% of the participants in its study reported that they have increased their online display advertising budgets in 2011 compared to 2010 – even as advertising budgets have trended upward overall.

When you look closer at display, there’s actually some interesting movement. Google has committed to a ~$390 million acquisition of display ad company Admeld. And regardless of the negative perceptions that may be out there, Google’s Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media platforms have created the ability for advertisers to bid on ad inventories based on their value to them.

Moreover, new capabilities make it easier to measure and attribute the impact of various media touchpoints — online display as well as others — that ultimately lead to conversion or sales.

But the negative perceptions about online display advertising continue, proving again that attitudes are hard to change — even in the quickly evolving world of digital advertising.