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How to integrate brands after a merger or acquisition

Kate Elizabeth — 23 July 2019


A merger or acquisition creates many exciting challenges across both businesses. For brand and marketing teams, it is essential to incorporate into the M&A contract how the brand is treated post-merger to remove any confusion or ambiguity.

That contractual negotiation is probably the easy part of the puzzle. Most of a merger or acquisition, outside the contract, is about change management and people. Your job is to ensure the brand remains strong, people connect to the new entity (or stay connected), the market understands the new brand, and the framework allows continued growth and scale.

So often the brand is an afterthought to the recognition of revenue, handling of FTE and organisational strategy. It is vital you have a strong merger or integration plan (or even new brand plan) ready to go before the contract is executed.

Key things to note for a merger of brands

Certain aspects of a merger, particularly because finance is the lead, will take precedence - the financial systems to ensure effective business reporting, organisational structures and people resources, budgets and market reporting will all be of a high priority to the merger/acquisition team.

Merging two brands, or acquiring a new brand is similar to any other type of organisational change you have already implemented. There is much ambiguity in the initial stage as people seek to understand where they stand, what is in it for them (WIIFM) and the impact on their lives and the business.

While these areas may not be your ultimate responsibility, the brand promise and positioning, the messaging and the visual identity will all help guide people following the merger.

Ensuring you have a robust brand merger plan, and can easily and quickly roll out collateral to all areas of the business will help determine the organisation's willingness to embrace the new normal.

1. Where are you going - a transition roadmap

The negotiations and contract will determine the entire project objective and timeline. From a brand perspective, however, what is your timeframe? What is your end objective? What is the budget to drive the brand merger specifically?

When are you announcing to the market? When will the new brand or revised brand be disseminated and launched?

As part of your transition roadmap, you will need to map your resources to deliver the result within the timeframe - is this brand merger being managed and produced in-house by existing resources, by a specialist project team, externally or a combination of resources.

Following the development of your brand strategy, you will be able to allocate tasks cross-functionally and cross-organisationally.

2. What will your brand merger look like - brand strategy

When one or multiple organisations are merging, there are several significant considerations. You need to know precisely how the brands will work together. There are three primary structures for a merger or acquisition:

  1. Entirely new entity - both companies are absorbed into a wholly new entity, and neither current brand exists
  2. Absorption - one brand is absorbed into the other, and the brand ceases to exist
  3. Both brands continue as separate entities - both brands continue as is

No matter which solution is applied, understanding your brand architecture and hierarchy is necessary and will need to be revisited in light of the merger.

As part of the merger, you will need to revisit and confirm or re-develop your:

  • Brand vision
  • Brand purpose
  • Brand promise
  • Brand architecture and hierarchy
  • Brand values
  • Brand voice
  • Brand personality
  • Brand messaging
  • Ideal customer
  • Personas
  • Unique selling proposition
  • Visual identity and brand guidelines

Understanding your customers' relationship with both brands will be a crucial part of mapping your brand strategy. Planning the customer journey of the merger and brand transition will ensure you have the customer at the centre, and verifying this journey through conversation and data will help minimise any potential risks to the brand and revenue.

When writing your strategy, it is important to set milestones to ensure each business unit and partner contributing has the right elements to progress their piece of the puzzle. For example, messaging can be developed alongside a new mark - communications experts and designers are both responding to the same brief in different mediums, and excellent communicators and designers don't need to know the logo is green to write the right proposition, or the tone is 'confident' to produce a mark that encapsulates the brand promise.

Understanding who needs to sign off on the brand elements along the way and before the final launch will ensure you engage the right people with the proper authority to ensure a successful brand merger.

3. It's about the people - successful merger team integration

Apart from the brand treatment and hierarchy, you may be dealing with a merged marketing and brand team, and the entire organisation will be looking at how to onboard people from one organisation into another.

Across the broader organisation, it is crucial to map the culture the merged organisations will create and live, off the back of the retooled brand promise and values.

Within your brand and marketing team, ensure you have mapped your refreshed organisational structure including new roles, retooled job descriptions and any expansion opportunities.

What processes will you need to update to take into account the merged or new brand hierarchy? Ensuring your team is confident and trained in the new processes, and new brand anatomy will help ensure a seamless brand transition internally and in the market.

What tools are used to communicate and build the brand and culture internally? How will these existing tools be updated to present the new brand? How will they be quickly disseminated and adopted throughout the organisation?

Internal consistency is vital to support and engage your people, and teams across the entire organisation. The whole organisation needs the right brand tools, including visual identity, to bring the merger to life. Each person should be very clear about what they need to be using and saying internally, long before the new brand structure is launched in the market.

4. Hitting the go button - operationalising the merged brand

Apart from the apparent benefits to reputation to hitting milestones, delivering a quick and efficient brand transition and deployment reflects on the success of the merger as a whole. This involves both implementation and go-to-market stages.

Implementation is distinct from the go-to-market stage when the launch of the brand and requisite campaigns occurs.

Your implementation will reflect your decision to do a complete transition at the same time or a staggered rollout of the merged brand and visual identity. For example, you might have decided to update the new brand and messaging and the visual identity in your digital and high-touch channels and campaigns, but slowly transition your physical locations and large-scale assets like vehicles.

The most important part of this phase is implementing the internal engagement, training and onboarding for all areas of the business from executive to the coal-face so your employees are on-message and on-brand. Without employee engagement, your merger is reduced to new livery, and that can appear hollow to your customers. We can all think of brands that were pitched as a new angle and brand promise in their press releases but turned out to be only a new logo because the implementation was pushed through without this engagement.

Your go-to-market strategy for your new brand helps shape how stakeholders receive the change from all audiences - your end-users, your endorsers, your suppliers, your employees and your investors. This strategy should not be developed to promote your new livery, but instead, your new promise and position. If your audience has changed as a result of your rebrand, your advertising will reflect this new audience and showcase your new promise.

For brand and marketing managers, go-to-market is your bread and butter - position your campaign and your communication and channels against your audience, drive your new messages and reflect the audience in your creative.

Once your brand is implemented, and in the market, it is critical to deliver a consistent brand presence. It is vital to ensure your promise, values, message and visual identity are uniform, to ensure maximum recognition and buy-in for your new brand.

Finally, celebrate the wins of this merger and acquisition project with your team and the organisation - it is a massive undertaking and when done well will positively impact your market share and revenue - this is the time to recognise a job well done.

Outfit as part of the brand merger solution

Outfit was created to ensure your people and your teams can spend more time doing work that moves people, spend more time being proactive and not reactive, spend more time figuring out ways to exceed customer expectations. This is doubly so when Outfit is applied during a merger and re-brand.

So much of what marketing and brand teams do is formatting and applying the brand in the proper way. Organisations understand that brand is powerful, but sitting it with only a few people is limiting and creates frustration.

Outfit is a cloud-based, collaborative marketing production tool. This ensures all marketing materials produced will be on-brand, in your new brand, following a merger. It means logos, logo-lockups and other visual identity elements of the new brand are applied in the right way through automation.

Any piece of content produced in Outfit is guaranteed to be on-brand. Marketing teams can transition from being a bottleneck of requests, to empowering teams with executable, pre-approved and on-brand content that deliver business outcomes.

Central marketing teams and brand managers have total peace of mind knowing that, following a merger, everything created by departments and partners in Outfit is on-brand, automatically customised to the team, region or customer need.

Talk to the Outfit team today to see how the platform helps you manage merged brands.


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