When multiple organizations come together via merger or acquisition, each entity brings with it different levels of brand equity, awareness, recognition and attachment. The challenges that arise in enabling success in these instances are numerous, and many are deeply personal to the companies’ employees and customers. A taxing challenge for marketing leaders is then knowing how to effectively evolve their messaging and branding in a way that reflects a positively changed and stronger whole.
The pitfalls of brand and message evolution are plenty. Examples include the creation of customer and market confusion, heightened employee anxiety and increased adoption hesitancy. The right approach, however, will minimize your likelihood of falling into these traps. So, if you’re anticipating a merger or acquisition, or you’re already in the thick of one, consider the following to unify your B2B messaging and branding.
Be Driven by Data
Our work with organizations that are changing as part of a merger or acquisition or those simply recalibrating their go-to-market messaging always begins with focused research. The goal of this research is to identify stakeholder and market perceptions, needs, challenges and expectations and use the findings from this work to shape the brand and message evolution. Our primary means of capturing this information lies in creating engaging surveys that elicit candid and authentic responses.
There are three groups that you should typically reach out to – current customers, prospective customers and individuals attached to recently lost deals. All possess an unbiased outside-in perspective of your company that your internal teams wouldn’t be able to provide.
Current customers generally have well-formed thoughts of what they do/don’t like about various aspects of your organization and where they’d like to see you go next. Prospects (or leads in the early stages of your sales pipeline) illuminate the criteria they apply in evaluating service or solution providers. Stakeholders that were part of recently lost deals shed light on the tipping points that made them go in another direction. IMPORTANT: To avoid bias and ensure objectivity, this research should be conducted by an outside party or company.
Questions to ask your survey participants might include:
- What attributes of a brand do you look when evaluating a service/solution/product provider?
- What do you like most about the current approach and offerings of XYZ company?
- What major or minor improvements would you like to see from XYZ company?
- What wants or needs do you think XYZ company aims to addresses?
The findings that come from this data will help you identify themes to both emphasize and embody as well as areas that you should avoid.
Engage and Involve Employees
Employee anxieties and hesitancy in adopting brand shifts are natural. Questions of “what does this mean for me” and “how will this affect our company” are always going to arise. Leaders must address these points head on and not just hope that there going to subside over time. That means proactive and thorough communication and engagement with every department and individual within your company.
A formal communication plan as part of a broader change management strategy is an integral part of any brand and messaging evolution. Employees want to be heard and to share in the belief that this new organizational entity is a positive step.
As changes to messaging and branding are implemented or discussed, avoid making employees feel that they are not part of the process or that they’re not being given enough information on what’s changing and why.
Form a Firm Foundation
Many leaders mistakenly reduce branding to the “visuals” of the company – the logo, color scheme, font choice and the “way we say what we do.” Those elements are indeed important, but one’s brand is projected in every single interaction with customers, prospects, employees, markets and communities. It extends beyond what people see to what they experience, and ultimately feel, when it comes to your organization.
While visuals and the “way we say what we do” are commonly cited as important brand elements, these elements are not often given the level of attention and care they require. If you haven’t done so already, create and formalize a corporate style guide to articulate your B2B messaging and describe what your company’s “because” is. Items it should contain include:
- Visual and written content elements (e.g. icons, boilerplate messaging, etc.)
- Logo usage (e.g. positioning, variations allowed/prohibited, sizing)
- Color usage (e.g. color values, spectrums, combinations)
- Rules associated with brand items (e.g. how taglines are to be used, co-logo policy)
- Process steps for resolving branding questions
Your corporate style guide should also echo and reflect key brand promises. These are the core values that your organization strives to uphold in all interactions. Core values should be discussed, reviewed and agreed upon by everyone at the executive level of your company and evangelized and embodied in every interaction. Your best brand ambassadors are already employed within your organization, but they must be enabled and empowered for success.
Proceed at the Right Pace
There are many aspects of brand and message evolution that go unnoticed (or undecided) in the calamity that’s common with mergers and acquisitions. Addressing these ‘unnoticed’ details head on can distinguish a successful merger from merely a completed one.
Refrain from moving fast for the sake of moving fast. Hasty decisions based on feelings and not wedded with objective data and aligned decision making can have lasting and dire effects. It’s wise to move deliberately and to find quick wins to elicit engagement and positivity, but don’t become beholden to arbitrary or self-induced timelines or milestones that can ultimately create unneeded chaos.
Questions executives should ask themselves before, during and after a merger or acquisition:
- What is our shared vision for our customers and market space?
- What are our key brand promises? Are we enabling and empowering their delivery?
- Does our brand identity (colors, messaging, feel) reflect who we are and want to be?
- Are our leaders and employees embodying and effectively adopting our brand?
Expect and Own Mistakes
Remember that brands are built by humans and that hiccups are bound to happen along the way. That’s okay so long as you remain committed to addressing the issues as they arise and embrace them as opportunities to improve. Your brand should always be evolving and may need to shift if the needs of your customers demand it.
It’s also important not to wait for mistakes or undesired perceptions to present themselves. Actively seek feedback from your teams and employees to get their thoughts on how your new brand and messaging is being perceived both internally and externally. Engage with customers directly to determine whether they are experiencing the changes in a positive way or if they have concerns. In short, continue to communicate.
Get Back to Business
While the items above are by no means ALL the pain points you’ll need to identify and address when part of a merger or acquisition, they do provide you a solid place to start. And as always, the best medicine for curing branding confusion is continuing to steadfastly concentrate on solving challenges and delivering value for your customers.