oes ‘being mean’ matter in business?
Google makes a lot of money (it was reported today to have become the world’s most valuable listed company) yet secured agreement from a supine HMRC to pay a minuscule amount of tax.
What are they doing? What are we meant to think?
Two possible reasons why Google might so monumentally mis-manage the customer perception of its financial probity:
One. They feel so secure, unassailable, powerful that they needn’t worry about what anyone thinks.
Two. They have been living in an echo chamber for so long, hearing only their own publicity, and seeing everything as binary and code-solvable, that they have developed a sort of brand – blindness.
(It’s probably both, isn’t it?)
But for the sake of good manners, let’s ignore the massive lobbying investment, the placing of key staff in high places, the revolving door of employment with the senior echelons of the civil service that only companies like BP used to enjoy, that would support the first reason.
Lets look at the brand – blind, or brand – stupid, reason.
Because it is brand – stupid.
Google is committing a basic category error: discussing non-rational matters with the rational vocabulary of an accountant.
Successful brands build trust, are transparent and are authentic. Consumers – us – assess such qualities and behaviours as each snippet of information about the brand and its behaviour, from any source, is collected and processed. Assessment involves gut feeling, instinct, brand experience and perception; not numbers, or compliance scores.
So every time Google repeats that it is acting within the law as it offers up this derisory sum of tax it blows open another hole in its own footwear.
Google insists rationally that the numbers are right, when everything in our experience is telling us that something about the behaviour here is very, very, wrong.
Trust, transparency, authenticity are about whether we feel the brand ‘gets it’, and ‘gets us’.
Google doesn’t ‘get it’. They are being mean.
Google now feels like the guy who never buys a round, but can always say he offered. He just carefully chooses the time when nearly everyone has gone home.
Google now feels like that not –quite – popular work colleague who always remembers a sore wrist when the art bag is to be carried. But comes right along for the fun parts.
Google now feels like the smart city guy I stood behind in a café the other day who took the 50p coin out of the tips jar where it had fallen and replaced it with the 20p he had intended. (Was the effect that had on the poor harried barrista really worth 30p?)
What these familiar situations have in common is an inability to see where we are all connected, that the wellbeing of one interlinks with the wellbeing of another. Where it’s the intangible – the spirit behind an action that matters.
The intangible for Google here is the lasting impression of the guy (who can easily afford it) scrabbling back 30 p from the tip jar. It’s mean, and that matters in business. At some point, it will work its way, tangibly, through to the balance sheet.
Never mind ‘do no evil’. How about just not being mean?
Come on, Google. Just put your hand in your pocket and offer to buy the next round.