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M&A Branding Playbook – Part 3

October 13, 2021

Sadly, this is the final section of our M&A Branding Playbook podcasting journey. We hope you enjoyed our audio version of the Playbook and have a deeper insight into what drives M&A success from a branding perspective. If you enjoy our podcast, please give us a rating and subscribe.

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Transcription:

Bill Gullan:

Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique brand consultancy. Thank you for coming back or coming for the first time to our dramatic reading of the M&A Branding Playbook. If you haven’t listened to the beginning of our ebook, please go back and check those episodes out. We are just basically doing an audio version of I think this 18-page guide to M&A branding. And so today, sections four, five, and six starts with section four, which is Built From the Inside Out, section five, which is Make it Real for Customers, and section six, which is How to Get Started on the M&A Branding Journey. Enjoy.

Bill Gullan:

Section four, Built From the Inside Out. The best brands are built from the inside out. This is because an engaged, purposeful workforce goes to market with urgency and takes great care of customers at every turn. Teammates are both an important input through the research recommended above and target audience of an M&A branding process. There were a couple of key moments and workstreams that are ideal for broad team involvement. As mentioned, existing and new teammates should be part of the stakeholder insights process. It often makes sense to ratify revised purpose, mission, and value statements alongside M&A in a way that includes new leadership voices and broader workforce involvement. Internal brand education and launch should be just as big of a milestone as the external launch. It should precede the external launch, bringing the team on board before rolling out new brand elements and changes to customers and outside stakeholders.

Bill Gullan:

Purpose, mission, and values. Purpose, mission, and values are fundamental internally facing artifacts and M&A activity can be a great time to evaluate or create these elements. Evaluating or re-evaluating these assets during M&A integration can provide a team-building visionary exercise for new management teams and inspire existing and new teammates to understand and endorse the company’s direction.

Bill Gullan:

Core building blocks. Purpose. The definition is to focus on dreaming and define our ambition. The role is to be the north star, to guide the big bets, to inspire. And the timeframe is future-focused and long-term. The mission. The definition is to focus on doing, to document how we achieve our purpose. Its role is to answer what, who, and how to guide day-to-day decisions, but also to inspire. And the timeframe is present-focused. It’s ongoing. And values. The definition is a focus on living, how we practice it. The role is to communicate how behaviors help us fulfill the purpose and mission. And the timeframe is present-focused. It’s action-oriented and it’s ongoing.

Bill Gullan:

Importantly, while management teams typically work through purpose and mission, it is strongly recommended that the process of ratifying values include all teammates. Leadership can build some guardrails and then deploy a full team value survey. Once results come back, the team can craft final action-oriented values with leadership input and approval. This way, the process is both efficient and inclusive. And M&A branding process that harvests employee input on the front end and then involves broad input on values will feel and be transparent and inclusive.

Bill Gullan:

As the team approaches the day one launch, there will be a whole range of new things to learn and share, including such fundamental elements as messaging identity and go-to-market strategy. Team members are the most important ambassadors and they will be essential in ensuring customers understand where the brand is going and believe in a company’s evolution. It is, therefore, critical that one crafts an internal brand curriculum and launch cadence before the brand is introduced externally. While internal brand education should have a range of associated activities, such as town halls, CEO video series, team-building training, and artifacts such as brand book onboarding materials and other swag, the overriding objective is to provide an experience that will inspire all employees. Employees who understand and believe in the brand will take the actions that drive business results.

Bill Gullan:

Leadership should also endeavor to make day one a meaningful company milestone and provide an opportunity for the entire organization to celebrate the hard work that went into the integration process and the entity that has been reborn or born through M&A.

Bill Gullan:

Section five, Make it Real for Customers. With key elements in place and the team poised to bring the emergent brand to life in the marketplace, the company could focus on external activation. Importantly, customers will have short and long-term questions and maybe less concerned initially with our future vision than immediate blocking and tackling. For this reason, it is ideal for the company to have an ongoing conversation with customers that starts when the deal is announced. During the integration period, the company could reassure customers that the team is on top of what matters to them while beginning to express how M&A will make life better for customers in the long term. As one prepares for the actual brand launch or day one, there may be an opportunity to share a new identity or look and feel. At the very least, this moment should be widely seen and positively experienced by customers.

