Introducing Your 10-Step Playbook for M&A Rebrand Success
A Merger and/or Acquisition (M&A) process is challenging on its own. Add a rebrand effort to the mix and you’ve got a formula for complexity that can make even the most seasoned leader’s head spin. Emotions tend to run high in these situations, with incoming pressure from both business sides, potentially also added pressures from wall street, and timelines that always seem to be a bit too short. It can be challenging to wrangle stakeholders, integrate teams and keep things moving forward, all without letting important details fall through the cracks.
After helping many different organizations navigate the complexities of an M&A (Merger and Acquisition) rebrand, we’ve seen it all—from the missed opportunities to the shining success stories. Throughout, we’ve captured our experiences and learnings, and used them to create the ultimate playbook for M&A rebrand leaders to ensure a successful integration, launch and roll-out of a new shared brand.
We will roll this out in an 11 part series throughout 2020, with detailed information building on each section intro’d below – what problems will likely arise, what issues you may face as the brand leader, and potential considerations, tips, and solutions you can use to help keep things organized and aligned. As always, we are here to help – answer questions, give our perspective, align you with other brand leaders who have gone through similar situations.
This playbook captures most of the unique considerations and questions to ask yourself and your team at the beginning of the process, based on our experience in the space. Anxiety begone, let’s make some M&A rebrand magic happen.
1. Let strategy dictate name
One of the first questions you’ll likely be asked is about the future name of the combined organization. Will one brand name be used over the other? Will the two be combined? Or, will the M&A be used as an opportunity to craft a new name to take the organization into the future? It’s often the first major decision that needs to be made, and it’s an important question to address immediately.
Like it or not, the selected name has the power to set the tone for the rest of the process and establish expectations for the change overall. Don’t just immediately land on a combined name to make things easier and to hold on to perceived equity. While appropriate in some scenarios, a combined name can signal a narrow focus on size and/or market share, make it more difficult to unify cultures, and limits the ability to tell a bigger story of change. Keep an open mind and explore all possible scenarios for the new name. Don’t feel limited by legacies—let business strategy, future goals, data, and culture inform your options and decision making.
2. Map Out Close Date Scenarios
The close date for M&A is often a moving target, and the only knowledge you have to work with is an ambiguous “could be as early as X, or as late as Y.” It’s tempting to attach rebrand efforts to the deadline, and often times it is a mandate from the CEO. But in reality, you don’t have to be ready to fully launch your new brand on day one. In fact, it’s often worth taking the time required to ensure you have at least the minimum tools in place for a successful launch. You only get one chance to get this launch right.
Immediate scenario planning is the key here.
- Explore what day one will look like and entail from an internal and external perspective.
- Outline your must-haves, tiers of nice-to-haves, and what can wait.
- Start gathering production timelines for items that typically have long lead times (i.e. uniforms, security badges, website, key signage, UX/UI, etc.)
- Create a workback schedule.
- Don’t forget about your people!
Often times organizations want to be sure employees understand the new brand before it is launched, which means you need to allow time for activities like education, training and engagement.
With your activities identified and prioritized, it’s time to map out different scenarios. Outline what can be ready if closing were to happen at the earliest possible date. Then create at least 1-2 additional scenarios to demonstrate what more can be done, along with the benefits and tradeoffs, if the close date were to extend a month, two months, etc. This allows you to plan for worst case scenario of having to launch at the earliest possible date, but also potentially align executives on an ideal launch date regardless of when close happens.
3. Establish the Team and Process
An M&A rebrand can’t be done on your own. It takes a team—and a well-functioning one at that—to handle all of the different expertise areas and intricacies that a successful process demands. One of the first things you’ll need to do as a leader is establish the team (often referred to as an integration team, or steering committee), their individual roles, and the communication process that will take you all from A to Z. If the team has already been identified, then the focus should be on getting to know the players.
This can be particularly tricky when integrating teams, agencies and stakeholders from two different organizations and cultures. You don’t just have to learn how to work with a new agency partner(s), you have to understand how your counterparts work and make decisions. Spend as much time as possible with the internal integration team prior to kicking off work with external partners. Make it a priority to understand what’s important to each group and how they make decisions, including discussing how leadership from each entity likes to be involved and receive information. Emphasize the things you can learn from one another, not just the differences between you. Make over-communication your mantra. Clearly outline the socialization and approval process, leveraging a RACI or similar model for decision-making and responsibilities. Basically, establish an integrated set of rules for success so everyone is operating from the same playbook.
4. Use Data to Reduce Subjectivity
Emotions are high during M&A, and people can feel especially attached to their existing names and brands. At this stage in the decision-making process, numbers talk. Using clear stats and data can help remove as much subjectivity as possible from this emotionally charged process. Gather as much irrefutable data and stats as you can to define legacy brand and business equity so that you can identify each organization’s strengths and “sacred cows” from the get-go. Arm yourself with numbers that can back up your decisions, align your teams, and get the board on board with changes. Further, primary research can also illuminate expectations that your key audiences might have as a result of the merger or acquisition, allowing you to better prepare for how to launch, rollout, and communicate changes.
5. Determine the Degree You Need to Signal Change
Is the M&A more about expanding reach and market share? Or is there a need to clearly signal to audiences that something is different as a result of the M&A?
If the former, the focus is often more on efficiently integrating operations, and folding one brand into another to maintain business as usual as much as possible. In these scenarios, the role of brand is more focused on streamlining and integrating portfolios and creating a unified culture.
