If your organization is part of a merger or acquisition, business leaders around you are caught up in the resulting swirl of activity. As other business units and functions are starting to think about how to bring the two companies together, marketing executives should be, as well. Early on is the right time for marketers to get a seat at the table, so the brand can play a larger role in unlocking value and synergy in the combined operation, rather than being left behind.
Brand Isn’t Driving, but it Should be Navigating
It’s rare for two companies to merge for brand-driven reasons alone; usually, they’re acquiring scale, IP, technology, or complementary products. While brand may not steer decision-making, it should be on the map.
As the Integration Management Office forms to guide the combination of companies, marketing executives should seek a way into the process so they can exert influence. There are many unanswered questions related to the brand when the deal is 500 days from being consummated. Other company leaders probably aren’t thinking about those questions at all. But they will be. Starting on Day 2, they’ll be highly focused on the brand — and if you don’t start planning now, you can expect a call from the CEO wondering why the new logo isn’t already on the wall.
Why Plan for the Rebrand in the Early Days of an M&A
And before we get into the how, let’s remember the why: The reason you need to move quickly on rebranding is your stakeholders. You want to provide a consistent and compelling brand experience—one that prevents the confusion that occurs when branded materials bearing both the legacy brand(s) and the new brand are in market at the same time.
Take a healthcare system brand. If the appointment card carries a different brand than the signage on the building, patients may think they have come to the wrong place. Or consider how important clear brand communications are in a highly competitive market. You don’t want to give consumers a reason to wonder which company they will be doing business with. Rather, you want to send them a clear signal that the new combined company is greater than the sum of its parts.
Another example is companies operating through dealer networks. Newco needs to be quick to equip dealers to use the new brand promptly, not just for the sake of the dealers’ customers, but to build dealer confidence in the merged company. This is an important factor in helping to ensure that top dealers don’t defect to rivals as a result of a merger or acquisition.
1. Gather whatever information is available pre-deal
You might think that there is no way to get useful information before deal close but that is not the case. You can begin by compiling what we at BrandActive refer to as a public domain analysis (PDA). This involves using technology to gather information on signage, employee counts, etc. from all publicly available sources. Once we have this information, we run it through our rebrand analytics engine (RAE) to compare it to data we have on companies in the same and similar industries. We use this data to develop an order of magnitude cost estimate for the brand conversion, as well as identify gaps in the information gathered from the PDA. If these gaps are significant, we look for an opportunity to ask questions of whomever is running the “clean room” for the deal to get further clarification.
Having this information pre-deal equips you with a starting point to begin thinking about what launch could look like, who will need to be involved, and what funds you will need to have set aside in order for you to be able to move quickly once the transaction is approved.
2. Plan for Impact
When marketing is not involved early enough in the M&A process, the risk of brand misalignment and inconsistency rises. Waiting until Day 1 of the new company to address branding needs may lead to the worst-case scenario: After 18 months of intensive review and work, the deal gets approved … and there you have it: that old logo is still hanging above the reception desk months after close. At that point, you’re way behind in deploying the new brand and doing your part to integrate the entities into a unified whole.
3. Evangelize for the importance of thinking about brand early
Now is the time for you to engage with other business leaders to remind them that the brand extends far beyond website and business cards. It influences every activity, every part of the organization, every day, from the uniforms employees wear to the trucks making deliveries to customer sites. Brand is not just a logo that can be redesigned at the eleventh hour; it infuses the corporate way of life.
Equipped with the information you have gathered from the PDA and the opportunities to create impact, you can get the organization thinking about what they might want to see for Day 1. This will enable you to prioritize and align expectations around what launch will look like. Then you can start to think about what vendors to line up, what brand guidelines you will need out of the gate and begin to further formulate your high-level cost estimates for launch.
4. Make the business case
Historically, companies view the marketing function as a cost center. So, focus your engagement with other executives around ways to save money by beginning to think about planning implementation early. Develop alliances with peers on the operations side, who manage fleets and facilities. Look for ways to accelerate and streamline the rebranding of hard assets such as vehicles by tapping into maintenance and replacement cycles. Think about what the workstreams will be and look for ways to limit inventories of soft assets to minimize waste.
Having these conversations early will not only save costs during the implementation, but also prevents employees across the company from creating materials that don’t meet brand standards and have to be redone.
Take all four of these purposeful steps in the early days of your M&A, and you’ll be positioned to quickly unlock the value of the rebrand, for the benefit of the merged company and its stakeholders.