For M&A Success, Put Branding in the IMO Loop

Working with the integration management office (IMO) is critical to successful M&A branding
colorful gears show M&A coordination

When large, complex organizations combine – whether through M&A or internal reorganization – a strong new brand can be the essential glue that holds the new entity together, both internally and in the minds of customers.

But a new brand is just one element in the successful integration of two organizations. There are myriad other factors that need to be worked out, including integrating systems, melding cultures, realigning compensation plans, identifying staff redundancies — the list is long, the challenges complex.

Coordination of these efforts among all systems, departments and policies is typically the job of an integration management office, or IMO. IMOs are most often led by consulting firms. Many of the biggest firms in the world, including McKinsey, PwC and Deloitte, have IMO practices as part of their M&A advisories. For a branding and marketing firm charged with creating a new brand for the newly combined entity, working effectively with an IMO is crucial — but not always easy. The IMO and the branding firm will most often work on parallel paths. But it is critical that they work in harmony, with frequent touchpoints along the way.

In our work with companies undergoing a merger or restructuring, we’ve identified a number of best practices for ensuring that branding firms and IMOs work effectively together.

1. Meet early and often. There are inevitable overlaps between what the branding firm and IMO are expected to handle. Defining exactly who is responsible for what is essential. Establishing a clear line of sight into IMO workstreams and deliverables is critical at an early stage to understand where overlaps can be avoided – and ensure that the brand is in lockstep with the emerging business, technology and personnel strategies.

2. Coordinate information gathering. The branding firm will almost certainly want to conduct research among the employees and customers of the two organizations to find areas of commonality and areas of difference; this information is vital to developing the new brand. But the IMO may want to conduct research of its own. At a time of great change, the last thing you want to do is bombard employees or customers with surveys. This can signal uncertainty and lack of coordination. One survey, with input from the IMO and branding firm, is often the best solution.

3. Align culture with brand. It’s often remarked that “culture eats brand for breakfast,” particularly in B2B organizations, where brand lives most powerfully in a company’s people; If brand and culture aren’t aligned, the brand will have little chance of success. Many IMOs are charged with cultural alignment, including developing new corporate values, so it is critical that the branding firm understand how the cultural piece of the integration work is being handled and where the cultural initiatives are headed. Done correctly, culture and brand can be mutually supportive. Without integration and transparency, neither will succeed.

4. Speak with one voice. The process of combining companies almost always causes uncertainty and even anxiety among employees. The key to allaying this – and ensuring the smooth operation of both organizations during the process – is frequent communication. Employees need to understand what is happening, when changes will occur, and why. Sometimes customers will want to be kept in the loop as well. This process is most effective when communications come from a single source, typically someone within one or both organizations. But the IMO and branding firm need to work together to supply updates and communicate what they are hoping to achieve, what they are expecting from employees, and what is coming next.

5. Sync up project management. People and processes need to work seamlessly. Ideally, the branding firm and IMO will identify one person to serve as the single point of contact for the other. They should establish regular check-ins to ensure that everything progresses smoothly – once a week at least during peak activity. But people are only part of the equation. Every branding agency has its own project management tool. So do IMOs. Integration works best when the two organizations deploy one tool that can be shared across the organizations, giving everyone full visibility into progress and potential roadblocks.

For a branding firm, there are few challenges more exciting than creating a brand for two established companies coming together to form something new through M&A or other reorganization. Weaving brand development into the overall integration process, working closely with the IMO, will not only help to ensure seamless integration of multiple workstreams. It can also strengthen the resulting brand … and thus the potential for the success of the combination.

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