Mergers and acquisitions always seem to be in vogue. If the economy is strong, companies are buying healthy “up-and-comers” who can add to their portfolio; and in bad times companies are looking to pick up good value from other companies who are struggling financially. For marketers, a merger or acquisition brings branding issues to the forefront like little else. Each one is unique and different, but there are some commonalities in how to approach and develop a brand strategy to take full advantage of the business decisions during the transition.
When mergers and acquisitions are discussed, there’s a lot of talk about executives, lawyers and accountants performing due diligence to understand the value of the decision. This review and discovery should extend beyond the financials, products and business strategies to examine branding and marketing of the acquired or merged company. Reviewing marketing research, perception studies, existing marketing materials and campaigns along with a competitive evaluation can inform marketing leadership on how to approach branding of the new organization.
One of the key challenges following any acquisition or merger is bringing the new organization together with a clear and common brand and purpose. Internal groups will likely have differing views of the organization and potentially different agendas on how it should be branded. Instead of taking those views and agendas as the primary input to brand strategy, companies should focus and rally around the most important audience – the buyer.
Understand the buyer
Brands are shaped by customers and their experiences. Conduct research with existing and prospective buyers to understand their evaluation and purchase criteria, perceptions of the brands involved in the merger/acquisition and how they believe they will be affected by the change. What are the positive perceptions that can be leveraged, and how can branding, messaging and marketing address the negative issues? A deep dive into the mindset of the market will pay off in spades when developing a brand strategy for the new organization.
Devise a strategy
Using the information gained from marketing research, the attributes of the acquired brand can be mapped to those of the existing or parent brand. A recommendation on brand strategy can be made: merge or absorb the acquired brand into the parent brand or keep the two separate. Even if the decision was made from the outset, the mapping is still a valuable tool, especially if the decision is to migrate to the parent brand. Knowing how the values and attributes of the acquired brand align with, or even enhance, the parent brand is essential to planning the communications programs that will support the migration.
Have a plan
Based on the preceding steps and the brand strategy decision, a marketing communications plan should be developed with the goal of communicating the new brand to the market in a way that key audiences will find relevant and motivating. There are no absolutes in terms of tactics and timelines, and the market will not react to a corporate policy or dictation. It will understand the transition on its own terms and in its own time. The idea is to develop a plan that will help the market and key audiences gain awareness, understanding and preference for the new or revised brand. Every communications aspect and tactic should be considered with a heavy emphasis on internal audiences at the outset of the program to communicate the vision for the brand and how they fit into being an integral part of the customer’s brand experience. Extending messaging to external audiences could include corporate identity to public relations, direct communications with customers and prospects, advertising, trade shows and the Web.
The brand change process requires appropriate measurement – both internally and externally. How well are employees adopting the new brand language, what’s their understanding and how is it being communicated? Setting monthly or quarterly meetings or distributing surveys to employees can help identify areas for improving communications. Likewise, how is the market reacting to the shift? Setting up scorecards for perception shifts, awareness and preference along with conversion metrics is important in understanding market reactions.
Commit to successful brand development
Building brand-understanding and equity takes time and resources. The world’s strongest brands have been decades or even centuries in the making. Don’t short-change your efforts with a lack of patience and diligence.
Mergers and acquisitions, by their nature, drive change in a way that requires well thought-out strategies. While the fundamental focus is whether it increases the long-term value of the business, real sustaining value comes from building brand relationships with customers. The discipline of doing just this is what drives successful branding through the transition.
If you’ve recently been through a merger or acquisition, comment on what worked well and could have been done better.
Previously published on The M/C/C Minute at www.mccom.com/blog.