If you are buying or merging companies, how you handle some basic go-to-market considerations can make all the difference in retaining value and customer bases. Some of the issues and opportunities below can result in increased value retention through the process and create a better position for moving any company in transition forward.
Which Brand is best for moving forward?
Few other decisions in mergers and acquisitions are more important than choosing the brand to ride going forward. Ideally, it is a time where ego and qualitative views should be moved to the side. Of course, existing customer bases, distribution strength, present advertising efforts and product line strategies for both companies should all have a place in the decision.
Additionally, if at all possible, a quantitative brand equity study (taking the emotion out of the equation) for both involved company brands should be conducted and added to the considerations above. Knowing the true consumer/end user ties with a brand and those attributes most valued can not only be invaluable in going forward, but can set the stage for pre and post brand evaluations (a measurement that is often ignored on these huge marketing investments).
I feel these kinds of considerations led The Stow Company to maintain and accept EasyClosets® as the lead brand for them in the segment. EasyClosets® clearly had more brand equity and was quickly becoming known in the consumers’ minds because of their advertising campaigns on DIY television channels and because their name, alone, has such primal recognition and tie-in to consumers desires. Add in their investment in leading edge, on-line customer experience technology and the decision gets easier.
It was a smart move to continue the thrust and build upon EasyClosets® rather than go through the pioneering of a new or relatively unknown brand.
Brand and Merger Migration
HOW companies tell their story of merging and what is going to happen to the two brands to the public, to their distribution channels and internally has a LOT to do with how much momentum is kept and sales/distribution retained.
This is a tough one as the “right” communication relates not only to facts, but to tone, delivery and appropriateness and partners become vital. If you are using an Ad/Marketing agency or PR firm, be sure you are comfortable with their feel, soft skills and ability to frame up difficult responses and important concepts so everybody understands. This crucial work is not for the day-to-day practitioner writing press releases or purchasing ad space, but specialists.
oDo they truly understand your business and audiences (preferably to the personas level)? oDo they understand change management? oDo they use language that everyone can understand (even a Martian)? oDo they develop unique and memorable phrases that your evangelists can easily mimic? oCan they develop schematics, charts or drawings to chunk out difficult concepts/ideas so they are comprehensible?
Brand Migration - When and How
Even if it ends up being changed, develop a brand migration plan with not only tactical moves, but communication efforts with “what will be said when” and how brands will merge, migrate or even stay separate.
People don’t mind change as much as they hate uncertainty and this includes investor, internal and customer audiences. Better to have a plan that gets altered than “dead space” where people start to speculate and begin to fear the future which can inhibit forward movement.
Dialect/Nomenclature or regional speech/word selection?
Both of these word combinations speak to differences in meaning and understanding simply by the words being used. As companies acquire new customer bases, it is important to know how to best communicate to customers on a level that they consider friendly and familiar to keep them connected to and purchasing from the new organization.
A client marketing executive once said to me, “How they talk about hunting in Traverse City is different than how they talk about it in Dowagiac” as we strove to develop customized communications that worked best for each region. Don’t discount the damage that can be done to a customer base by seeming aloof, too intellectual or “high falutin’” by the customer base.
Really, how important is Brand?
Everyone is enthralled by Nike and Apple marketing and have the same dream of pulling customers to them via “aura”. Thus, there is often an inordinate amount of effort spent on look and feel of the web site, logo and other ethereal elements that often don’t contribute that much to demand/revenue creation.
Reality (especially for B2B focused companies) is that many industries have a limited number of customers and their industry is so small that everyone knows everyone and their relative market position. And in some mature industries there is little place for brand differentiation.
In these cases, it is smarter to put resources into and drive Unique Selling Propositions (USP’s), development of defendable product/service capabilities, promotion/loyalty programs and other tangible programs where the ROI is more direct and clearly seen.
We have seen clients pour thousands of dollars into brand studies and campaigns and, yet, maintain an inadequate call center or product delivery process that denigrates their brand on a daily basis. It simply doesn’t make sense unless your go-to-market capabilities are firing on all cylinders.
Be realistic about your capabilities and needs in order to participate in the marketplace from all angles before concentrating on brand investment.
The Role of Brands
There are really two roles and reasons for strong brands:
oUmbrella Attributes – If there are additional product lines to be rolled out under the brand, then it is possible to immediately transfer those core brand attributes to those lines, but care has to be taken to see if it will transfer in the minds of the consumers (with Sara Lee we made the transfer with deli meats and bread, but fresh entrees did not make it). oMargin Preservation – If the brand is strong enough, then sometimes margin can be preserved, however, be aware that it often takes up to 10 years of perseverance and planned execution to develop a consumer brand and even then it doesn’t always work (i.e., Alticor finally gave up the work and reverted to Amway after 10 years of trying to establish the new brand).
If these aren’t immediate strong needs in the newly formed company, then re-evaluate your immediate investment in the brand. Perhaps investments in operational excellence, expanded sales thrust/tools or improved customer experience will serve the new company better and address your brand later.
As always, these are only guidelines and each situation should be well examined and vetted. The key is to look at brand in a rational way, give it the time and respect it deserves and consider it a component in a holistic plan that moves the whole company forward.