HALO brand image

How can a newly merged organization overcome employee skepticism to create a new brand? How can fierce loyalty to a legacy brand be transferred to an entirely new brand? These were among the pressing concerns of the CEO of HALO, a branded merchandise company. With the backing of one of the country’s leading private equity firms, the CEO had built HALO into the global leader in branded merchandise, uniforms, and recognition and incentive solutions, with more than 1,800 employees and 112 Fortune 500 clients.   But he knew the company would only be successful if he was able to unite employees across the blended organization– and engage customers in understanding the benefits of the newly-expanded platform.

Combining the best of six established brands

In building HALO into the global leader in its category, the CEO and his team had made six major acquisitions. He knew that many of the acquired companies had strong brands, deep relationships with customers, and an employee base loyal to their own established brand. In fact, these were the very qualities that made these companies attractive acquisition targets! But to capitalize on the potential of developing a truly national branded merchandise platform, he recognized that HALO needed to create a powerful master brand that reflected and even amplified the combined strength of these acquired companies. In particular, the brand had to be compelling enough to convince the employees of the subsidiaries to forego their allegiance to their legacy brand in favor of the corporate brand.

While the process of creating a new brand for HALO was complex, three key tactics ensured that the result was compelling, differentiated, and widely accepted by key internal and external audiences.

We engaged employees early and often

The surest way get employees behind a new brand is to engage them in the process of creating it. This typically begins in the research phase of a branding initiative, the earlier the better. For HALO, we engaged employees in two ways. First, we held interactive workshops at the offices of the acquired companies, bringing together leaders from a variety of departments to elicit their perspectives on their own brand and customer base, and their expectations (and anxieties) concerning the merger. Following these workshops, we fielded an online survey to all employees to get an even broader perspective. This internal research, in addition to providing very useful information for building the new brand, served to introduce the branding project to employees and prepare them for the rebrand. HALO’s CEO was engaged in making both of these approaches successful, signaling in a range of communications that he fully supported – and would be deeply involved in—the entire branding process, and expected all employees to be engaged as well.

We identified commonalities among customers

Internal research is critical for understanding a company’s unique strengths. But only customer research can uncover the expectations and embedded perceptions that drive choice. In HALO’s case, the commonalities among these expectations and perceptions across all six acquired companies formed the core of the new, unified brand.

In depth customer interviews, along with an online survey of HALO customers, revealed that while each of the six acquired companies targeted different market segments, often with different offerings, their customers shared certain fundamental attitudes. Most significantly, they were hungry for more than branded products; they were looking for a partner to help their brands stand out in a media-saturated environment. Research further indicated that the real power in branded merchandise isn’t the product itself; it’s the experience that receiving something of value triggers in a customer or prospect. What’s more, transforming products into true experiences requires more than a catalog backed by a team of order takers—it requires creativity, a strategic mindset, and flawless, technology-powered execution.

These customer insights led to HALO’s new Masterbrand, reflected in a new tagline, “The Power to Break Through.” It created an immediate bond with the disparate customer bases of HALO’s acquired companies by focusing on what they had in common: the need to transform their brand into powerful, one-of-a-kind experiences.

We built the HALO brand around client benefits, not financial engineering. 

In boardrooms, the idea that “bigger is better” can have a hypnotic allure. But for customers, this isn’t always the case. They worry that their importance will be diminished by a merger, that the company will focus on cost-cutting rather than enhancements to its offerings. The solution is to translate the financial and strategic rationale of a transaction into a true value proposition for customers and employees.

For HALO, communications emphasized that the combined company was better able to meet customer needs. Messaging focused on the benefits of scale, centralized distribution, and the greater buying power the larger company was able to offer. At the same time, a personalized post-rebrand outreach campaign reassured established customers that they were still important to the company, and that their all-important relationships with HALO personnel would not in any way be diminished.

By involving employees early in the process, finding the commonalities across market segments, and emphasizing the benefits of the six mergers to clients, we were able to create and launch a new brand that received strong support both internally and externally. The new master brand enabled the company’s CEO to realize his ambition of creating a truly national branded merchandise platform, with a unified employee base capable of – and committed to – serving clients across all regions. Sales volume accelerated as clients across legacy firms realized that HALO was offering more than products, it was creating experience that empowered them to stand out with their customers. As importantly, employees of the six acquired companies – many of them professional marketers themselves – were inspired to align themselves with the parent and its brand.

About the author

Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis is a Senior Strategy Director who has spearheaded branding efforts for financial services, professional services and technology companies, as well as for not-for-profit organizations.

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