In a candid conversation with Neustar CMO Steven Wolfe Pereira about The Future of the Internet at Neustar Connect, Backchannel’s Head of Editorial Jessi Hempel talked about where we find ourselves in 2017, the most over- and under-hyped technologies today, and why it’s essential for brands to own their own top level domains. 

Hempel – who has also worked at WIRED and BusinessWeek — has had ringside seats since the early days of the World Wide Web to watch the development of all things digital: social media, the internet of things, and virtual reality. Looking back at the halcyon days of the late 90s, Hempel couldn’t help but wonder if “the fundamental question of our time” is whether the internet of yesteryear has lived up to its promise: to connect us with people and places we may have never imagined, while also making that capability available to everyone, everywhere. In a world where we are increasingly isolated and divided, how can we better use the power of the internet to truly connect?

Brands, she says, are at a pivotal juncture. They need to go beyond the transactional to truly seize the opportunity to forge the connections consumers want to have with them: 

“Brands, they’re not the tools, they’re the emotional resonance in our life,” Hempel said.

The Importance of Brand Domain Ownership

What can brands do to take back their digital connection with consumers? Start owning their own domains.

“You can’t overlook the power that the dot conveys,” she said. When a consumer sees .org, for example, they believe that that brand is one that will look out for their best interest and expect you to deliver on that expectation). Top level domains and brand level domains like .nyc or .nike are incredible ways to interface with customers on a brand’s own terms.

There are several reasons brands should look into owning their brand level domain when it becomes available. First, it’s cool! Changing the customer experience from a cumbersome url intended to pop to the top of google search results, into something like, is a much more seamless experience. Second, if you don’t own it, someone else might buy it and try to control your in-market message.

3 Growth Opportunities for Marketers to Invest In

Hempel highlighted three key areas on her radar for brands to invest in in the future of the internet:

  1. Visual brand storytelling: Brands that want to be successful need to take advantage of technologies that use images as language, be it Snap, Instagram, emojis, etc. Anything that allows you to communicate through picture/video is going to be sticky, give you a better relationship with your customer and tell a more compelling, personal story.
  2. Messaging bots (see more on that here): People talk a lot about bots and she believes brands may be rushing to them too soon, in a panic over decreasing app download rates. Hempel believes 2019 will bring the opportunity for better messaging communication and UX. She believes it will also come with a platform challenge, since she doesn’t believe consumers’ messaging habits will ever consolidate to just one app. 
  3. The growth of voice technology: We are at “0.5” when it comes to voice technology, and for true adoption we need the same set of directives for how to use voice that are already established for internet usage.  In the future, Hempel says voice technology won’t be housed in devices like Alexa anymore, but will instead surround us via a myriad of devices and means of delivery, literally speaking to us.