In the immortal words of 80s pop sensation Debbie Gibson:
“The future only belongs to the future itself.”
But even if there are more succinct ways of saying “children are the future” (we’ll begrudgingly admit that “children are the future” does the job fine) and even if we did select Gibson’s take on this sentiment chiefly to have a reason to open a blog post with a line from a Debbie Gibson song, the idea always rings true: if you want a peek at what lies ahead, just check out what the kids are dancing to.
As brands start turning their sights toward the up-and-coming “Generation Z”, the post-millennial generation born from about 1995 to about 2013, they’re finding a bright-eyed wave of tech-savvy youth, chomping at the bit for their chance to shake things up.
Said to be entrepreneurial, individualistic, and more technologically adept than any generation before them, the first wave of Gen Zers have just begun entering the workforce. This shift in workplace dynamics could be the start of a drastic shift for personal branding strategies— and how domain names figure into them.
New gTLD skeptics point to the extensions’ gradual growth as evidence that they will never achieve the ubiquity of .COM, but one market trend suggests that the hurdles new domain extensions face may be largely generational.
Today, digital branding extends across many platforms and channels, but the most enduring digital branding tool — one that’s been around since before the World Wide Web proved to be viable for consumers in the mid-90s — is the domain name. And from those long-gone dialup days to the present, a handful of old-school domain extensions like .COM and .ORG have held onto web address dominance — largely due to a lack of other domain endings to choose from.
This dearth of domain diversity was one of the reasons why, in late 2013, hundreds of new domain extensions like .CLUB, .PIZZA, and .HORSE began hitting the market. These characterful new extensions been slowly making their way to the mainstream, and some of them have pulled in millions of registrations. For the moment, though, .COM remains the most recognized of top-level domains.
Some skeptics point to new extensions’ gradual growth as proof that they will never achieve the ubiquity of .COM, but one market trend suggests that the hurdles new domain extensions face may be largely generational.
Young entrepreneurs are more likely to use new gTLDs than their elders are. Meanwhile, industry thought-leaders like Airbnb, Facebook, and Uber have already extended their web presence to several new extensions.
In an interview with Entrepreneur, Frank Schilling of Uniregistry, a domain registry selling a number of new “not-com” domain extensions, said they’ve noticed a “massive influx” of young people interested in establishing their own personal brands. What’s more, Uniregistry’s new gTLDs are proving to be “hugely popular” with Gen Zers compared to older generations. If that’s the case, then there is no reason similar habits among consumers of new domain extensions at other registries.
New domain extensions are still new, and older individuals in particular often don’t quite grasp what they’re used for. Domain names in general aren’t the most intuitive concept for anyone, regardless of their age, but it makes sense that older folks would prefer to stick with what’s familiar.
But for today’s young people, who grew up immersed in technology that older generations pioneered — then undertook the effort to assimilate into daily life, the comprehension gap surrounding domain names (and by extension, new domain extensions) is much narrower. Young entrepreneurs are more likely to try out new gTLDs than their elders are. Industry thought-leaders like Airbnb, Facebook, and Uber have already extended their web presence to several new extensions. So have Lady Gaga and Oprah.
Of course, changing market trends don’t necessarily indicate long-lasting shifts. Sure, the new extensions are popular with the younger generation, but so was planking. Fads come and go.
But as the first wave of Gen Zers reach adulthood and begin to enter the workforce, one widely-predicted economic game-changer could help determine the position of new gTLDs: the emerging “Gig Economy” predicted by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Mashable to completely supplant our company-centric economy of brands with a more complex, expansive, and individualized economic framework. In this new paradigm, businesses will operate chiefly through individual personal brands, who collaborate with one another on the basis of shared values and goals.
If the future brought such a change, the face of branding itself would likely change in turn. In a marketplace of freelancers, professionals would need to adopt strong and innovative personal branding strategies in order to compete. The expressive potential of customizable domain extensions will help these professionals to distinguish their brands, convey who they are, and stand out from the crowd.
What is Gen Z?
“Gen Z” is the emerging term to categorize the generation born starting in 1997 — ranging from children to young adults.
According to a behavioral study from FutureCast, Gen Z youths tend to exhibit the hardworking, individualistic behaviors typical of baby boomers alongside millennials’ liberal views of topics like gender, sexuality, and race. Having grown up alongside the rise of social media and other digital communication platforms, Gen Z kids are true digital natives.
This makes your typical Gen Zer accepting, even enthusiastic, about the idea of developing a personal brand for themselves. Gen Z will likely consider their work to be an extension of their personal brands than the output of their employers. They’ve also shown a greater interest in entrepreneurship than Gen X and Y.
Gen Z kids also place more trust in both brands than Gen X or Millennials tend to, but with this trust comes high expectations for how brands engage them. Gen Z members tend to want their relationships with brands to be more personalized and authentic than previous generations.
You can check out FutureCast’s full study here.
As it stands, .COM remains the most familiar choice for domain registrations (decades of unchallenged dominance will have that effect) but even the world’s biggest TLD went through its share of troubles after first becoming commercially available in the 90s — troubles from which it would take years to recover. The same .COMs that would now sell for millions initially debuted to a collective shrug from a doubtful, uncomprehending market. Many investors weren’t even sure what a domain name was for, much less how they make a valuable investment. New gTLDs face a similar uphill struggle to reach the same level of market familiarity.
The future is a mystery, but as one of the fortunate few who capitalized on .COM domains at turn of the century, Schilling — and plenty of other domainers — are now waiting to see what the future holds for new gTLDs. Will Gen Z’s affinity for new domain extensions drive their widespread adoption, and could any of these extensions achieve a comparable public profile to .COM? Aside from growing interest shown by larger brands, general awareness of new gTLDs in general is also increasing. What comes next is anybody’s guess.
Schilling, however, expressed confidence that new gTLDs will continue to grow in popularity, even saying that “freelancers have a once-in-a-generation opportunity before them to buy domain names in new extensions and to secure the best names for their future.”
We’ll see, Frank. We’ll see.