But if the latter, there needs to be a significant and meaningful brand change in order to ensure audiences recognize that something is different. M&A is a unique opportunity to get current and potential customers to see you differently and take back control of your narrative, including getting rid of potential negative legacy perceptions. This often requires bolder actions that customers will actually notice, such as a name and/or logo change. Refreshing the design system alone (without also changing the logo) will not achieve the same level of impact. This is why it is critical to align stakeholders on the need to signal change, so you can use that to strategically guide the corresponding degree of brand change required.
6. Put Culture First
In today’s world you can’t separate brand and culture, and this is exponentially true during M&A. Culture will make or break your M&A rebrand, and it’s essential that you treat it as a priority from the start. It’s challenging to merge together two (or more) different cultures, however similar they may seem, and will take strategic input and influence from leadership along the way. And within each organization, there are often many microcosms of different, but related cultures, which amplifies the importance and complexity of culture. Done right, your people can be your biggest advocates. Done poorly, and they may become your biggest adversaries.
Guide the growth of your future culture with care. Listen, don’t lecture—holding internal workshops and roundtables will allow you to learn and gather input from your people across the organization. Simple quantitative surveys can allow you to reach a large portion of the employee population, which will uncover opportunities to improve culture, provide a view of the varying types of culture that exist so you can tailor actions, and inform and guide brand development. Conducting employee experience immersions/ethnographies are also great for uncovering those underlying truths, beliefs, values and habits that give you your secret sauce.
This is also a great opportunity to identify influential employee ambassadors, and make sure they are equipped and trained to handle their peer’s questions and concerns. On the other side, you can also identify those “squeaky wheels” who are more likely to throw wrenches in the process, so you can engage them earlier to turn them into supporters.
Some organizations have strong brands, some have strong cultures, but when both are in strong alignment the result is exponential and will catapult your ability to achieve goals, Make culture the center of your new brand.
Learn More: Convergence is the Key to Cultural Effectiveness
7. Tell a Bigger Story
Regardless of how functional or operational an M&A might seem, push your teams and leaders to see the opportunity to tell a bigger story. So often fears of disruption lead to messages about “same great service” that are signaling to audiences that nothing is really changing. This is a rare opportunity to re-engage with current customers and attract new ones in more enticing ways.
How does this elevate your ability to service customers? To know and understand them better? To be closer to them?
How does it enhance and expand your products, services, and capabilities?
What is the impact on technology? R&D? Resources?
Any M&A should have a very clear and positive customer benefit that we need to clarify and communicate. And communicate consistently, constantly, and loudly.
Further, your M&A rebrand story has to be about more than just “the what”—you need to clearly articulate a story of “the why”. And then you need to make sure that you, your team, and every single person at your organization knows, understands and cares about that “why”, too. It’s this bigger rebrand story that will resonate and rally your people together under a sense of unity and shared purpose. This is a time to excite and inspire.
8. Organize Your Portfolio
Your newly shared portfolio is arguably the most tangible presentation of what your combined organization does, and how it does it. Multiple portfolios must be combined and organized thoughtfully in order to communicate the right story—or you risk confusing your audiences, creating redundancies in your work, and overlooking gaps in your offerings. Do not downplay the importance of getting your portfolio right or think that you can just “deal with it” after you launch the new brand. Your brand architecture aligns what you do with who you want to be, so it is critical to get both of these parts right before you go external.
Begin by taking a step back, because you need a broad perspective to see the whole picture. Ensure everyone is clear on the story you want to tell, because how you organize your portfolio sends an immediate message on whether you are a product, solution, consulting, people, etc. company. Put everything on the table first before you begin organizing, combining or streamlining. Step into your end-audience’s shoes to understand the most effective architecture strategy from their perspective. Again, data is critical to understanding the way audiences wish to engage with you, and for identifying what actually has equity vs just internal perceptions. This is often the most complex, and political, part of any big rebrand effort. So, take the time to build rationale and involve stakeholders throughout the process.
9. Define the New Experience
Each legacy organization will bring its own experience benefits and baggage along with it. But ultimately, creating a new shared brand demands consistency from a customer experience standpoint. As part of the M&A rebrand process, you will be tasked with not only defining the new experience, but also creating a plan to ensure all of your touchpoints are delivering on it. It’s not just about reskinning your current experience, you have the opportunity to create a new, combined, elevated experience.
First, you need to understand the current state. Conduct an in-depth exploration to understand experiential strengths and weaknesses at various touchpoints. Define an integrated experience that aligns with your story. Give employees training and tools that help them understand the new experience and how to deliver it. Develop strategies to measure if it’s working. If you ignore experience, you will create a disconnect between what you say and what you do, which is a surefire route to losing customers.
10.Bring Audiences Along
As your close date and brand launch day draw closer, it’s important to address how you’ll bring your key audiences along for the journey. Going forward, how will you define your customers and clients? What will you communicate to them, and when? How will you show them that change is a positive, and not something to fear? And don’t forget your internal audiences. You want employees to be well-informed brand champions. The last thing you want to do is surprise employees.
Before you can do anything, you need to understand who you’re talking to. Start with comprehensive, up-to-date audience personas and segment profiles. Craft messaging that speaks to the heart of their needs, challenges and desires while laddering up to your overarching brand story. Establish detailed comms plans that will guide the way you introduce and share your story through the launch process. Make people feel like a part of your new story.
We look forward to continuing this conversation throughout the year – where we will go into more detail into experiences, tips and tricks, problems that may arise, and actionable insights, on each one of these 10 steps. Keep your eye out for the remaining 10 parts of the series, but in the meantime – engage with us on social or contact us here if we can be helpful.