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For brand owners, the time to act on new gTLDs is now

The second .nxt conference on new generic top-level domains recently concluded, and there was one thing that participants in the three days of passionate and informative discussions agreed on: time is running out for applicants. Any organization that thinks it might apply for a new dot Brand, dot City or dot Niche gTLD needs to get its plans in motion now if it wants to hit ICANN's strict application deadlines.

ICANN will accept applications for “dot Anything” top-level domains only from January 12 to April 12, 2012 . Any company that does not file during that period faces an indefinite wait before the second round opens. At the .nxt conference, speakers estimated “second round” dates ranging from 2014 to 2022.

Ten years will be a long time to wait if your competitors are successfully exploiting their new dot brand or dot Niche gTLDs, and you’ve missed the boat. Even two years may be long enough to put you at a competitive disadvantage; after all, Internet time moves swiftly.

While a lot of talk in the media has focused on the pros and cons of dot Brand gTLDs -- where the domain to the right of the dot matches a corporate trademark –- possibly a more important concern for forward-thinking brand owners are the keyword or dot Niche gTLDs related to their industries. This first round of new gTLDs is an unprecedented opportunity for companies to secure category-leading gTLDs that could place their brands in an unassailable competitive position for the long term.

While many applicants will seek keyword gTLDs such as "dot Music" or "dot Sports" to sell second-level registrations to businesses and consumers, nothing in ICANN's rules will prevent a company registering a dictionary term and reserving the whole space solely for its own use. A company may apply for its dot Brand to enhance its reputation online, but a category-leader gTLD may, in the long run, prove to be an even more effective marketing tool.

As I mentioned during a .nxt panel discussion: on the Internet, nobody knows you're the number-four brand. If you are in the brewing business, and ICANN awards you the contract for "dot Beer," your customers will forever associate beer on the Internet with your brand. But if you don't apply, and your competitor does, you risk forever losing access to that valuable string.

Although the clock is ticking, it's not yet too late to prepare an application for a new gTLD, even if your game plan for how to most effectively exploit it is not yet fully formed. With a limited window to apply, making the decision to engage with new gTLDs may be the most important business action you take in 2011. The right expert partner can guide you through the entire application process, helping you navigate the potential pitfalls and significantly increasing your chances of filing a successful bid.