M&A — When Brand Matters Most

More than ever before, mergers & acquisitions are brand-driven choices for the continuous growth and development of an organization. When executed right, a strategic expansion can secure transformation success and create new, powerful verticals. However, merging or acquiring another brand requires a clear understanding of the forces that come into play when integrating two organizations — effectively transforming them into a new reality. And changing the brand strategy at the very core.

If we remove the financial and due diligence part of any acquisition or merger, we can look at this subject strictly from an identity and brand-driven perspective.

Acquiring or merging with a new company will force a new set of transformation needs upon you. Undoubtedly, the newly acquired or joint entity will have employees, products, services or solutions, technology, as well as an existing customer base, and a brand strategy. And they will have somewhat of a“we have always done in that way” basis for doing things.

Your Gut Feeling vs Science

When you and your team find yourself in a post-signed M&A situation, it is important not to follow your“gut”, as one often does, but apply a scientific approach to the different scenarios.

Surely, the acquisition’s brand could be swallowed as a whole and deleted or kept exactly as it is. Or there could be a combination of both. Or you could endorse it with your own master brand. Or even just change the design to become part of the existing brand family. And there are ten other possible options and combinations…. You see where this is going.

Four dimensions post M&A actions

After some years of driving brand architecture strategies and integrations post-M&A processes for both large global players and more independent, product and portfolio-focused companies, we have some thoughts on four key dimensions to cross off the list of post-M&A actions, from an identity and brand-driven perspective.

  1. Define roles, dependencies, and ownership
  2. Define the strategic landscape
  3. Decide on the brand architecture
  4. Form and transform the organization

1: Define roles, dependencies, and ownership

The steps you should be undertaking involve defining the role of the brand you have merged with/recently acquired — with that, a few questions should be answered:

Based on these strategic questions, one should evaluate the next scenarios based on the actual ownership percentage. A joint venture leaves less room for managed transformation compared to majority ownership. Minority ownership may still leave some room for influence, but you will not be able to push solutions onto your new partner.

2: Define the strategic landscape with a brand & marketing audit

You have to know how the products are sold, how the services and solutions are brought to the customer, and how they are marketed. A combined brand and marketing audit will tell you the exact state of the brand, how it is perceived in the market, and what the internal culture looks like. It provides a factual helicopter view of the current status and what opportunities and challenges the organization, and its products are facing mid-merger/acquisition. You may want to add a financial brand equity audit to establish actual brand value — but that is probably already done during the preceding due diligence process.

This audit creates a leadership toolbox that can and should be used to further decisions, decide on directions, and eventually, holistic strategies for the brand challenges and opportunities at hand.

You can read a bit more about brand audits right here. In an architecture scenario — you should always add the dimensions of sales and marketing to ascertain actual brand value in the market, as well as how customers actually are exposed to the brand in both a sales and marketing situation.

3: Decide on the architecture and implement design and communication changes

Once you have the knowledge of the strategic landscape and can see the opportunities of a certain architecture, decide on the one most feasible for your endeavors and strategic ambitions.

And as always, use any opportunity to:

simplify, simplify, simplify

Your customers will thank you for it.

From there your brand and design guys and gals should address design and communication changes and implement them rapidly. Also, any change in brand architecture will demand an organizational transformation, either from the managing party or the acquired one. Daily business, brand management structures, communication, and leadership will not be the same after any M&A activities have taken place, which leads us to step four.

4: Form and transform the organization, create a winning culture

Create a new organization. Preferably a liquid, moving, changeable organization. This helps to ensure your ability to change it once the dust has settled, market movements have accepted the change, and your organization has set the pace with the new brand“on board.”

Don’t fool yourself. Merging or acquiring a new brand or a portfolio of brands will demand a change of routines, leadership, and cultures. These changes need to be addressed, preferably in a transparent, proactive, and communicative manner. That’s a different project, but don’t take it lightly. Some inspiration in terms of transparent leadership can be found here. Some organizations actually use mergers and acquisitions to review and alter their brand strategy, and with that, their brand platform.

Culture intertwined

This internal, cultural change may very well be the hardest one to execute. Imagine two sovereign countries merging, or one country taking over the other — all the while in a friendly manner, it will not be likely that e.g. the English suddenly would become French over the first baguette.

Integrating two cultures and belief systems needs to become a different project altogether, with top management responsibilities, HR execution power, and the relentless creation and support of great brand ambassadors and internal change agents. Eliminate the barrier builders, build on the motivators, and always remember — people do not want change given the choice. At the same time, we all know by now that the seven most expensive words in business today are: “we have always done it that way.”

Mergers & acquisitions and consolidations are parts of everyday business life. Make the investments count. Go from gut to facts and scientific development.

Be aware of cultural pitfalls and go for the win.

Ready for more? Read about simplifying brand architecture projects with Wilhemsen ASA.