Is Google Guilty of Brand Arrogance?

Google has a very focused brand strategy — integrate all of its products to make consumers Google-dependent. It’s a brilliant strategy that’s working. However, is Google guilty of brand arrogance by taking its efforts for complete integration too far? With mounting investigations by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and inquiries from the U.S. Senate and Congress, Google’s recent announcement to merge its approximately 70-product privacy policies into a single policy is adding fuel to the fire. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.

Google Search and Privacy Policy Changes

Google has been under investigation by the FTC for possible violations of antitrust laws. The legal question is whether or not Google is giving preference to its own branded search results over other, more relevant, results. With the launch of Google Search Plus Your World earlier this month, which provides search results from individual’s Google+ connections above unbiased, non-Google results, the legal heat on Google has gotten even hotter.

Fast forward two weeks later, and Google announced it would merge all of its privacy policies into a single Google privacy policy. At first, this might seem to simplify things for the company and consumers. That’s exactly how Google is marketing it.

However, the powers that be on Capitol Hill disagree. They’re calling for further investigations, because Google’s consolidated privacy policy enables the company to track consumer behavior across its many products in much greater detail. That’s something advertisers will be particularly happy about. As AdWeek reports, the single privacy policy expands ad targeting options by adding things like YouTube activity and search history to the ad targeting mix. Google has until February 16, 2012 to respond to a written inquiry from Congress.

Google’s Response and Strategy

To date, Google’s responses to criticism regarding its push toward product integration have fallen into the “brand arrogance” category. For example, in a blog post about the new privacy policy, Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten, said, “If you want to take your information elsewhere, you can.”

Similarly, in a response to the FTC adding Google Social Search to its antitrust probe, a Google spokesperson reportedly told eWeek, “The great thing about the openness of the Internet is that if users don’t like our service, they can easily switch to another site.”

So Is Google Guilty of Brand Arrogance?

google officeThe quick answer would be that yes, Google is guilty of brand arrogance, but there is more to this debate than a quick review provides.

Google is smart in its strategy to integrate all of its products. Creating a single privacy policy that tracks consumers across all of its products for better ad targeting and spending is a savvy business decision. Had the company been doing this since its first product launches and acquisitions, a single privacy policy would be expected, not the source of contention. In that sense, I don’t think Google is guilty of brand arrogance.

Google Search Plus Your World is a different story. While it might be true that Google doesn’t have access to all of the data from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to be able to provide those results alongside of Google+ results and other Google product results via social search, there is a bigger problem at work here. The Google brand promises the most relevant search results. Bumping relevant results further down the page to make room for Search Plus Your World results is a direct contradiction to that brand promise.

That’s where Google is demonstrating a level of brand arrogance that is likely to be a source of problems for the company in the short- and long-term.

What do you think?

Learn more about brand arrogance: Avoid the Leading Brand Image Killer: Brand Arrogance

Images:Flickr, Flickr

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.