Merger & acquisition series: Part 5/11 – Using data to reduce subjectivity during an M&A
If you haven’t already, download our in-depth M&A playbook.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. The more you know about the different audiences and organizations involved in your M&A, the stronger the rebrand can be. Gathering the right data and uncovering key insights can make all of the difference during this process, guiding everything from the building blocks of your new brand to overall decision-making at the highest level.
During any M&A endeavor, emotions are likely to run high. Individuals—from employees to top leaders—are often understandably attached to legacy brand elements like name and logo. We also often have to navigate sensitivities around who is taking over who. Building a case for change can be challenging in such an emotionally charged environment. However, it’s hard for anyone to argue with research-backed insights and clear numbers, which is why it can be so helpful to conduct comprehensive primary research before making any M&A rebrand-related decisions. By gathering as much irrefutable data and clear statistics as you can, you can set your team up for success when it comes to adjusting “the way we’ve always done it.”
While not possible for every M&A rebrand, the ideal program includes a mix of primary qualitative and quantitative research that will provide a big-picture understanding of where you’re coming from and where you’re going. But you don’t have to break the budget—or your timeline—to make it happen. Use this time to get curious, ask questions, and dig deep from as many angles as you’re able. Remember, the more data and insights that you can leverage to guide your M&A rebrand process, the better. Here’s where to start.
Think big and think human
When it comes to M&A rebrand research, we encourage our clients to think big. This means going beyond the basic brand metrics and marketing data, and using different methodologies and approaches to get smart about your entities, audiences, market, and portfolio from a holistic perspective.
The most important research box to check is people (we are trying to humanize brands, after all). A key step in every rebrand project should be developing a deep understanding of audiences: who they are, what matters to them, what their pain points are, plus how they experience—and how they want to experience—your brand. Research can help you understand which elements of legacy brands are most meaningful to your different audiences, and why.
Learn More: Guiding Principles for Creating a Human Brand
Taking the time to gather these insights will allow you to build a brand that works for the people that matter most to your brand, with the greatest opportunity for building connections on a human level. Further, primary research can also help illuminate expectations that your key audiences might have as a result of the M&A, allowing you to better prepare for how to launch, rollout and communicate change along the way.
Don’t overlook internal audiences
While understanding your external audiences is key, it’s important not to forget about internal audiences, too. As the future representatives of and advocates for your new brand, it’s essential to know what matters to them so that you can prioritize building a brand that they want to rally behind. Consider employee insights, perceptions, and decision drivers throughout the M&A process—from developing culture-merging strategies and training events, to determining when and how best to include employees in the launch and beyond.
Research can also be conducted to explore existing brand offerings and equities, and to identify integration opportunities. This type of information can be extremely helpful when making decisions about what, if any, legacy elements should be retained, as well as how to streamline your combined portfolio in the most intuitive, effective way for your audiences.
While it’s true that an M&A rebrand is a great opportunity to conduct fresh, up-to-date brand research, it’s also possible that you already have access to data that can help you make decisions. In fact, we’ve found that many of our clients are sitting on more information than they initially think. By re-examining and leveraging data that you already have, you can generate a comprehensive picture of what’s going on at your brand, particularly from an internal perspective.
Learn More: Enabling a Consistent Brand Experience
More often than not, this strategy just takes a bit of digging on your part. Ask your core team to weigh in and brainstorm instances when research may have played a part in your organization in the past. Consider prior brand, culture, or organizational initiatives where research may have been conducted, internally or externally. Reach out to each entity’s agencies and vendors to see if they have access to any data or results gathered in the past. If there is a PE company involved, perhaps there was some research done as part of the due diligence process that can shed customer and brand equity insights. The more recent, the better—but looking over older research studies can help establish a picture of brand legacy and historical context.
It’s also possible to use secondary data sources to help you develop a high-level understanding of the landscape. Devoting some time to conducting your own desktop research can be helpful at this stage, particularly in cases where there isn’t a large budget for primary research.
Primary research is always best
The best-case scenario is conducting custom primary research specifically for M&A rebrand purposes. This will allow you the most flexibility in terms of what questions you want to dig into and explore, and also help you equip yourself and your team with the most compelling data points. And don’t limit yourself to traditional research methodologies, such as large focus groups. The good news is that your primary research doesn’t have to be exorbitantly expensive or time-consuming. Quick-moving, cost-effective research options exist that will allow you to build the data and knowledge needed for a successful M&A rebrand.
From interactive online bulletin-boards to simple surveys, there are many strategies for getting research done quickly and cost-consciously. These days, research doesn’t even have to take place in person. In-depth interviews and focus groups can be conducted via Zoom, allowing for safe, socially-distant conversations to take place with consumers and employees alike. Don’t let timing and budget constraints get in the way—when it comes to research, there is always an opportunity to do something.
As we know, an M&A rebrand is often an inevitably emotionally charged endeavor. But remember, it’s hard to argue with numbers (though it still happens)—plan to use them to your advantage to reduce subjectivity during decision-making as much as possible. Focus on understanding and defining legacy brand and business equity so that you can identify each organization’s strengths, gaps and “sacred cows” from the get-go. Keep the conversation on-track using clear data points and statistics, and compelling qualitative insights. And keep in mind, research isn’t just about where you are today, it’s also about your vision for the future as you bring organizations together to create new and greater opportunities. An M&A rebrand is a complex process no matter what—but with research on your side, everything gets a whole lot simpler.
We’re looking forward to continuing our discussion about what makes an M&A rebrand successful. In the next installation, we’ll outline how to determine the degree you need to signal change, so that you can understand what may be called for in your unique situation.