Google Soars and Google Stumbles

In just a single week, Google gave us two memorable lessons about shaping brand experiences...

Within the span of a single week last month, Google provided two memorable lessons to the business world about what it takes to build a great brand experience.  Unfortunately for the company, while both lessons were memorable, they weren’t both positive.

 

Nexus One Buyers Get Disconnected

With much fanfare, Google rolled out its Nexus One smartphone on January 5th, promising to shake up the cell phone industry with a device sold directly to consumers, exclusively over the web.

 

While the firm packed its new handset with all kinds of cool functionality, bells and whistles, they forgot one important feature – service.  Nexus One owners had no 800-line to call with their questions or problems.  Rather, they had to post their inquiry on an online Google support forum, where the company promised to respond within 48 hours.

 

Google was overwhelmed with service inquiries and word-of-mouth quickly spread about the unconscionable absence of support.  Imagine if you had just purchased a new smartphone (after disconnecting your old one), had a problem getting it to work, but were forced to wait two days for assistance.  It would make for a very memorable, albeit very negative, customer experience.

 

The lesson learned?  If you build it, they will come – and you darn well better be prepared to service them.  No matter what industry you operate in, rare is the product that requires no post-sales support.  If you aren’t prepared to support what you sell, you’ll unleash a torrent of customer frustration that will leave your brand scarred, perhaps irreversibly.

 

The “Great Firewall of China” Crumbles A Bit

Just a week after the Nexus launch, Google delivered something else that shook up the business world – public disclosure of a cyber attack that the company believed originated from China and was directed towards the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

 

The attack was something of a last straw in Google’s delicate courtship of the Chinese market.  The company declared that it would not only reevaluate doing business in China entirely, but it would also cease to censor Internet search results on its Chinese website (a government requirement that the firm begrudgingly accepted upon first establishing Google.cn).

 

Google’s rebuke to the Chinese government, and repudiation of Chinese censorship rules, was unprecedented.  For some time now, every major U.S. corporation with international interests has been angling for a piece of the Chinese market.  And to gain a foothold in this country of 1.3 billion consumers, they’ve all agreed to play by the Chinese government’s rules – even if those rules flew in the face of basic human rights principles, like freedom of speech.

 

Until now.  Google, with its informal corporate slogan, “Don’t be evil,” drew a line in the sand last month, putting a stake in the ground that no other large company had the courage to do.  The stakes are huge.  It’s entirely possible that Google will lose access to one of the largest and fastest growing internet audiences in the world.

 

The lesson learned?  Sometimes, in order for a company to stay true to its brand, difficult and painful decisions are required.  They are decisions whose short-term consequences could be negative and whose long-term benefits could be uncertain.

 

In Google’s case, the rejection of the Chinese’s government censorship requirement is a powerful proof point supporting the firm’s compelling, purpose-driven brand:  “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

 

The decision hasn’t endeared Google to the Chinese government, but it certainly has earned the company admiration from many other circles (“Google wins praise for its defiance over China censorship” declared the Los Angeles Times in a recent article).

 

While Google may lose out on the lucrative Chinese market (for now), what’s clear is that they are gaining quite a bit of goodwill from many other important audiences.  While only time will reveal the true long-term implications of Google’s decision, don’t be surprised if one of them is a stronger consumer and employer brand, courtesy of the company’s principles-based approach to defining its role in the world.