Earlier this year, BB&T announced its merger with SunTrust. Instead of one company being folded into the other’s brand, the pair shared plans to become Truist Financial upon the completion of their merger. Amazon acquired Whole Foods but preserved the natural grocery brand’s name and identity. Meanwhile, food behemoths Kraft and Heinz combined to become Kraft Heinz.
Three different deals, three different identity outcomes, all signaling something different to the companies’ core audiences, but all for the same reason: trust.
The tactics at play here -- mergers and acquisitions (M&As) and the subsequent brand evolution -- are examples of ways market leaders compete in today’s disruption economy. They’re two strategies of several that companies are employing with increasing frequency to grow and compete in today’s ever-changing business environment. Others include:
• Production innovation: Evolving product lines and creating new ones to better fit a changing audience or attract a new one.
• Market expansion: Going where competitors are not, geographically, demographically and otherwise.
• Channel innovation: Engaging with nontraditional sales partners, creating new channels to reach the audience or forgoing traditional channels entirely.
The potential upside of any of these strategies is well known -- they’re common for a reason -- but the risks are real, too. All of the M&As and ensuing brand architecture strategies mentioned earlier required excellent planning and execution to integrate the respective brands, offerings and cultures while maintaining a good foundational relationship with customers and partners. Indeed, each growth strategy we’ve touched on necessitates a singular focus. Without it, we see the casualties regularly -- Oath and Tronc are a couple of recent examples that immediately come to mind.
Such failures happen again and again because, in retooling, companies frequently shift focus away from the very reason they’re evolving in the first place: the customer. They divert attention to their new shiny object just when they should do the opposite. So, when undergoing change, it becomes easy for trust to erode.
How can companies build and maintain trust in change?
First, let’s agree on one thing: Change is scary. As humans, we fear the unknown. We fear we’ll get left behind. Embracing something new often means giving up something old and familiar -- something we trust.
Customers fear that, too, so we need to put ourselves in their shoes and consider what benefits change brings to them and how to deliver and communicate them in a way that connects -- the message, the medium, the mechanism, the moment.
Achieving this level of empathy isn’t always easy, but good marketing can make it simple. Before building out any business strategy, you have to make sure you’re operating from a place of alignment between the interests of your business and the interests of your key audiences. There’s a direct link between the benefit you offer them and the benefit you’ll realize through activating strategic change. To help get you to this place of understanding, consider some basic questions:
• Who will the change impact?
• How much will it change their lives?
• What’s the value to them?
• What will their negative perceptions be -- real and imagined?
• How can you make the positives stronger for each segment?
• How can you reduce or eliminate negatives and proactively communicate about them?
No matter which growth strategy you pursue, these questions apply. Addressing them will help you communicate value that matters to your audience, engage them in an authentic conversation and create a user experience that’s useful to them and consistent with the (possibly new) brand. These are the things that will help you maintain and build trust while managing change. Because as uncomfortable as change might be, it has to happen. It’s how you effect it that will determine its effect on you.