Brands truly get what they deserve. They are the sum of all experiences a customer has with you and all decisions management makes, good or bad. In the case of mergers and acquisitions that are not well thought out it’s no surprise when they yield negative consequences.
The Union of Sweden and Norway makes for a relatable example. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, the king of Denmark-Norway, on the losing side, was forced to cede Norway to the king of Sweden. This resulted in Norway and Sweden joining as one and a myriad of decisions had to be made to communicate this new meaning to the world.
A royal commission was promptly assembled to decide the best way to symbolize this merger on government buildings and warships. The result was a Frankenstein flag of both countries mashed-up as one and decades with a symbol that stood for neither Norway nor Sweden, nor the greater value created by this pact.
Now a distant example from a less branded past but one that applies to corporate branding just the same. After all, when it comes to things like culture, symbols and story, brands are very much like countries.
Visual Branding Demands Purposeful Solutions
We live in a time of consolidation, where mergers and acquisitions are happening all around us, in virtually every market. When I worked in the digital commerce space, I kept seeing tech and consulting companies adding capabilities by gobbling up other companies. Sometimes the parent brand identity would win out, but often the companies would do a mash-up of their names, and/or their logos, at least for a while.
As much as I’d like to think these are calculated transition strategies led by sound brand architecture, often legal departments and C-Suite executives direct their brand teams to adopt a solution without giving them the task of creating a design, name and style to fulfill strategic and positioning goals. The mash-ups rarely work and often do damage to individual brands that come into the equation with high brand equity.
What’s Your M&A Brand Story Strategy?
It’s not just names and logos that need to be tended to through M&As. The culture, mission, vision, purpose, values and story of the two or more companies have to be reconciled. Like the Norwegian-Swedish union flag, a mash-up is unlikely to address the complexities of an M&A, most notably the people, both inside and outside the organization.
There are lots of things to think about. Here are some tips:
- Avoid mash-ups of legacy brand story, instead make choices for a joint future
- Give the brand story experts a strategic brief and let them do their work
- Do the same work for the post-M&A brand story that should have been done for the individual company’s pre-M&A
- Transition solutions may just add to confusion, presenting a before, during and after brand story
- Abandon a “them” and “us” mentality and language as it will poison the future
- Employ “Confidence building measures” to enthusiastically draw people into the story of the new joint enterprise rather than expecting people to adopt it fully from day one
- Use an inside out flow of the new, combined strategic brand story so the emerging brand goes viral
- Remember, brand story work is not an item to simply check off a list, it is organic and needs constant tending to grow and mature
Leaving The Story As Is
There are a number of M&As that happen where the brand stories are left completely intact. Examples include: Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), Taco Bell (Yum! Brands), Zappos (Amazon) and YouTube (Google). Thanks to supply chain economies of scale, streamlined business operations, and an integration of capabilities with complementary offerings owned by the parent company, the brand itself flourishes. What people love about the company is preserved, unless of course new business practices somehow betray loyal customers, especially if the brand story no longer rings true.
In The end
Mergers and acquisitions are a tricky business. Why? Because they involve people and feelings. As challenging as the legal documentation, the financials and operational issues are, they pale in comparison to bringing different tribes together into a single community with a new culture, identity and story. Making it work is the mark of great brand storytelling, so trust brand story experts to lead you into the future.
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education