Bill Gullan:

Plan the work. Depending on the size and structure of the business, the M&A customer communications plan can be a significant task. While a range of team members and sales and marketing touchpoints disseminate the message, it is important to achieve messaging and design clarity and consistency. The task will seem manageable with a regular high-energy cadence that begins before the day one deal announcement and extends all the way to and through launch. This plan will be highly variable based on the company in question and will include customer and prospect communications for all companies in the deal. It is likely a mix of press releases, update emails, leadership update videos, social media posts, integration update blog items, et cetera. The goal is to be transparent, reassuring, and positive so that customers know support is available to them even as plans are underway for an ever brighter future of new opportunities for the company and its customers.

Bill Gullan:

Maximize day one. A key milestone is day one, the actual launch of the new brand. This need not track exactly what the formal legal or regulatory consummation of an M&A transaction. In fact, companies sometimes take unnecessary risks by racing to match brand day one with legal day one, short-circuiting a best practice-driven M&A branding process. As long as the communications plan is well-executed, it is usually okay for brand day one to be a date of the company’s choosing such as to coincide with a key trade show, a new quarter, or other milestone event. Typical day one activities include a new website going live, an earned media press push, wide dissemination of new brand content, virtual or live events, and some form of account or sales contact to each customer.

Bill Gullan:

The goal is to maximize the spotlight that comes with something new and noteworthy, which is what M&A creates. Day one itself should be momentous, but it need not be a complete flip of the switch. The marketplace understands and tolerates an orderly process to update downstream elements such as collateral business cards, signage, and other artifacts. Consistency ultimately matters a great deal yet it’s okay if it takes a little while to achieve. The brand rollout plan 10, for instance, cover pre-day one, day one itself, and day one to 100.

Bill Gullan:

Get started on the M&A branding journey. The M&A branding process impacts all levels of the organization and involves much more than a design refresh. Companies will often form a task force or integration management office, otherwise known as an IMO, to cut through bureaucracy and focus on key integration topics. Beyond branding, this usually includes operational integration, value capture, organizational structure and leadership, and other key items. Finch Brands typically manages the M&A branding workstream for clients across sizes and categories. Because of the complex questions associated with M&A branding, we have a range of experiences on which to drop and a team of fearless and versatile experts to deploy. Finch Brands’ history of building running and growing brands fuels the strategic insight and design excellence we deliver to help clients navigate the high-stakes M&A branding process.

Bill Gullan:

We did it together. Thanks everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed and found value in the entire reading or rereading of the M&A Playbook here. I think one overriding sort of comment in summary, which we’ve made a couple of times along the way is that each process project integration transaction is different. And there are factors, internal and cultural factors, external and market factors, competitive factors, there’s factors that are shaping categories that may be sort of independent of the companies involved in a deal. All of that stuff because it’s so different points us in different directions based upon individual projects. And so what we tried to share are best practices and ways of thinking about and building some process and team to answer these key questions, but again, to emphasize, each situation is different. And so really marshaling the facts on the ground and going through a process of analysis and ultimately activation is what enables branding surrounding M&A activity to ultimately be successful.

Bill Gullan:

So we’re really grateful for your time, and we hope you found this to be stimulating and helpful to you. And as always, if you did, there’s three ways to support us here at Real-World Branding. The first is to click subscribe. That makes sure that you won’t ever miss an episode because when recorded and available, it will float down magically into the podcast queue and you can hear it. A second way to support us is to rate and review in the podcast app or store of your choice. That helps us get found. It also helps us… Feedback helps us get better and make this ever more relevant. And then the third way is to support us through feedback, dialogue on Twitter, @billgullan, @finchbrands. Comments, our skin is thick as well as the ideas for future guests, future topics, things that you’d like to hear and see as part of our commitment to bring content on a reasonably regular schedule at this point to you our lovers. We will sign off from the cradle of Liberty.

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