Here’s What Google Needs To Do To Calm Millions Of Angry Customers

See no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil

Google’s informal motto is “Don’t be evil.” The problem with this is that it puts a target on Google’s back. If any information comes to light that the marketplace interprets as evil, the bond of trust that exists between Google and its target audience is likely to erode – tarnishing Google’s once “unblemished” image.

As a result, there is a certain sense of inevitability that the goody two-shoes brand identity Google created at its inception will take a hit from time to time. With the recent announcement that it will place 60 of its services under the same privacy policy – allowing the company to share customer data between them, this is one of those times.

Big backlash

As has been the case with Facebook, Twitter, and Apple, and other Web rivals, Google is facing a larger than expected backlash. As of this writing, an informal poll conducted by Ryan Kellett of the Washington Post indicates that 65% said they would cancel their accounts because of the privacy changes (the only way you can avoid them since there is no opt out). Of the remaining 35%, 15% said they would not close their accounts, and 20% said they were not sure. Even though people do not always do what they say, it is clear that the market is not enamoured with the announced privacy policy change.

Two sides of the coin

In defence of Google, the search giant’s objective is to integrate its services to provide a better user experience and to make more money for its shareholders. There is nothing wrong with that – especially since it gives us many free services that we rely upon every day including search, Gmail, and maps. The problem is that the company does not allow users to opt out. The only way out of accepting the new privacy policy is to cancel your Google accounts. This is not a market-driven approach. A better way to do this is to promote the benefits and explain the tradeoffs of the new policy, and to give users options other than cancelling. Google needs to understand that it has so much control over our lives already. Asking for more will only cause suspicions amongst users, regulators, and the general public. Commenting on this new policy, the Daily Mail says in its headline,  “Google will know more about you than your partner.”

Not the first time

This latest flap is not the first time the marketplace has sensed “evil-doings” at Google. If it were, perhaps, it would not cause such an uproar. In recent years, there have been a series of missteps that have knocked Google off its perch as the world’s most valuable brand – a position it held for four consecutive years according to brand valuator Millward Brown. Marketers view this as a tangible measure of the erosion of Google’s image — especially when compared with competitors Apple and Facebook whose brand valuations have jumped higher over the same period.

Many think the first big evil deed was when Google introduced the Android mobile phone platform long after Eric Schmidt, Google’s then CEO, had been sitting on Apple’s Board as the iPhone was developed and announced. Not surprisingly, the look and feel of Android was very similar to the iPhone. Steve Jobs called this outright theft and vowed to spend all of Apple’s resources in court to right this wrong.

Then, in 2011, came revelations that Google was close to settling allegations that it made hundreds of millions of dollars by accepting ads from illegal online pharmacies.

More recently, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace have accused Google of unfairly promoting search results of Google-owned properties, such as Google+, ahead of them. Many believe that search should be neutral and that organic search results should be ranked as they occur naturally. The concern is that the integration of Google’s 60 services under one privacy banner will just make search results even more skewed in Google’s favour.

What should Google do about this?

Now that a growing chorus of users, regulators, and others believe that Google is violating its own “Don’t Be Evil” mantra, what should Google do to mitigate the situation and even turn this negative into a positive?

1. Create a better marketing information system

Google needs to put in place a better marketing information system that collects data on complaints and problems in real time so they can be neutralized or fixed while still a “spark” and before they turn into a “conflagration.” The huge backlash to the latest announcement indicates that they either don’t have an adequate feedback system, or they are ignoring the signals.

2. Use crisis management tools to turn negatives into positives

Google needs to employ proven crisis management procedures to protect its image. For accusations that are true, the company should follow the fact procedure.

  • Admit the problem apologise Limit the scope (or put the allegations in perspective) Propose a solution so it will not happen again
  • Admit the problem apologise Limit the scope (or put the allegations in perspective) Propose a solution so it will not happen again
  • Admit the problem
  • apologise
  • Limit the scope (or put the allegations in perspective)
  • Propose a solution so it will not happen again

For allegations that are not true, the search giant should employ the rumour procedure.

  • Don’t publicize the rumour Promote the opposite of what the rumour says Provide proof to support the promotion of the opposite.
  • Don’t publicize the rumour Promote the opposite of what the rumour says Provide proof to support the promotion of the opposite.
  • Don’t publicize the rumour
  • Promote the opposite of what the rumour says
  • Provide proof to support the promotion of the opposite.

3. Stop promoting Google products over others in organic search results

When users employ Google to search for something, they should be able to trust that the results are naturally generated. Up until the recent changes, that is the way it largely worked (with the exception of paid links that are clearly indicated). Now, if users sign in via their Gmail accounts, results will be “tainted” with Google+ results.

4. Remove the target from its back

While the “don’t be evil” mantra has been in the public consciousness since Google went public, perhaps Google should consider modifying it so that it does not motivate naysayers from finding evil in Google’s every move. Apple has lovers and haters too, but it has found a brand formula that tips the scales in its favour. Apple’s top brand rank in 2011 shows that its approach is working.

5. Create a “Don’t be Evil” fund

If they decide to keep this mantra, perhaps they should fund a “don’t be evil” award, on par with the Nobel prize, where they recognise and reward people for doing good things. Similar to Mark Zukerberg’s donation to Newark schools and his pledge to give most of his wealth to charity, this would have a positive effect on their image and support their branding.

6. Remind people of the heroic stands Google has taken

The public tends to easily forget the good things that a company does. Therefore, Google might remind people of the positive stands it has taken, such as its move to stop censoring search results in China or its refusal to provide the Justice Department with data on what people search for on the Web.

7. Make nice with the press

When Larry Page took over the reigns as CEO from Eric Schmidt, the Google Monitor Blog said, “The most notable change will be when most all of Google’s key outside constituencies will go from a solicitous, responsive and accessible CEO in Schmidt, to an aloof, impatient, and much less responsive and accessible CEO in Page.” To some in the press, that is not saying much since Schmidt banned CNET after CNET reporters revealed his personal information after doing a Google search.

Any company the size of Google is going to have both fans and detractors. That is not the issue. Google needs to be concerned with its loyal base of customers (including so many of us) that like and use its products every day. We are the ones that should be able to trust Google to the extent that we believe the company will not use, or share, our information for doing evil.