Monday, August 22, 2011

ICM Registry Founders Program: A marketing Idea for African ccTLDs

Some marketing Ideas for African ccTLDs: Request for Proposals on Development Programs
We have covered the issue of African ccTLDs and their failed marketing and pricing regimes countless times on this blog. African ccTLD namespaces host very few domains, websites and content and this means these countries have almost a non existent identity on the world wide web.

People often talk of giving Africa a positive image and go on spending millions of dollars branding their nations on global media but there are cheaper cost effective methods of branding in African domains and SEO. It's obvious most African countries' names have been "cybersquatted"  on the web in the gTLD namespace and are generating millions of dollars in revenue to the owners of those domain names who obviously acquired them in the late 1990s or early in the millenium, when Africa, with its non existent internet  penetration at the time, had not realized the value of the internet leave alone domain names.

Africa in the 90s was just witnessing the beginning of liberalization of the markets, transitioning from landlines to mobile telephony and witnessing the first dawn of the internet with AOL and the rest. So domain names was not on everyone's mind.

This allowed early domainers to grab names like . Buying back these domains from current owners would be quite costly. These domains could cost anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million! So whoever sit on these names are already very rich, owning very valuable virtual real estate. That's why the ccTLD namespace is a very valuable resource. With a little investment and innovative marketing, the ccTLD domains could easily be spun into gold. Look at Europe for example, the top TLD of choice for many Germans is not .com but .de, the top TLD of choice for the Dutch is not .com but .nl; in UK, rules and the same trend is almost repeated across countless European nations. Europeans hold their ccTLDs in very high esteem, .com plays second fiddle in Europe. Competitive pricing and marketing is very important in this growth.

I loved the model adopted by ".XXX Founders Program" in the marketing of the .XXX namespace. African ccTLDs should borrow a leaf from .XXX on TLD marketing(in spite of the fact that some of them, read Kenya for example, intend to block .XXX). Since African ccTLDs have great generic domain names still unregistered, why not publish a Request for Proposals to the web entrepreneurs in those countries for development of some premium domains? The incentives will help potential domain owners develop and promote new properties on the African ccTLD domains. For example, the African ccTLDs can offer some 100 high value premium domains for free every year to whoever will come up with the best marketing and development proposal for that domain name.

The proposal should factor in the entrepreneurs' plan to market the country on the web and also reach out to local audiences. So the applicants will specify the domain they are interested in accompanied by a sound business plan on developing those domains. They can include the requirement that the domains should be developed within 60 days of the award. The entrepreneurs should also be rquired to also add banners on their websites promoting the African nation's ccTLD!!

Another idea woud be doing university campaigns and offering at least 1000 free domains to students across the country who come up with viable business models to develop content targeted at the youth market in that country. The idea is to create the impression that .ng  is cool, .ke is cool, .za is cool, .zm is cool. This eventually catches on with other young people. And if young people are introduced to the African ccTLD early enough, they develop "TLD loyalty" early in their lives and are unlikely to be swept away by the ".com Tsunami". The African ccTLDs should also work on the pricing; a $100 domain name is just a non starter!!

Once these African web entrepreneurs have developed compelling content around their domains, there's a high likelihood that they will renew those domain names in order to retain their brand and one year of investment in content development. The African ccTLD Administrators can even sweeten the deal by offering these young winners a one week BootCamp training on how to monetize their content and develop successful e-Commerce websites, on SEO, Link Building, web design, CMS etc. The idea is to entrench the culture of web innovation that will sustain the nation's internet economy into the future!

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