Begin brand planning long before merger

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Why is it that so often so little thought is given to marketing and branding issues prior to the announcement of a merger or acquisition? Only after the announcement does the absence of a clear naming, branding and marketing strategy become so obvious. By then, damage has already occurred, and the path to repairing the problem is longer and more costly than would have been the case if it had been addressed earlier.

The identity of the new company, everything from its name to its graphic standards to the even more subtle issues of brand character and company vision, are crucial to establishing a positive first impression after a merger-certainly with customers and prospects but even more so with the employees who will represent the new organization. Yet all too often, the new company is born with two names, two clashing wardrobes and two conflicting marketing strategies.

In the rush to answer questions that should have been anticipated months earlier, executives may decide to simply join the two names together, thinking it's the best way to keep the fewest people from objecting. Sadly, the new company often suffers from a corporate case of multiple personality disorder only treatable through psychotherapy sessions for employees and weekly customer support meetings for victims of poorly planned mergers and acquisitions.

One overlooked key to a successful merger is to bring the marketing people and their agency to the dance long before it's time to write the announcement release. Doing so makes it possible to consider such things as:

  • Creating an entirely new name that will stand for something greater than what the two prior names represented alone, or choosing to retain just one of the previous two names so that a clear message is sent to the marketplace that a real leader in the industry has just become even stronger.
  •  Developing internal marketing campaigns that answer questions before they are asked so that productivity doesn't suffer and morale doesn't deteriorate. Every employee is a public relations person. They tell customers, suppliers and even competitors what is going on inside their organization. The more informed they are, the more focused and positive they will be during the transition.
  • Planning and implementing meaningful communications programs to customers, prospects and other stakeholders. When these campaigns are ready to launch on the day the deal is announced, mergers can be conveyed with far more confidence and pride.

The intent of every merger or acquisition is to create a new, more powerful brand. By carefully considering the new company's name, brand character and graphic standards-and by being ready to communicate the new vision to customers, employees and shareholders at the time the merger is announced-the new company will experience less confusion during the transition, achieve its desired brand objectives and generate a far faster return on investment.

Daniel Hoexter is president of McKinney|Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected]

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