Monday, September 7, 2015

Branding Issues for Mergers & Acquisitions



Branding issues are myriad for mergers & acquisitions.

First there is the question of why the merger or acquisition is even being considered. What is the purpose of the merger or acquisition? Is it to extend the company’s geographic range? Is it to extend the company’s appeal across new market segments? Is it to move the company’s offering upscale or downscale? Is it to fill in a product or service gap? Is it to fill in a technology gap? Is it to acquire a proprietary product feature or technology? Is it to round out the company’s brand portfolio? Is it to gain greater economies of scale? Is it to leverage potential synergies? Are you trying to pick up a distressed brand in a “fire sale”? If so, are you hoping to turn that brand around with smart management? Do you have a deep understanding of what that brand’s problems are? Or is the acquisition a non-strategic investment to make use of excess cash flow?

Once the reason for the merger or acquisition is clear, then it is time to think about what the terms of the deal will be. There are at least a few brand-related questions at this stage. What is each brand’s value? How much should you pay for the acquired brand? What intangible benefits does the acquired brand bring to you? What is the brand’s awareness level among key customer segments? What are the brand’s associations? Are the associations mostly positive, mostly negative or something in between? Does this brand complement your existing brand in some way or is it redundant? Or, worse yet, is it associated with things that you do not want your brand associated with?

There are also the questions regarding merged cultures and how that is likely to play out. Which elements of each culture should remain and which ones should be changed? These decisions will affect how the remaining brands will be perceived in the marketplace.

The next thing to decide is which brands stay and which brands go. Was the original intention to move to one brand or to build a brand portfolio? Combining brands may or may not make sense given the relative awareness and associations of each brand. You must also consider how these play out with different target customers and audiences. Combining brands is likely to save money in the long run but is also likely to cost money in the nearer term because the brand’s identity on signage, business cards, vehicles, employee uniforms and other media must change along with any brand change.

Keeping one, the other or both brands are not the only three options. You might decide it is best to create an entirely new brand for the newly combined organization. Or you might decide on a sub-brand or endorsed brand structure, in which you use two or (hopefully not) more brands together.

Once you have decided on the brand portfolio and architecture, then you must decide how you will transition from your current brand structure to the post merger or acquisition structure.  It can be a one- or two-step process and the steps might be triggered by external benchmarks such as degree of brand equity transfer. Finally, you must decide if everything will change at once for each transition step or if it will happen gradually based on budget constraints, depletion of inventories and natural obsolescence.

Ideally, the publicity generated by the merger or acquisition and any brand change creates the perfect opportunity to announce any new mission, vision or strategies to the world (or at least your target audiences). You should have carefully thought this through and scripted the messaging in time for the marketplace announcement.

Another thing we have noticed is that companies that participate in mergers & acquisitions usually don’t stop at one. More M&A activity is typically in process or on the way. This must be taken into consideration too. The approach one takes to address today’s merger or acquisition must be flexible enough to accommodate future mergers & acquisitions.  Sometimes you need to slow the process down or speed it up to address a string of mergers or acquisitions.

And I haven’t even touched on the brand identity considerations themselves, including naming, icons, color palettes, typography and visual styles. These are all tactics after the strategies have been determined.

The entire process should be based on the organization’s strategic intent informed by market research.

I hope this has helped you think through some of the branding implications of mergers & acquisitions.


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