Brand governance is key to the successful implementation and maintenance of any brand over time. Without such an infrastructure, companies are at risk for brand fragmentation and resource and investment inefficiencies. Most important of all, they risk an inconsistent or confusing brand experience for consumers.
The role of brand governance is heightened when it comes to rebranding as part of an M&A transaction. After all, this process is often much more complex than defining a new brand from whole cloth. Instead, it involves bringing together two previously independent brands and merging them in a way that results in a single, unified brand identity—ideally, one that employees everywhere understand and know how to use; and consumers understand the value and unique offering of the newly combined organization.
Businesses in the throes of an M&A have much to do to ensure that the rebrand is implemented consistently across all platforms, assets, and touchpoints.
The best way to protect your rebrand investment is to establish brand governance guidelines as early as possible in the M&A process.
A shifting approach to brand governance guidelines
Before diving into the role of brand governance in M&A specifically, it’s important to understand that brand governance as a discipline is in the midst of a big shift.
In the past—and as the name implies—organizations have taken a very top-down approach to brand governance. Brand teams would put together a strict set of rules about how a brand must be presented, then distribute them throughout the organization. Their purpose was to direct and “police” internal teams and individual employees as they executed and represented the brand. Brand teams could then easily categorize marketing activities as being either “on” or “off-brand.” It was very black and white.
But that sort of rigid, top-down approach to brand governance makes a lot less sense in the context of today’s business and marketing landscape. With the proliferation of social media, new channels, and increased expectations for customer centricity, brands need to be much more agile and dynamic to be effective. In response, brand governance is moving toward a more flexible structure that allows for more flexibility and interpretation of the strategy on the part of individual employees.
Take a more modern approach to brand governance by identifying the brand non-negotiables, or what we refer to as “brand mandatories.” Regulations, legal requirements, and anything that is considered “holy” in the context of your brand all count. From there, identify what has flexibility and can be guided by strategy rather than requirement, and what could have more room for interpretation and still be considered on brand. This could include things like service line or regional-specific messaging.
Considerations for rebrand implementation as a result of M&A
If your organization is planning to embark on a rebrand as a result of an M&A, brand governance needs to be one of your first considerations. Remember, the very nature of M&A makes them more susceptible to brand fragmentation and inconsistencies. In an M&A, you are bringing together two distinct brands with two distinct reputations, experiences, and promises to the end customer. A poorly integrated rebrand is likely to confuse the market and could even contribute to a loss of market share.
In that sense, you can think of brand governance as an insurance policy for your rebrand investment. You must first define the values of the combined company and land on a brand strategy and identity. But immediately after that, you’ll need to define your brand governance infrastructure to uphold and operationalize your new combined brand vision. Put in the effort to build a strong brand governance infrastructure, and you’ll help build and protect brand value for years to come.
Sounds pretty good, huh? The next question, of course, is how to go about establishing brand governance during and after an M&A.
The four pillars of brand governance
At BrandActive, the first step we take in helping clients build a brand governance infrastructure after an M&A is an audit. Our audit assesses what we’ve identified as the four pillars of brand governance. These include people, process, training, and technology. Taken together, they form the basis of sound brand governance.
1. People. This pillar focuses on roles and responsibilities. Who will comprise the core brand team? Who’s driving strategy? Who’s making decisions? Who will approve brand changes? Are there any other stakeholders, influencers within the organization, or even agency partners and vendors that define or promote the brand in some significant way? What agency portfolios do each of the predecessor companies bring with them, and are there any unnecessary overlaps? Clearly defining and streamlining roles ensures that you don’t waste investment or resources.
2. Process. When two companies come together, they will have historically had two different processes, systems, and ways of doing things. In what manner are these two distinct processes being merged or reconciled? How are branded assets created and documented? What is the process for approvals and reviews? Is there a feedback loop? Are there clear pathways for bottom-up communication? In the case of global companies, are international divisions working together in a way that avoids recreating the wheel at every turn? Mapping the current process allows you to look for gaps, unidentified risks, and opportunities for efficiency and cost-savings.
3. Training. How are current and new employees being educated, informed, and engaged regarding the new brand strategy? What is the process for onboarding, managing, and evaluating vendors and agencies? Can training be improved so that it is more effectively teaching employees, vendors, and agencies to be effective brand stewards at every level of the new organization?
4. Technology. What tools and technology are being used to support brand management? How are they used? What’s working and what’s not in terms of workflow automation, new asset creation, and internal design team workflows? What about brand education materials and templates? Should this toolkit be rationalized, adjusted, or expanded in any way?
Each of the pillars yields opportunities for realizing new efficiencies and cutting costs, a win in itself. More importantly, by auditing these four pillars, brand teams can use this assessment to tailor their brand governance infrastructure in a way that promotes brand understanding, integration, consistency, quality, and protects the acquisition investment.