Mergers and acquisitions are defining events that shape the destinies of companies and people. The dramas they create among customers, employees and management are well documented. Those who have been through one or more mergers on the corporate side have stories to tell that combine the bad and the ugly (very rarely the good) that invoke the mythological tales of ancient Greece.
The cold reality is that, as operationally complex as merger integration might be, the judicious use of the corporate brand can be a mightily effective and often over-looked integration tool.
Based on our collective experience of M&A integration we have prepared a list of best practice steps and questions to help you skillfully manage your approach. But, before we go through it, there’s a few overarching truths that need to be uppermost in your thinking:
- First, nobody likes to be acquired or to feel like they are being acquired;
- Cultural differences are usually THE major cause of great success or epic failure;
- For maximum success, a company undergoing a merger needs to fill the vacuum of uncertainty with an inspiring, credible vision that forgoes the past and moves the new organization into an inspiring new future;
- Last but not least, success is a process.
PERFORM BRAND DUE DILIGENCE
1. What’s the strategic rationale for the merger/ acquisition?
Is it to increase scale or expand scope and value proposition? The answer to the scale-or-scope question affects a host of critical decisions.
2. Is this an acquisition or a “merger of equals?”
This is an important question, linked to the previous one. In a merger of equals neither party wishes to be perceived as being acquired and a “we” vs. “they” soon sets in the respective companies making any decision extremely challenging and often resulting in compromises that are not good (let alone ideal) for employees, executives, customers and investors.
3. How is the company being acquired?
Understanding the balance of power (follow the money) will ensure you can successfully navigate the politics that are inexorably intertwined with decisions and outcomes.
4. Are there corporate restrictions?
Regulatory approval and the legal status of a company (private versus publicly traded) can greatly influence brand integration approaches and restrain communications at a time where speed and proactivity are essential.
5. Business analysis and business risk exposure during integration
Words travel fast and competitors are quick to exploit corporate miss-steps to their own advantage at a time where sales people can be most vulnerable.
A clear understanding of clients and revenues that are at risk that may suffer during the merger and acquisition process can help you shape integration and clarify goals.
6. Who is leading and who is influencing?
It’s vital for the success of any merger integration process to create a brand team. Its composition will vary depending on the balance of power dictated by the nature of the deal (see question 2). Team members should be sworn to secrecy. The last thing you need are rumors coming from the “top.”
7. Are the cultures compatible?
Cultural differences are the #1 reason that most acquisitions and mergers fail. It’s a fact. So, assess the cultural compatibility of the company you’re acquiring and merging with.
CREATE A NEW VISION
Successful mergers or acquisitions share two characteristics:
- Sagacious negotiation and planning ahead of the announcement
- Development and communication of a brand vision that becomes a beacon of value for investors, customers and employees as well as the guiding light for the integration process.
1. What’s the brand vision for the new company?
A compelling and inspiring vision for the future will guide internal and external communications efforts as well as integration plans and decisions shaping resources, teams, organizational structure, systems, etc.
2. The corporate name?
Decisions around naming should be driven by the results of the due diligence process. Fact-based market considerations should prevail over corporate egos.
3. Do you need to change your identity?
A change or an update of the corporate logo and identity is not always necessary unless the due diligence phase reveals the need for it; its purpose is to operationalize the brand vision and send a clear signal to the market, customers, investors and employees.
4. What culture do you want to foster?
Every organization has its own set of norms and values that govern how people act and interact every day. Generally, the acquiring company wants to retain its own culture and hopes to infuse the acquired company with its values. Whatever the situation, benchmark and understand the culture you want to see emerge from the integration, and reinforce it proactively at every opportunity.
LAUNCH THE NEW VISION
1. Are you ready to sell the deal?
Mergers make people on both sides of the transaction nervous. They wonder whether-and how-they will fit into the new organization. All of this means that you have to "sell" the deal internally, not just to shareholders and customers.
2. Are you ready to launch the vision for the next two years?
The launch of the new vision affords the unique opportunity for you to introduce your corporate value in a new, positive light to reinvigorate your competitiveness, customer relationships and your sales effectiveness. Proactive, sustained communication is essential. Remember that success is a process.
FINALLY…A FEW PRACTICAL TIPS
- Invest in the launch of the new vision and utilize it to strengthen your competitiveness.
- Be bold, be clear: especially in the event of a large acquisition when all eyes are looking at you. Use the natural attention to your advantage.
- Develop a customer communications plan that touches on all operational areas.
- Consider media training for spokespeople to avoid conflicting messages that dilute the positive impact of a merger.
- Listen to feedback.