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Domain Names and Branding

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November 01, 2009
Paul Manley, PMP

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© 2009 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

In an article of the Fall, 2008 issue of Hospitality Upgrade, Sean McGovern advised hotels to “watch their backs” when it came to protecting their brand from people or companies who create domain names that may confuse customers (cyber squatting) or harm their company (cyber smearing). Professor Peter O’Connor of the Essec Business School evaluated how well the top 100 brands are watching their backs and taking advantage of the Web. O’Connor presented his research findings at the 17th Annual Conference of the Hospitality Information Technology Association in June 2009.

The study benchmarks current industry practices to the extent brands register trade names, whether there are any relationships between organizational characteristics and registration, and whether there is a link between domain registration and performance.

In McGovern’s article the case is made to register your brand under more than one domain name and to do so in various generic top level domains (gTLD). However, there has been little empirical research to show the extent to which brands have actually done this and to what effect.

Are brands just jumping on the bandwagon without completing proper due diligence and without considering the approach and impacts as J. Murphy and others found in their research published in an article titled “The Use of Domain Names in E-branding by the World’s Top Brands” in Electronic Markets (2003) magazine?

When it comes to the registration of top level domain names, there is little difference between the economy, mid-market and upscale segments that were studied in the research. This is a change from research completed in 2001 and 2003 which showed a difference in registration between segments. The practice is now so widespread that it is an industry practice.

However, the research finds that while all brands have registered their name in dot-com domain, this is not true for country top level domains (cTLD). Hotel companies still have a long way to go in Spain (.es) and France (.fr), where only 63 percent and 50 percent of the world’s leading hotel brands, respectively, have registered their names. Low registration in France may be likely due to the requirement that the brand name be trademarked before registration can be done.

If a brand were thinking of expanding into other countries they should consider completing the necessary requirements to register before a legitimate alternate brand registers first. Similarly, brands should consider a defensive registration in the .travel and .info domains even though these are not yet as popular as dot-com, dot-org and dot-biz.

Though the number of domain name registrations is independent of the brand’s market segment, the research indicates that brands registered in the United States are more likely to register in the TLDs studied and have more total domain names overall. Similarly, larger hotel chains registered in more TLDs and have more total domain names.

Beyond mitigating the risk of cyber squatting and cyber smearing, an important marketing function of registering multiple domain names is to increase the likelihood of appearing as the result of a search. Future research will look at whether registering multiple domain names actually result in more visitors. Research similar to this has been done in other industries and it will be interesting to benchmark hospitality against them.

How the Hotel Domain Registration Info Was Found
Per the research study: A WHOIS lookup was performed on this domain name to determine the name and email address of the registrant. A registrant search was then performed on this data on www.domaintools.com to determine the number of other domain names registered by the same registrant.

Paul Manley, PMP is a project management consultant, educator and an officer of the international Hospitality Information Technology Association.

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