When brands collide: dealing with acquisitions and mergers

A friend who is a former Brandvelope client recently asked a question I’ve had to answer a lot over the years: what are the most important things to consider when two brands come together? Good question.

The nature of the beast: risky but potentially awesome

In my friend’s case, his company is going through a friendly corporate merger / mutually agreed upon buyout – probably the best case scenario for a scenario where two established brands come together. It’s not a hostile takeover or a desperate fire sale, and the executive teams are merging as well, so players from both sides get to help make the calls. But whether it’s a friendly handshake or a bitter feud, any time two companies come together for whatever reason, there is always uncertainty, turmoil, and potentially, lost or confused customers. And one of the touchiest issues is the brand assets – corporate, product, and otherwise.  Which brands, if any, will survive?

The one big question you need to answer

What is the big customer win? 

Essentially, you need to figure out as soon as possible why a customer would want your brands to come together. Not you. Not the other company. Not the shareholders or bankers. The people who pay you to do what you do.

I always tell my clients to think of this: “What do you want your key customer contact to tell their boss in plain, human language to keep them calm when they hear a big change is coming?”

Because if you don’t answer that question, they’ll find their own answer. And you may not like what they say. And you can bet they’re not going to want to say “they’re hoping to make more money” and they definitely won’t quote that bit in your Press Release where you say “this will enable our newly combined entity to maximize market and production efficiencies and better address global supply chain… (etc. etc.)”That story you want them to tell is the single most important thing you will decide – and it will make all the other decisions much, much, easier. Decisions like:

  1. How and when you will communicate to customers (hint: early and often)
  2. What you promise them (early and often – about the services they rely on)
  3. Who to put on your internal change team (and you need one).
  4. Which corporate brand adds more value (not always the bigger company).
  5. Whether to merge names or choose one (or consider launching a new brand).
  6. What products and projects need to die or be phased out (and do it).
  7. What products and services should survive (and be promoted to marquee brands)
  8. Whether to use launch as a chance to make a big splash (in the old market or even a new one).
  9. Whether to use launch as a chance to refresh approach to technology (CRM / Social media / Web site).
  10. How and when to use outsiders like me (because you often need someone to moderate who can say important things insiders can’t)

Oh, and did I mention to keep everyone focused on the big customer win?


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