Why Google should demand to be regulated

A 3 year old I know well was talking about nursery etiquette and ‘sharing’. This is a thorny issue – if you desperately want to play with a toy and someone else has it first you “either have to wait your turn” (very hard) or say “please may I play with the toy now?”.

Please can I play with the toy now?
Please can I play with the toy now?

If after saying “please” the toy is still not forthcoming the you must “tell a teacher”. Nobody knows what happens next…

Eric Schmidt of Google – apparently without irony – has called for use of surveillance mini-drones to be regulated, warning about “privacy and security concerns”.

This is of course wholly unrelated to the swelling chorus of voices calling for Google itself to be regulated – for breaching privacy, for blocking access, for just being so darned big.

Calling for a business to be regulated seems to be just a grown up version of “telling a teacher”

If it matters, it’s regulated

For some reason – luck, fate, something I did in a previous life – pretty much every client I have ever worked with has been regulated. Recently most have had some form of state ownership or influence. And all have operated in socially sensitive areas in the full glare of public scrutiny.

I reckon all of them are better, and more admirable businesses, for that. So much so that I actively seek out those brands that are – or should be – regulated. Which is something most people who work in brand land find more than a little odd – having to take into account the views of those pesky custodians of public interest makes the job of developing a brand significantly more complex. But what results should be a business that is much more engaged with the needs of all its stakeholders – not fixated on one group (normally consumers) at the expense of all the others.

If a business is regulated – even only lightly – it’s because that business is doing something that really matters. Water, electricity, broadband, mobile telephony, public transport, health. These things are the stuff of life. If they went wrong, or acted against the public interest, many people would suffer. Conversely if they get it right they enable people to do so much, to thrive.

HMV died but music didn't
HMV died but music didn’t

And if a business isn’t regulated it very probably doesn’t matter. In the sense that none of us would suffer very much if it ceased to exist. Woolworth, Blockbuster, HMV. Sad to see them go but the world is still turning.

Check out this prediction for US brands that will go to the wall in 2013 – some big names like Avon, Suzuki, American Airlines and Blackberry (all in decline for a long while) as well as some newer ones like Current TV that never made it into anyone’s “couldn’t live without” list. Not many are regulated.

There’s a very big tech brand that uses a really interesting brand metric – “I couldn’t live a day without Apple/Microsoft/Google/Spotify”. If a brand starts scoring highly on that score it really is doing something that matters – that would cause us all problems if it stopped.

And it is these brands that should actively seek regulation.

Being regulated isn’t the same as telling teacher

So often the attitude towards regulation – from within the business or from outside it – is child-parent. Regulators are seen as a wearysome burden – a brake on progress, something to be tolerated, a bureaucratic nightmare. The language used to describe regulation is not the same as business – “burden”, “obligation”, “bunch of old bureaucrats”. The advent of new competitors is often greeted with calls for “them to be regulated too” – for example Skype in France: should Skype be regulated like ‘other telcos’? (and would it get any better as a result?).

At least one business (with a huge customer base and with a big universal service obligation) has even seriously considered a brand architecture that split the business into a regulated portion and an unregulated portion. Would have been a hoot to see that working in the marketplace. That’s how fixated senior leaders can become on dealing with regulators – a problem to be dealt with not an ally in delivering value.

But it seems to me that this attitude is all wrong. Regulators are all about advancing the public interest, promoting healthy competition and protecting people from abuse – absolutely none of which is at odds with a smart, growing business that does important stuff. Regulators are important stakeholders that need to be engaged just like any other. Treating them as a troublesome burden, only to be engaged in a legalistic manner, will only build barriers.

Smart business demands smart regulation

If business growth nowadays is less about market share and more about share of wallet – growing by building trust and meeting more and more needs, acting with a true sense of purpose, collaborating smartly with others, then having an active and savvy regulator can only be a good thing.

Smart business should a) demand to be regulated and b) seek to build the strongest relationships possible with those regulators.

Scarily powerful or just really useful?
Scarily powerful or just really useful?

Which is why it’s interesting to see the debate around Google – a business that has grown by becoming more and more useful so that many of us couldn’t really live a day without using it. Google has become vital in a way which really matters.

It would be great for Google to seek, embrace and work with regulation – not in the old school “telling teacher” way but recognising that good regulation and doing no evil are one and the same thing.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s