Merging Equal B2B Brands: Birth Name, Married Name, or New Name?

When two brands merge, naming challenges can get in the way of living happily ever after.
illustration of wedding rings

It’s a common question for newlyweds. Do they each keep their birth names, opt to use one name, or hyphenate? When B2B brands marry, however, the name game gets really tricky.

It’s even more acute when the merging enterprises occupy the same business segment and are merging equals. Sometimes it’s relatively simple: go with the larger entity’s original name (backing the stronger horse) and move forward, while sunsetting or quickly retiring the junior brand. And if business segments are roughly the same, it may be best for one of the merging equals to retain its birth name and build on it, while being supported by the other company’s brand. Then again, sometimes not. Perhaps the merging equals’ brands will become so much more than the sum of their parts that they require a new name.

Or what if they’re truly equals and a compound married name is the soundest course?

Follow the brand North Star

Determining a naming strategy starts with evaluating each merging equal’s customer/client brand experience to identify synergies or dissonance between the brands. Each should ask, “What defines our ongoing customer brand experience over the long term? And what will define it after the merger?” The emphasis should be on the value, character, and quality of each company’s customer/client relationships – today and tomorrow.

How invested are clients and customers in each brand? How will they react if one brand takes precedence?  What are the internal implications of a new brand – how will employees and business partners adjust to it?

Let’s look at a few real-life examples of merging equals brand transitions. While these examples are mostly B2C brands, their naming/brand solutions resonate with B2B mergers as well.

Birth name: Bigness versus brand

Let’s consider what happens when a big fish swallows a smaller one. A few years ago, Sprint acquired Nextel subsuming it into the Sprint brand. This year, T-Mobile did the same to Sprint, folding it into T-Mobile. In each case, the “stronger horse” case prevailed among the merging equals in cellular. The assumption is that in cellular – a hot bed of price/value/offers and high churn — customer brand loyalty is relatively low.

Contrast that with two powerful media merging equals in the movie business, Disney and Marvel Studios.  Marvel is arguably the strongest studio brand in motion pictures, with its unique ongoing and intersecting storylines following the exploits of massively popular characters. No way would Disney force its own super brand on that juggernaut. And so, Marvel Studios’ birth name lives on independent of Disney, post-merger.

Married name: Brand versus blah

A married name is a compound fusion of two existing merging equal brand names. Often, it’s the outcome of a “marriage of convenience,” where brands are merging (or semi-merging) their cultures, eliminating organizational redundancies, combining different capabilities, and creating economies of scale. Two instances are FIAT-Chrysler in automotive, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in accounting and business consulting.  The news in these mergers doesn’t blare – it’s mostly blah.

On the other hand, consider how the post-merger married name of two WPP Group ad agencies, Wunderman and Thompson, resonates with clients and potential clients. The first of the two is a powerhouse brand in DTC and activation, while the other contributes more than 120 years of general advertising success. Result: Wunderman Thompson.

Yet another Disney merger is a case where a married name evokes the best of two big merging equal brands: Disney and Pixar. Disney’s more than 90 years of animation excellence is famous worldwide. But there’s no ignoring the public’s perception of Pixar’s brand leadership in digital animation.  There was no other option than to marry the two under Disney Pixar.

New name:  New brand roof or new brand mission

The two primary reasons for brand equals to adopt an entirely new name and brand are a roll-up of brands under a new roof, or when it results in a new and different corporate mission.

Recently, several electric utility brands serving markets in New England were merged into a single entity under a new name: Eversource. That made sense because all the merging brands were in the public utility energy space. (That said, when Eversource moved outside the energy segment to acquire a Connecticut water company, Aquarion, they smartly kept that acquisition’s branding and distinctive name completely intact.)

A merging equals marriage can also be the foundation of a newly revised corporate mission and positioning. When several former AT&T “Baby Bell” regionals first merged they became Bell Atlantic, with basically the same telecommunications mission. But when Bell Atlantic then merged with another collection of Baby Bells, NYNEX, the position changed dramatically. It was the genesis of an expanded, nationwide brand scope covering a wide range of new media and communications technology platforms. New name: Verizon.

So despite naming challenges, merging equal brands can live happily ever after. At least until their next merger comes along.

To learn more about branding for M&A success, contact us.

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