According to Harvard Business Review, the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions ranges from 70–90%. Many factors can contribute to the success or failure of companies being combined. But too often, brand is not championed or leveraged during these critical moments—even though it can provide clarity and inspire invaluable unity across essential stakeholders…
Even in 2023, a slower year for mergers and acquisitions, there were nearly 40,000 M&A transactions around the world. Across industries from tech to healthcare, consolidation remains an attractive strategy, and companies small and large continue placing their bets on M&A moves to drive growth.
It’s safe to assume that most B2B organizations will experience M&A activity at some point. But given that 70–90% of mergers and acquisitions fail, success is by no means a given.
In this environment, brand is a critical yet often overlooked factor—and asset.
Even the strongest intellectual or financial rationale for combining two businesses will never be enough to ensure the new entity succeeds. This reasoning must translate into convincing benefits and promises that connect with audiences personally and instinctively. We know that even in the specs-heavy world of B2B communications and relationships, emotions play a large role in people’s decision making.
Successfully merging two B2B brands requires transforming a financial transaction into a relatable story that:
- Resonates with the marketplace on cognitive, emotional and instinctive levels
- Provides a narrative that employees can rally behind
- Signals change and an exciting new path forward
- Builds a common culture that can unite two previously divided organizations
Whether you’re embarking on a major merger that calls for a brand overhaul or undertaking an acquisition that is smaller (in such cases, a brand refresh may be more appropriate), brand should be at the forefront of your strategy. But as with any aspect of a merger or acquisition, M&A branding is by no means a simple undertaking. A B2B organization must consider the scope of the rebranding effort—from brand positioning to visuals to naming to building new brand architecture—and then do the hard work of getting it all done.
So what does successful M&A branding look like for B2B organizations? And how do you get there? Read on to learn how to merge two brands, from conducting vital research to developing new brand building blocks and launching the new entity with motivating communications and marketing.
1. Gain a 360-degree view to find the connective tissue
Uncover the two business’s common DNA
When an organization undergoes a significant merger or acquisition, the most important consideration for building a new brand is understanding what unites the two organizations and how to communicate those connections most effectively. Determining what to emphasize depends on both the nature of the transaction and the characteristics of both organizations.
Although research is vital for any branding initiative, it’s outright critical when two existing organizations with unique histories and legacies are involved.
Research empowers leadership to gain an in-depth view of the strengths, weaknesses, cultures and perceptions of both companies. These insights then point toward the brand pillars, messages and experiences that can ensure stakeholders feel understood, considered and supported.
Research uncovers people’s deeper needs and decision drivers. And this surfaces opportunities for the new entity to reach out and/or respond to them with empathy—forging the strongest possible connections—by building the new brand on the strongest common DNA between the two companies.
Research can also test hypotheses and uncover issues/challenges the new brand can address, such as:
- Cultural misalignment
- Areas of competitive weakness
- Marketplace misperceptions or concerns
Additionally, employee awareness of (and participation in) research can also allay uncertainties about upcoming M&A activity and drive early buy-in for the new brand.
Get a multi-faceted perspective
Successful M&A branding research should take into account the perspectives of current employees, clients, prospective clients and the marketplace at large. This multi-faceted view helps leaders and brand-builders understand the essential DNA of both organizations, where there’s overlap, and how each company’s unique characteristics translate into customer and marketplace value.
By conducting both internal and external research, organizations can understand how employee perceptions align to those of the marketplace at large and uncover areas of opportunity for communicating a clearer or more differentiated message. Truly multi-faceted research will ensure that you have the full picture—all the insights you’ll need to develop a differentiated brand that appropriately reflects the strengths of both organizations.
