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Prioritize brand amidst the urge to merge

Why branding should be top of mind in a merger of equals

A merger of equals is a transformational event, and like many other transformational moments in the corporate world, it demands change at a number of levels.

Business models must be reconciled, assets rationalized, product lines integrated, cultures acquainted, and – just occasionally, of course – egos soothed. So too must the skins of the merging organizations be shed for a new entity to emerge: streamlined, organized, focused, and with a clear story and vision.

Key constituents – employees, customers, partners, the investment community – all need to understand and get excited about the vision. It may make perfect sense in the Board room and on the balance sheet – but the buy-in of these key audiences will be the ultimate arbiter of success. A unified brand strategy is critical in making an immediate statement about the purpose and intent of the newly merged entity. Over time this will translate to the culture and communications initiatives across the organization, establishing momentum for success across all key constituents. Too often, however, brand is not at the top of the list or, if it is, it’s addressed too late.

Thinking about brand the moment a merger becomes a possibility is critical to achieving the outcomes that the merger envisioned in the first place.

Thinking about brand the moment a merger becomes a possibility is critical to achieving the outcomes that the merger envisioned in the first place. A merger provides the opportunity to leverage the strengths of two corporate brands and set in place a relevant and compelling vision for internal and external audiences alike. It’s not just about a pretty logo and some new signage. Incorporating brand early into broader integration planning will help identify and address some of the problems invariably encountered along the way, from dysfunctional synergies and disgruntled employees, to confused customers and alienated partners. Successful leaders also understand that brand integration connects directly to product portfolio integration – and, thus, directly to the customer experience. Furthermore, portfolio integration provides a critical path to expanding sales and driving growth.

So what does it take?

Branding in a merger situation demands an ability to step above the deal and focus on the interests of the new entity. It requires the focus and commitment at the highest levels. It requires an eye on Day One and on the long term. And it requires focus on issues that are both big and overarching, as well as practical and nitty-gritty. Basic questions need to be asked as early as possible:

  • What is the name of the new organization?
  • What is the new brand story and vision of the organization?
  • How should the image change to reflect the new strategy?
  • How and when do we communicate?
  • How do we rollout the new brand efficiently?
  • Is there any reason why we can’t launch the new brand when the deal closes?

The answers to every one of these questions have cascading implications. Who should manage the process? When should they start? What support will they get from new leadership as well as legacy leadership?  What do they need in order to turn the new brand into an asset that will drive the success of this merger?

Once a new visual identity is created, it will need to be applied to everything: website, intranet, social media, signage, presentations, collateral, stationary, email signatures, email campaigns, uniforms, livery, promotional items, launch event—the list goes on. This takes time. A dedicated integration team may well need the help of external experts and resources. And they should start planning as soon as possible.

Mergers are times of stress. Myriad complex decisions are being made under pressure, often in short time frames. Mergers that don’t prioritize brand can send out the wrong messages: muddled strategy, lack of preparation, conflicts of ego, potential for poor performance.

Mergers are built on a vision for a new tomorrow. Thinking about brand at the outset will help you build that vision to enlist the support of your most important internal and external audiences.