How to Improve a Damaged Image

Last Updated May 30, 2011 11:45 PM EDT

Google's unofficial 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 constituencies is likely to erode â€" causing damage to Google's image.

The revelation that Google was close to settling allegations that it made hundreds of millions of dollars by accepting ads from illegal online pharmacies was seen by many as evil. This news is the latest in a string of missteps that has knocked Google off its perch as the world's most valuable brand - a position it held for the prior four consecutive years. The nod for the top spot goes to Google's arch rival Apple whose brand Milward Brown has valued at $153 billion.

Google's brand value slipped 2% to $111 billion in the latest valuation. 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 jumped higher.

What does Google need to do to rebuild its image?
Now that there is evidence that the image damage is hitting its pocketbook, Google should consider taking a series of measures to rebuild its image and improve its brand valuation.

1. Create a new marketing information system
They need 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."

2. Use reliable crisis management tools to turn "evil" into good

Google needs to employ the "fact" and "rumor" procedures to protect its image.

For allegations that are true, they should follow the fact procedure.

  1. Admit the problem
  2. Apologize
  3. Limit the scope (put the allegations in perspective)
  4. Propose a solution so it will not happen again
For allegations that are not true, they should employ the rumor procedure.
  1. Don't publicize the rumor
  2. Promote the opposite of what the rumor says
  3. Provide proof to support the promotion of the opposite.
3. Be more careful in their dealings with the Government

Google should think more about the anti-competitive suits brought by the U.S. Government against Microsoft and IBM. They cost these companies and taxpayers many billions of dollars and produced other very damaging effects on both companies. Reviewing the consequences of these suits might help them realize how important it is to carefully handle these issues and how costly it could be if they don't.

4. Consider removing the target off their back

While the "don't be evil" mantra has been in the public consciousness since they went public, perhaps Google should consider modifying or changing it so that it does not taunt naysayers from finding evil in Google's every move. Apple has lovers and haters too, but they have found a brand formula to insure that the former group greatly outnumbers the latter and helps their brand image.

5. Creating 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 recognize 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 personal information on Schmidt upon doing a Google search.

What do you think about Google needs to do to fix its image and recover its brand leadership position?


Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr users, gcfair
  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb