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Brand Management

Google And The Value Of Branding

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So Google’s potential withdrawal from China clearly allows them to play the moral high card and exhibit adherence to their brand values – epitomized by their motto “Do no evil.”

Despite the significant business implications, they prioritized safeguarding the information and trust they’ve garnered from users around the world – and we applaud them for it.

But, as we all know Google’s footprint in the Chinese market was still nascent with local Chinese search brands like Baidu, Youku and Sogou established as the dominant players. Still with its proven tenacity and continuous innovation, Google would have undoubtedly expanded that footprint and still may.

Whatever the rationale, Google’s stance raises the bigger question – what will other global companies in the massive Chinese market be willing to sacrifice for the sake of business over brand value? At least 34 other technology companies including Adobe, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Symantec and Yahoo are all believed to have been targeted as well. We are still awaiting responses by most of these companies, who are looking into the allegations – although Microsoft, a common victim of global cyber-attacks, has stated that for now it’s still business as usual in China.

So has the brand gauntlet been thrown?

Are we about to see other companies evaluate the role of their brands in China and act out in response? Or, is it more about keeping your head down until it’s all blown over. Maybe their brand values are less dramatic than Google’s and their actions less scrutinized by the world. But they must consider what role do brand values play when juxtaposed with business ambitions? How will other brands balance the two under challenging circumstances?

Perhaps more importantly, this issue raises the question of what brand values really mean relative to financial performance and shareholder value. How are they prioritized among employees who are expected to deliver on brand values and business results? When a company upholds a motto like “Do no evil,” how do the employees who are asked to live by those values contribute to the debate? Perhaps when issues of ethics are involved it’s about time to start asking them firsthand.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by:  Paul Parkin, SALT Branding

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5 Comments

Buzzlord on January 16th, 2010 said

You have a good point that Google’s “Do No Evil” motto is a bit stronger than the other companies that were allegedly targeted. Censoring and otherwise doing the bidding of the Chinese government at the expense of the Chinese people in exchange for money is pretty much a direct contradiction to the motto, and Google has a lot to lose.

On the other end of it, would Google be acting in the same way if they were dominating the Chinese market instead of trailing Baidu and others?

Maham on January 17th, 2010 said

Google was not the dominant force in China. The story became a hit just because of its name globally. I personally don’t think that other brands will pull out unless something drastic happens.

Anand Halve on January 18th, 2010 said

This thing that Google’s motto is ‘Do no evil’ has been a piece of misinformation that has been going around for a long time.

It sounds very noble, but if you stop for a moment to think, you have to ask yourself, if anyone would or would say the opposite?!

Besides , Google is a commercial venture, it is not a charitable institution. What they actually say – and you can check this on their website, is – “You can make money without doing evil.”

And let’s not forget, did they just get religion now?

After all, they have been quite happy following China’s censorship all these years!

And Google is not above deciding what they think is right, and going ahead with it – as shown in their decision to go ahead with copying and putting books online.

So while Google has been a highly innovative company, let us not put a halo around them.

John Wojewidka on January 18th, 2010 said

Google is getting great mileage from this, even though their market position for the search engine was not (and probably will never be) dominant. In addition to being able to leverage their “moral” stance, images of people laying flowers in front of their China HQ has tremendous value.

More importantly, and more to their central strategic goals, they are in the data acquisition business, nothing else. The search engine, advertising engine, mobile OS, branded phone, apps store, etc. all strategically contribute to their core business focus, acquiring user data.

If they do, indeed, pull out, it will be a relatively simple – but nicely martyred – pawn sacrifice while the rear guards move in with less visible fanfare. Android, for example, will quietly take over the huge mobile market, and not just in handsets (portable media players, tablets, settop boxes, etc). Consider how highly integrated Android is with their search, ad, mapping and many other functions. Even here in the US, the dominant search engine on the iPhone is Google.

They are handling this correctly. The other companies are not positioned as Google is and could not afford to even ostensibly bail from the market.

Paul Parkin on February 01st, 2010 said

An interesting article discussed Cultural Imperialism and how China views the arrival of the Internet and brands like Google at the weekend –

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748704878904575031263063242900.html

Whether Google decides to return to China or not – understanding how western brands are perceived today will help them better shape any strategy they develop for building a long-term future relationship with China and it’s consumers.

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