The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, held a drawing on 17 December to determine the priority by which new generic top-level domain applications would be reviewed.  A top-level domain is the part of a domain name to the right of the dot, like .com or .gov.  Participation in the draw was voluntary but out of 1,930 applications, more than 1,700 participated.  The next step will be reviewing potential objections to applied-for strings and resolving disputes between multiple applicants for the same string.  Ultimately, ICANN plans to begin delegating new gTLDs by mid-2013.

What will the new gTLD program mean for brand managers?  For those companies that applied for .brands, it could mean a new exclusive platform through which businesses can market their brands and control their online presence by offering customers a new way to access the business online.  Chanel International B.V., for example, hopes that a new .chanel top-level domain would “create and control domain spaces that promote and protect [Chanel’s] brand identity and authenticity,” according to its application for the top-level domain.  For producers of high-end luxury products that are subject to imitation and knock-offs on the Internet, it’s easy to see the appeal of the security and trust that could accompany .brands.

For those businesses that did not apply for .brands in this round of new gTLDs, there may be opportunities to take advantage of the program through generic TLDs.  The four applicants for the .fashion top-level domain, for example, all express intent to operate the domain to benefit users in the fashion industry.  Top Level Domain Holdings, Ltd. wants the .fashion registry to “cater to businesses and fashion manufacturers, self-employed fashion designers, effectively and efficiently providing them with an identifiable medium in which they can share their craft.”  Uniregistry, Corp., says its .fashion TLD would “provide a tool with which fashion designers, retailers, and followers can promote their style and stand out amidst a crowd of competitors.”

Businesses, whether they already are intimately involved in the new gTLD process or not, should watch the program closely over the next several months.  As new top-level domains are delegated in generic terms like .fashion or .style, brand managers may find a wholly new platform that can strengthen their brand.  They also might find that new TLDs, like with .com or .biz, may result in cyber- and typo-squatting, requiring additional monitoring to protect the brand from tarnishment.  As Charlie Abrahams, vice president of Europe for MarkMonitor, a brand protection firm, told a UK blog, the new gTLD program may just mean businesses “will have around 500 places to defend their brand name in the next few years.”  It remains to be seen whether new gTLDs will result in increased cybersquatting, but companies should be aware of the possibility.