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M&A Branding Playbook – Part 1

September 29, 2021

Today we are shaking things up here at Real-World Branding – a dramatic reading of our very own M&A Branding Playbook. Broken down into three easy-to-consume episodes, please enjoy Part 1. If you like our podcast, please subscribe. 

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Bill Gullan:

Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique brand consultancy, and it’s bonus time on our podcast. We’re going to over the next several weeks, release one piece at a time, components of a publication, I guess, for lack of a better word, that we’ve created called the M&A Branding Playbook. We do at Finch Brands, a lot of work in and around mergers and acquisitions, because it seems like in situations like that, many of the issues that we deal with day in and day out, in terms of strategic and creative aspects of building strong and durable brands. In an M&A situation, those needs are triggered, and the M&A Playbook is when taken in totality, designed to be a guide for folks who may be thrust into a leadership role, to help them navigate the brand choices that are attendant to M&A activity. And so that’s what we’re going to do. One piece at a time. I’ve never really been an audiobook reader, but this is my first try. So enjoy the M&A Branding Playbook.

Bill Gullan:

The M&A Branding Playbook. Executive Summary. To activate the full potential of a merger or acquisition, leadership teams must seize opportunity and manage risk across a range of dimensions. Within this endeavor, branding is critical and often overlooked, as a work-stream. M&A branding is the process of defining the core elements of the go-forward brand or brands and navigating the path to get there. It includes strategic topics, such as core brand ideas, positioning, target market, and brand architecture. And it includes creative topics such as name, logo, and aesthetic. And it includes executional topics such as how the brand can be most effectively launched and nurtured, internally and externally. This piece is designed to educate decision-makers on M&A Branding best practices.

Bill Gullan:

Introduction. Mergers and acquisitions are more than formulaic transactions. They’re strategic initiatives intended to drive something greater than the sum of the individual parts of the deal. Likewise, the M&A Branding process is more than just checking off a series of boxes or deciding which name to attach to the acquired company. It’s a larger, more complicated endeavor, that involves navigating both market expectations and stakeholder emotions. When it comes to M&A Branding, the right path forward is unique to each situation. There’s no path of least resistance or hard and fast ruleset. In order to activate the full potential of the deal from a branding perspective, companies must dig into the issues, gather insights, build a strategy and thoughtfully introduce go-forward brand choices, both internally and externally. Our experience suggests that the M&A Branding workstream is often overlooked or treated as less important than other integration activities. This leads to decisions that are either too rushed or too lethargic, clumsy integration processes, employee, or customer alienation, and brand equity destruction. When the M&A Branding process fails, the deal thesis fails with it.

Bill Gullan:

Section one, why is M&A Branding so important? A brand is the sum total of how a company defines and expresses itself. It’s how a company asserts difference and sets expectations with everyone, from team members to customers, to other stakeholders. Brand building is important for any company, but especially so in the case of M&A. In a transaction, the newly formed organization and its brands are in transition by definition, the company is not only setting expectations. It might be setting out to change them. Thus, the team is tasked with assessing already established brands, considering everything that comes with them, such as heritage, emotion, vision, and more, and charting a path forward. And these decisions are often made against a backdrop of time pressure, many moving parts, and team and market uncertainty. This is the branding equivalent of a high wire act.

Bill Gullan:

When done well, M&A brand development sends important signals to all stakeholders about the vision of the emergent entity. It not only sets the stage for what’s next, but answers questions about what’s happening during an integration process. For employees, customers, and other stakeholders of both the acquiring and acquired companies, the M&A Branding process can provide guidance, ease frustrations, and rally everyone around the same common goal. Yet, M&A Branding is not without risk. 70 to 90% of mergers fail to create value for their employees, customers, and stakeholders, and inadequate branding processes are often to blame. When the wrong brand choices are made or important considerations are ignored completely, one risks large-scale brand equity destruction or failure to create new brand value. Get branding right, and the cultural and commercial aspects of M&A have a much higher likelihood of success.

Bill Gullan:

Let’s leave off there for today. Hope you’re enjoying our focus on M&A brand choices. We find these projects to be distinctive from a situational perspective. They’re all different, yet fascinating, each of them in different ways. There’s three ways as always to support us here at Real-World Branding. The first is to click subscribe in the podcast app of your choice, that will make sure you do not miss a single episode. I know our schedule has been inconsistent and clicking subscribe, will make sure that whenever there’s new content, it’ll float down magically to your device.

Bill Gullan:

The second way is to give us a review or a rating or a comment within also the podcast app or store of your choice. Five stars if we’ve earned it, but either way, our skin is thick, and we love to hear from listeners on how we’re doing. And we also find that rating and reviewing gives others the chance, a better chance, to find us if this is the type of thing that they’re looking for. And then lastly, let’s keep the dialogue going on Twitter @billgullan @FinchBrands. Comments, questions, ideas for future guests, future topics, we really do appreciate that dialogue, and it’s part of what makes doing this show worthwhile. So we’ll sign off of the Cradle of Liberty.

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