How marketing leaders can engage during M&A integration

How marketing leaders can engage during M&A integration


Vladimir Kacar

Whenever a corporate merger or acquisition unfolds, most organizations are focused on performing due diligence leading up to the deal, and then on integrating operational functions moving forward. In the push to unify human resources, integrate IT systems, and consolidate real estate, among other key initiatives, branding is often not among the key pillars of the integration process.

Which isn’t to say that branding is universally ignored in an integration; rather, it’s often blended into other areas of focus, like communication or operations. But it’s important for marketing leaders to secure a seat at the table early on — particularly when the two entities are uniting under a new brand name.

Even as terms are still being finalized, the process of integrating the two organizations should get started; there’s simply too much to do to wait for the deal to be announced. As the businesses come together to create an Integration Management Office (IMO) and related task forces to facilitate the transition, and outside consultants are shepherding the complexities of the transaction, marketing should play an essential role.

Here are six ways marketing leaders can engage during an integration:

1. Advocate for the importance of the new brand.

A strong brand creates a foundation on which to build the new business entity, and a shared vision can unify stakeholders from two separate organizations. This isn’t just about the brand as a logo, but about the new company’s reason for being. Brand is the organization’s heart and soul. A North Star for decision-making, it shapes how employees engage with one another, defines the customer experience, and provides differentiation. While both independent companies may have had strong identities and reputations, it will take focus and leadership to develop a new brand for the integrated business. Marketing can elevate this as a priority amid the swirl of other activity. And certainly, marketing should play a leading role in creating a new name and identity.

2. Identify allies across the organization. 

Even if marketing isn’t a top-line initiative for the IMO, you can still influence the role of the brand as it applies to other departments. Engage with the communications and HR teams, as those tend to be the closest siblings to the marketing function. Within those groups, managers will be working to align employees in new roles and present the new company to the public — and brand touches all of those projects. Connect with product managers responsible for updated packaging. If your company is decentralized and global, talk with business units that are going to market the product or service; they’ll be strong advocates for how the brand is presented to consumers.

3. Integrate rebranding into other workstreams.

The IMO will likely direct many workstreams across different business functions, many of which involve branding. So, work with peers in IT, HR, accounting, finance, and other units to weave brand into those existing workstreams. Make a case for the fact that rebranding assets will take time; help the teams understand time frames, tradeoffs, and costs. A rebrand integration consultancy can assist with taking inventory of branded assets, reconciling duplication, and creating budgets and timelines. Scoping the rebranding work may also identify isolated workstreams needed to focus on a specific type of branded asset, like fleet vehicles or signage.

4. Seize the opportunity.

M&A is a high-visibility, high-complexity undertaking that has the CEO’s full attention. It can be challenging for marketing leaders to get on the radar. Executives know that the rebrand has to happen, but they’re spending months working with consultants to plan the transition and months after launch implementing changes. The brand is not as top of mind. But it should be. If it’s set aside as a low priority, branding has a way of catching up to you: 18 months after the integration, if the employees are still using the old company’s logins to access systems, and the shipping boxes haven’t been updated with the new identity, internal and external confidence in the brand will be undermined. Too, look for ways to use the integration as an opportunity to advance other marketing initiatives, like upgrading the customer experience.

5. Strategize and prioritize for cost savings.

Rebranding related to a merger or acquisition offers the ideal opportunity to revisit existing ways of doing business. As you’re taking inventory of branded assets from the two joining organizations, look to eliminate redundancy and to retire outdated materials. For example, some websites or microsites will naturally sunset in the merger, so there’s no need to rebrand all of them. Borrow best practices from both companies to devise a new system for requesting, approving, and producing branded assets. In addition, developing a list of approved vendors for branded assets through a request for proposal process can save costs now and in the future.

6. Keep the work going.

Often, integration workstreams are not that well-managed after Day 1, as outside consultants end their engagements, steering teams and task forces wrap up, and the business shifts its focus back to day-to-day operations. At that point, projects related to rebranding become the most visible ongoing part of the integration. Collaborations should continue between marketing and other teams to build support for the change among employees, to deploy the brand across physical locations, and to create value for the new company.

When two business entities come together, building the new brand is not just a matter of updating the identity. Success depends on the entire organization, including the marketing team, coordinating their efforts.

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