Everything we know about domain name suffixes is going to change. Recent ruling by ICANN will allow the creation of custom names by companies and organizations (for a mere $185,000). So the era of .com and .net may give way to .coke and .apple and .hbo. In some ways this is the “High Street” of the Internet being created across down from the back alley of .xxx. There will also be generic names such as .banking and .hotels granted at the discretion of ICANN.
There are a lot of potential benefits here, particularly for companies that want to reinforce their brand. Of course, there are also some potential costly downsides when the litigation starts and trademark infringement gets nasty.
Everyone is predicting the rise of another whole set of companies and services looking to make money off of this. From the marketing guru to the domain resellers, every time we open a new channel we find ways to leverage it. I know that the SEO experts are already trying to figure this out.
More interesting to me is how backward part of this seems. Just as we are moving into an era when the search engine is a first stop instead of the URL bar and where mobile sites present themselves as applications with no need for a URL at all, we are going to start introducing longer and more complex strings to remember. This may turn out to be a great boon to SEO and marketing, but completely slip below the radar of the average consumer. For them, the new world of apps and powerful semantic search should slowly chip away at the use of URLs in general. Likewise, QR codes and other non-textual shortcuts in the world around us will allow our mobile devices to go directly to the relevant information without the bother of a keyboard.
Should your brand make the investment in a new top level domain? I think the answer is going to be yes for most big brands from a defensive position (a few hundred thousand dollars is small change in big brand marketing). The opportunity for interesting and innovative marketing using these new domains is going to require some serious thinking and insights. Someone will get it right and then lots of companies will follow along.