This research should include both quantitative and qualitative measures, such as:
- A competitive marketplace review
- Internal and external surveys as well as audits of existing materials
- One-on-one interviews with leadership and clients
- Workshops that leverage creative prompts, including visual stimuli, that encourage participants to arrive at perspectives that are generally more insightful than those that come from answering straightforward interview questions
DeSantis Breindel once built a new brand for the combination of two long-standing organizations in the chemicals industry. To begin, we took an in-depth, comprehensive approach to research—which gave us the rich perspective needed to build a powerful brand for the new entity.
During internal workshops, we asked employees to identify each organization’s primary archetypes from a list developed by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and their choices revealed an opportunity to make an important shift in brand positioning. Given the highly innovative nature of the firm, it was clear that the brand needed to move beyond its current Caregiver archetype messaging (stressing customer service and support) to incorporate messaging more aligned with Jung’s Creator and Sage archetypes.
Quantitative research added further dimension to that finding, revealing that while clients were somewhat ambivalent about innovation for innovation’s sake, they were looking for a partner that could modify, tailor and evolve solutions incrementally, working alongside them through their changing needs. In other words, the new brand needed to elevate innovation within the context of client challenges.
2. Ensure the brand building blocks tell a powerful story
Translate the combined strengths to an impactful new brand position
M&A activity represents an important storytelling moment for an organization. Though what both organizations do (for example, offering legal counsel, providing economic consulting services or running an ad-tech platform) may be a good starting point for developing initial brand positioning, it’s not enough to form the basis of a differentiated brand that resonates.
A more compelling narrative emerges when we dig deeper, exploring how the future entity will operate, what its people believe in and why it does what it does. In other words, differentiated brands articulate a higher purpose that inspires both customers and employees, offering a shared journey they’ll want to join. Again, research is critical for uncovering the more substantive brand narratives (and the value they represent) beneath familiar, surface-level information about capabilities and services.
When that story is determined, its direction and spirit must be conveyed through everything the organization communicates, from its positioning statement to its tagline to every brand message.
Build flexibility into the brand platform
We like to tell our clients, “You only get one brand.” However, to ensure relevance and resonance, that brand needs to flex. Companies must express themselves and relate somewhat differently to different audiences: investors, analysts, media, clients, prospects, employees and recruits. Research not only establishes what message(s) should rise to the top. It reveals what matters most to the brand’s many different constituencies as they seek to understand what the new entity can do for them.
For example, in the case of the two combined chemical companies, we ultimately developed a brand positioning that highlighted the new organization’s emphasis on client-centric innovation. While research showed that this message resonated widely, we needed to adjust it slightly for different audiences, bringing nuances to communications to achieve maximum impacts:
- For investors, we focused on the new entity’s investments in R&D and its innovation roadmap
- For employees and recruits, we highlighted the benefits of the brand’s creative culture
- For clients, we emphasized the brand’s drive for constant improvement and advancement
Choose the right brand name
A brand’s name is one of its most important components. It’s key to cultivating positive associations and differentiating one organization from another, and it’s never as important as when embarking on a major merger or acquisition.
During M&A activity, a brand name signals important information about the nature of the business combination. Whether the new entity plans on keeping one of the two legacy names, combining them or developing an entirely new one, each option comes with very different implications for how the combination will be perceived by the marketplace. The chosen name will also determine how hard all the other elements of the brand need to work in order to communicate the new entity’s value proposition:
- Retaining only one of the legacy names indicates that the featured organization’s value proposition was/is more important than the other; brand positioning may need to work harder to communicate that there is indeed a new story to tell
- Combining legacy brand names communicates a sense of equality and joint forces; positioning may benefit from enduring brand equity but the value of the new entity must be clarified/emphasized
- Creating an entirely different brand name signals that the new whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the combination marks a complete departure from the past; positioning won’t need to work as hard to communicate change, as it’s clear the company has grown/evolved
Research should determine not only the naming strategy to pursue but also help you land on a name that will resonate. Qualitative and quantitative insights will empower you to understand the kinds of names to explore and, ultimately, which option will connect with external audiences best.
