You’ve merged the brands. Now you need to brand the merger. But what makes merger branding successful? Is it an exciting strategic and communications challenge? Or, a change management nightmare?
There’s no doubt, company mergers and acquisitions can pose real challenges when it comes to bringing together organisations, and their people. And managing the mergers and acquisitions branding process can prove particularly difficult if communications professionals feel they are driving the change agenda, rather than responding to it. Mergers call for unique communication skills. Producing a new corporate identity, and possibly a name, supported by a wide range of internal and external stakeholders, can raise complex issues.
The whole merger process can be a stressful one for everyone involved, especially if people become protective and territorial about their organisation, its long tradition and distinct identity. Instead of evolution, communication professionals are often faced with revolution and, sadly, they may feel they are driving the change brief rather than responding to a well thought-out merger brand strategy, with a clear sense of direction for the newly-formed organisation.
Clear, consistent guidelines for the merger branding process provide a crucial first step in developing a sense of on-going unity. But it has to be an inclusive process that people can identify with. And that means a strong focus, genuine consultation and creating a merger branding process that people can support and believe in. From a branding perspective, this is fundamental to making mergers successful.
Of course, it depends on what kind of merger you are dealing with. A rescue merger where a struggling company is amalgamated into a strong company brings very different challenges to a strategic merger, where successful companies realise that they will be even stronger if combined.
But all brand mergers have one thing in common. They involve people, who often have their own ideas and agendas. That is why the work that goes on behind the scenes is just as important as the creation of the new brand.
A strategic consultancy is likely to possess experience in managing the merger branding process. And this includes pulling together teams of people, and driving the initiative from inception to conclusion. Merger naming can be particularly complex. The most straightforward option is to retain the name of an existing entity, but this is not going to be universally popular. Sometimes, a fresh start is best for all concerned, and a new name for the merger is deemed necessary. This really does provide your strategic branding agency with a blank canvas, but it also adds to development time as there are legal aspects of the merger naming to consider, along with searches for domain availability and linguistic checks. Whatever the case, the agency partner you entrust to manage your merger branding process will require gravitas, strategic nous as well as the creative and technical skills to see the project through.
Brand strategy and design bring tangible benefits to the mergers and acquisitions process. A detailed consultancy and brand strategy phase brings clarity and focus to merger branding, while the design phase brings a tangible sense of realism to proceedings. When brand strategy and visual identity hit the drawing board – and boardroom – the negotiations, hard work and struggle suddenly seem worthwhile. Seeing the pieces of the jigsaw come together can be incredibly rewarding. And, while no two merger branding projects are same, there are some rules we nearly always apply when managing the merger branding process:
Make sure that you have a clear steer from the top before you even consider the merger communications strategy for your new organisation. Bringing together organisations is just the first step. Making sure that everyone supports the same vision is essential. The merger brand strategy should drive the communications process and not vice-versa.
Engage your stakeholders. Ask staff, customers, business partners and your most prized stakeholders what they think about key changes, such as the proposed merger name or logo design. Face-to-face interviews, focus groups and online surveys are just some of the techniques we have used to good effect. You may even want to cast your net wider and ask business partners and industry peers for their views. Go out of your way to engage your critics and transform their negative energy into positive feedback.
Reflect on what you already do well and what you could do better. Feed this into your merger brand strategy. A new sense of direction is a great time to carry out a communications audit. Ask people how they want you to communicate with them. You may find that customers prefer online reporting, Facebook updates and Twitter to more traditional media. It’s easy to assume, but much more effective to ask.
Galvanise the key issues that emerge from your consultation and audit. Developing a M&A brand strategy is not just about projecting a new, positive and cohesive image of the newly merged organisation. It’s about celebrating past successes, retaining what people valued about the organisation before the brand merger and tackling negative perceptions, such as a perceived loss of identity.
Ensure people are kept updated about what you have found and, crucially, how their contribution is being used to drive the brand merger strategy, and subsequent creative development. Make it clear that they are a valued part of the merger process and that they have a real opportunity to influence the outcome. Paying lip service to consultation is worse than no consultation at all, so investing time and energy into this stage of the process is vital.
Reinforce your new sense of direction with a fresh and exciting brand strategy that highlights your unique selling points and the personality of your merged organisation. Ensure that your new visual and verbal identity works across all mediums, from advertising campaigns to your company website, digital marketing, social media and across mobile devices. Make sure it reaches your target audiences, grabs their attention and talks to them in the right way.
Remember: your new brand is just the start of the merger process. Long-term engagement with internal and external stakeholders is essential to build and reinforce your new image.
Breaking down the merger branding process into two-tiers helps to focus clearly on the task at hand. It might look something like this… Part 1, merging the brands and, part 2, branding the merger. There are no quick and easy shortcuts to successful merger branding. It’s an iterative process that requires experience, strategic knowhow, commitment and a competent creative team. No amount of good practice and research will make up for an uninspiring company name, or an unimaginative design concept. Likewise, if your people and and stakeholders don’t feel engaged in the merger process, it will take them longer to adopt the new brand. Worse still, they may never adopt it.
Putting the right merger processes in place from the outset, however, will get your people onboard, fostering a sense of shared ownership and responsibility. Good communication turns resistance in acceptance. It builds brand apostles, ready to share your story across social media and word of mouth. It will give your merged brand a sense of belonging that feels authentic, exciting, fresh and trustworthy. And for any newly merged organisation, going through sudden and dramatic change, that has to be a merger branding process worth the time and effort.