Last month I attended the Namescon 2016 conference. It was organized by Richard Lau and Jothan Frakes. They did a tremendous job hosting yet another well attended and jam-packed event. Congrats!
It was great to be at the conference to reconnect with a number of folks I have worked with at VeriSign, eNom, and in the industry in general. There is definitely a strong sense of enthusiasm for the New TLDs in 2016 and for the domain name space at large. I wanted to share some thoughts I had after attending the conference.
1. 2015 was the "integration" year for New TLDs. Registrars were managing the incredible weight of having to integrate 1,000+ new tlds in to their search flows, websites, and management systems. There has never been a period like this in the domain space historically. Now that we are in early 2016, the majority of New TLDs are now live. Thus, I definitely see a transition this year towards more marketing of New TLDs. Integrations are done, learning curves are over, so the true selling begins! It will be interesting to see where the Registrar community focuses these marketing efforts. Especially the top 10 Registrars. The New TLD registries that get themselves prioritized on these Marketing calendars will benefit the most.Those that do not get priority will need to rely on the power of the TLD to either a) be found through the registrar's namespinner, or b) ideally be included in the their general marketing campaigns. In short, I think this year is all about selling and educating the market on the New TLDs.
2. I did get a sense that more Registries are now looking at other creative ways to market their TLDS outside of the traditional Registrar marketing deals. This is smart. The Registrar channel should not be their sole sales channel. I see this unfolding in two ways in 2016: building your own Retail channel or acquiring your own retail channel.
In the Building column, you already have players like M+M, Top Level Design, and DotVegas running retail storefronts. I think we will definitely see more Registries get in to this game. Granted it can be expensive and it relies heavily on the Registry investing in their own marketing and driving eyeballs to their own storefront. However, I think the upside is big as well. I like this approach mainly because a Registry can control their own destiny in this model. So, lets say they convince some big Brand or agency or Association to promote their TLD. Under this model, they manage the deal terms and control the sales process by having the Brand, Association, etc point all their marketing toward the Registry's own Retail storefront. Its clean, its easy, and it starts growing the Retail business.
Another point I think is interesting about this option is the potential for more backend players popping up to manage these storefronts. CentralNIC has done a great job in this category and I would not be surprised if one or two others jump in.
In the Acquisition bucket, we basically have the evolution of the Vertical Integration model. Most recent group to jump in to this game --> Afilias. They acquired Wolfgang's registrar, 101Domain. When I read about the acquisition, I was not surprised. I think it is a great a move for Afilias. They have purchased a solid registrar, an existing customer base (that includes brands, nice!), and they now have a retail distributor to push their own TLDs. If I had to guess, I would not be surprised if Neustar got in to this game as well. They have been gobbling up other Registries - most recently .AU registry). I could easily see them switch focus to begin acquiring registrars as well (maybe their contracts on BIZ and US prevent this, not sure).
3. Continuing along the increased focus on sales in 2016, I think we are going to see a more determined focus by Registries looking to break deeper in to associations and other verticals that tie nicely in to their TLD. For example, the .Dentist registry ramping up their focus to broker a deal with "Dentist" agencies. We saw some of this in 2015 with registries attending conferences, trade shows, etc of these vertical specific industry players. In 2016, I envision a more strategic focus by registries to crack the formula on making it even easier for these groups to partner with them. So what is the magic formula? The registry already has the right "name", so, if I had to guess, I think it boils down to the incentive + value add. I dont think these type of deals will be as effective on the name alone, I think there will be some deals that involve the New TLD + a unique value-add to the brand/association/etc. To me the winning formula will result in the domain being registered + used + shared (shared being the big key, in my opinion).
As I noted earlier, it was so great to reconnect with everyone at the show. I took some photos of the event - see them below. Enjoy!!