In the case of the merging chemical companies, given both organizations’ significant brand value and the complementary nature of their portfolios, we determined that combining their names would be the best option. Research into the organizations’ customer bases confirmed that they preferred a combination of the legacy names rather than a new name altogether. This meant that when the new entity launched, the brand benefited from more than a century of established brand equity.
Assess the brand architecture
Bringing together two separate companies means bringing together two completely different portfolios, whether that includes services or products, unbranded offerings or established brands. Developing coherent brand architecture is critical given its operational implications as well as the role it plays in communicating the new entity’s value proposition and priorities.
Despite this, many combining companies fail to correctly rationalize and integrate portfolios, to their detriment. In the midst of a significant merger or acquisition, clearly rationalizing portfolios not only improves internal efficiency but reduces uncertainty and/or confusion.
Never underestimate the complexity of this effort and the important role research plays in ensuring that all decisions are sound. Research will determine the right organizational structure for the new combined portfolio and ensure it supports all rationales for the merger.
Considerations such as cross-selling strategies, existing brand equity and profit potential will:
- Uncover the right relationship between the new master brand and secondary brands
- Establish an effective nomenclature strategy
- Ultimately unlock the value of the combined portfolio of offerings
In the case of the merger of the two chemical companies, there were thousands of products to consider, and many overlapped in terms of their features and/or benefits. By identifying three potential architecture pathways and leveraging research to explore the pros and cons, we were able to arrive at a branding solution that vastly simplified the new entity’s combined portfolio.
3. Drive enthusiasm and buy-in
Communicate early and often with employees
When it comes to M&A activity, there’s generally a high degree of uncertainty among employees. There are also usually significant restrictions on what can and cannot be communicated before a combination goes live. So it’s important to develop an internal communications strategy to keep employees apprised of progress and set expectations for what they should expect moving forward.
These communications will reassure employees that a new brand is on the way to support the M&A activity. They’ll worry less knowing the tools are coming that will not only help them understand the new organization but communicate about it to their peers, partners and customers with confidence.
Build the brand from the inside out
If there’s one piece of guidance we offer to our clients consistently, it’s that B2B brands are built from the inside out. And nowhere is this more critical than in M&A branding.
In an M&A transaction, a brand can quell uncertainty by galvanizing employees around the new vision and helping them understand what the new brand means to them. Additionally, brand is a powerful lever of cultural integration, which, according to Harvard Business Review, is essential; failure to integrate teams is one of the top reasons mergers fail.
A powerful brand narrative can bring together different workforces around a common purpose, inspiring them to live the brand and spread the word to clients. But it doesn’t happen by accident.
When working with clients, we employ a range of tactics to rally employees around a brand, including in-depth workshops and education on the rationale behind the brand and tactics for incorporating it into day to-day activities. We also develop internal-facing brand tools, like brand guidelines and messaging frameworks, that serve as quick and easy references to help employees embrace the brand positioning.
Launch with conviction
A well-coordinated brand launch will set the tone for the future entity, and it can make the difference between a brand that takes off and one that doesn’t. Working to make sure that all employees and key external audiences understand the new brand—and feel galvanized and inspired by its launch—will lay the foundation for success.
Powerful brand launches should begin by generating a sense of excitement and anticipation in the weeks leading up to the unveiling. Pre-launch communications should build toward the culminating moment, either driving people to a launch event or slowly revealing portions of the new brand—such as the name or the logo—in an internal drip marketing campaign.
On the day of the launch itself, external activities (like ringing the bell for the New York Stock Exchange or conducting media interviews) should be supplemented with internal activities like a launch party or desk drops celebrating the new brand.
Once the brand has been launched, it’s important to sustain its momentum. Establishing the right processes will ensure that a brand continues to flourish. Ongoing ad campaigns, internal training, brand councils, brand-related awards programs and brand-based performance evaluation initiatives are all effective strategies for ensuring your brand drives value creation for the new entity over the long haul.
For more information about how to successfully merge two brands, contact us.
Originally published on July 11, 2023.
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