PLANNING A BRAND'S ASSETS POST-MERGER: RIGHT MARKETING DECISIONS SHOULD COME FIRST WHEN BRANDS COLLIDE

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I was watching the Masters golf tournament the other week and along with some rather superb golf I noticed the new advertising from Citigroup, the financial services giant formed by last year's merger of Travelers Group and Citicorp. While viewing the spots, something hit me as wrong as an errant six iron: the famous red Travelers umbrella.

In its new home, next to a new corporate name, this great brand icon didn't quite fit.

As the trademark for Travelers, the umbrella always communicated things we all want most from an insurance company, such as "protection" and "security." A financial services company, on the other hand, is a whole other story. While we may want to save for a rainy day, these days we all want more from a bank or financial services company than just peace of mind.

So why the umbrella?

This sort of problem arises when two well-known companies or brands merge to form a new entity. What does the new company stand for? What assets, such as logos or advertising, do you keep, modify or discard?

THE WRONG REASONS

Unfortunately, the decisions are often made for reasons having nothing to do with marketing (i.e., who bought whom, or who is in power after the deal is done). But consumers only care about the meaning of the brand, not boardroom politics.

In an era of consolidation, where more and more well-known companies lose their individual identities, the issue will have to be dealt with intelligently. Companies that get married would be well advised to look through non-partisan eyes when making critical brand decisions.

A good example is what Dean Witter, Discover & Co. and Morgan Stanley & Co. did after they got hitched in 1997. Maintaining the highly relevant and well-known Dean Witter advertising was the right move, especially since Morgan Stanley did not have a well-established consumer image.

The same was true when Travelers Group combined Salomon Inc. and its Smith Barney unit into Salomon Smith Barney. It was smart to build off the "earn it" idea that Smith Barney started investing in so many years ago.

Both are examples of making the right marketing decision regardless of whose name was first on the letterhead.

ENSURE SUCCESS

Some suggestions for marketers faced with this important challenge:

1) Decide what the new entity will be. Unless everyone on both sides agrees on this, you cannot possibly give clear direction to your marketers or advertisers and you won't be able to start building a clear brand identity.

2) Everyone needs to look at the new entity as if they were a new employee. Forget the company each one used to work for. Forget who has the power or the corner office. Approach every marketing decision as if it were building something from scratch, because you are.

3) Don't shoot from the hip. Research can be a great tool in this kind of situation. It can help eliminate turf battles and present a sorely needed voice of objectivity to management and the entire organization.

4) Forget the CEO. A merger of companies is often a merger of egos. Decisions such as a logo, advertising, even agencies, become symbols of much bigger turf battles. Consider setting up a small committee of smart marketing people who represent both sides and charge them with presenting the right recommendations, regardless of the signal it sends to the country club or to Wall Street.

5) Don't compromise. Brand decisions are not about anything but what is right. Compromise on things such as office furniture or the color of the men's room's tile, but not on the important stuff.

Over the years, Travelers probably invested a billion dollars in exposure to establish the brand's inextricable link with the red umbrella. If they decided to slap it onto a new brand called Citigroup at least they should have made it blue.

Mr. Shevack is CEO, Partners & Shevack/Wolf, New York, and chief creative

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