Everybody knows that names are a big deal, especially when it comes to your brand. Cognitive science tells us that in that split second when we encounter a human face--prior to any conscious reflection, and despite our best efforts--we've already passed judgment. And that's exactly how it is when connected consumers encounter the name of your brand.

The name of your business is the face of your brand

The moment a connected consumer sees the name of your business or hears the name of your brand, they've already decided (or reaffirmed) who it is, what it does, and whether it's worthy of their trust. Whether you're a household name with long-standing associations (Apple, Accenture, Google, Procter & Gamble) or a startup whose name many people have never heard (Nectar Sleep, Yellowbrick Data, Pivot Bio, or Paladin), a name can make or break your brand.  

When I started my company 10 years ago and prepared to launch online, I worked hard to come up with a name that evoked the combination of effortless mastery, on-point execution, and marketing "nirvana"  I knew I could deliver, and Zen Marketing (and later, Zen Media) was born.

Your website is the face of your brand online

The challenge

Ten years ago, you could often get the exact domain name you wanted. When I decided on Zen Marketing, and later Zen Media, I didn't have the experience that many businesses have today: of going to register my domain name and finding it had already been taken. When this happens, it can be a real problem for your business, because you're either forced to sacrifice the name you know is right for your brand altogether, or settle for something "close enough" that makes it difficult to set your brand apart from similarly named competitors.

New TLDs (top-level domains--the technical term for domain endings, such as .com, .net, or .org) have helped to overcome these challenges (say that ZenMedia.com was taken, I could have gone with ZenMedia.net), but they fail to solve a fundamental problem that businesses commonly encounter when choosing their domain name: a meaningful ending to their web address.

Some TLDs like .agency, .shop, .app, and .store have meaning to them, and perhaps will help connected consumers identify the purpose or essence of your business. But most TLDs create a disconnect between the brand and its online presence -- its website -- which creates confusion. Even if you score a perfect match with your brand name, most TLDs don't give connected consumers any indication that your brand is a bona fide business.  

The solution: How to show the world you mean business online

Now brands can get a TLD that immediately cues connected customers they're heading straight to a business website. Brands are no longer settling. Instead, they're cashing in on the increased business traffic that comes with business-optimized TLDs like .shop, .design, .finance, .fashion, and most recently, .inc.

The latest premium TLD is .inc, with its three characters being identical to the abbreviation of incorporated. In other words, .inc quite literally means "business." This new business-optimized TLD is meaningful for all businesses, so it's no surprise that more than 20 percent of the Fortune U.S. 100 companies and Forbes 100 "World's Most Valuable Brands" have already purchased .inc domains, and celebrities like Beyonce and Taylor Swift have joined the movement as well.

With registrations in more than 20 countries, the adoption of .inc may signal the mass exodus of brands, large and small alike, from .com addresses to premium TLDs. This proves that businesses are seeing--and seeking--the benefit of setting themselves apart from the .com crowd.    

And it's not just big businesses and big names that are catching the TLD wave. Today, any company can get the domain ending that means "business."

Businesses can have it both ways

Businesses large and small have all kinds of options with premium TLDs. They can use a premium TLD either as a replacement for their current domain or simply as a complement or supplement to it.

For instance, many brands are using .inc to differentiate their parent company from their subsidiaries, or their consumer offerings from their investor relations. Explains Paul Hughes, chief business development officer at Freshii, "We are using Freshii.inc for our investor relations page because .inc means business and this is where our corporate content lives online. We can see this becoming the trend for many more public companies moving forward."

The benefits: Premium TLDs come with premium perks

Brands rightly see the adoption of business-optimized TLDs as a strategic investment and can expect to receive premium perks for these services. These perks are especially valuable to smaller businesses and include benefit packages that go well beyond the increased web traffic, market differentiation, prestige, and other competitive advantages a business-optimized TLD provides.

Members of the .inc domain can expect to receive a virtual toolkit that includes more than $2,500 in free member benefits from industry-leading brands like WeWork, Square, Intuit, Google Ads, Delta Air Lines, and more. Participating retailers, such as GoDaddy and Name.com, are also including their own free .inc benefits like Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite for their respective customers.

Premium TLDs simply make sense

The most successful brands have known all along that names matter, and with the rise of business-optimized TLDs, they're increasingly saying "Goodbye, .com, hello .inc." If you ask me, it's an introduction that's been long overdue.   

Published on: May 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.