A version of this article originally appeared on Quirk’s Media.
A merger or acquisition is one of the largest shifts a business can undergo. It is a pivotal cultural, operational and financial inflection point that redefines a company’s business as well as its brand.
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) hit a record high in 2021, reaching $5.9 trillion in revenue. That spending spree persists today, with 2022 predicted to be another strong year: 89% of executives expect their deals to stay level or increase. Since January alone, there have been such powerhouse deals as Amazon’s purchase of MGM Studios for $8.5 billion and Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion.
With deals reaching 10 figures or more, you’d expect that all elements of the unification would be given their due diligence. Yet the value of thorough research to better understand the equity of all brands involved – both externally and internally – is more often than not low on the list of priorities when it should be taken into greater consideration.
Your brand is the face of your company. It serves as a guide for making key business decisions and represents how end-customers will form an opinion about your company. With M&As being such a critical, sensitive moment in a company’s history, it is vital to have a thorough understanding of how your brand, as well as any acquired brands, are viewed by both employees and target customers.
Research provides a tangible evaluation of the intangible: your brand. Well-executed fact-based research—primary or secondary; qualitative or quantitative—is one simple strategy to better understand your brand and acquired brand(s) that can help in the decision-making process and put a new entity on the right path. Because research is void of preconceived notions and internal biases, it presents a fact base to guide all other decisions.
During the M&A process, brand research should seek to resolve three key questions:
- Why does your brand matter to customers?
- Does your brand need to change?
- How does your brand impact employees?
Let’s take a deeper dive to get to the core of what these considerations entail.
Why does your brand matter to customers?
The values, principles and core strengths that lay the foundation of your brand keep you grounded and honest, helping to illuminate the road ahead. Your brand should serve as a gut check for all actions and decisions your company makes, motivating both employees and customers.
So how do you go about organizing the established brand assets in order to create a clear and simple brand message? The key is to align your brand with customer drivers of preference and purchase. Rigorous quantitative research approaches can identify what truly motivates customers to choose some brands over others. At Siegel & Gale we’ve had the greatest success using our EyeOpener™ methodology for this purpose. EyeOpener™ utilizes statistical modeling through a derived approach to better understand the subconscious scorecard customers use when deciding between brands. Much like the name implies, it often reveals surprising results of what most influences your customers’ brand preference.
Establishing fact-based preference drivers will highlight the strategic steps your company needs to take and enable your company to deliver on what matters most to the target audience.
Does your brand need to change?
Understanding drivers of brand preference for your customers naturally leads to the next question: does your brand need to change? In order to answer this, it’s important to have a full evaluation of your brand’s perceptions and associations. In-depth research will inform their level of familiarity in the marketplace; their perceived strengths and weaknesses; and the products and services customers expect and want from each. Regardless of methodology, all of these key metrics should be captured.
The analysis gleaned from this perception research can tell you if each brand is excelling or lacking in the same area. Perhaps the acquired brand shares many similar traits to the acquiree. Or perhaps the two brands have diverging traits and associations. Each of these findings can lead to dramatically different brand positioning and architecture solutions.
Research takes the guesswork out of adapting your brand to try and communicate this new value and how it impacts your key audiences. Brand positioning, architecture, communication, and even design will be informed by the right research approach. It is only once this information is collected and analyzed that you can align on shared strengths, what to highlight and what to walk away from. It is what guides you on how to best tell your newly formed story.
How does your brand impact employees?
A common pitfall when evaluating the potential success of M&A is omitting what is arguably the most important audience: your employees. Since employees can either be your biggest brand advocates or your biggest roadblock, it is essential to understand their level of engagement and how they feel about such a significant change.
At a base level, simply communicating how decisions are validated by research will have positive effects during times of change, helping to give employees a sense of stability and understanding. Facts, evidence, and reason can also help unite senior-level employees struggling with this new relationship, thus mitigating an issue which can threaten the process’s success.
As an added step, taking the time to research your own employee base ensures every stakeholder feels heard and can yield entirely new insights. Different brands bring different cultures along with them; being able to pre-identify any potential pain points ensures that a culture clash is minimized as two separate companies transition to a single unified entity. In order to do so, you must identify where the real brand champions lie in your workforce, and how best to leverage their drive and passion to get all employees on board.
Lastly, it is worthwhile to measure brand perceptions internally. We often find that perceptions of a brand externally do not match up to perceptions held by a brand’s own workforce. At Siegel & Gale we frequently recommend taking the time to ask employees about many of the same attributes we capture in our EyeOpener™ research. This give us and our clients the capability to measure alignment (or misalignment) of the brand internally vs externally.
Well-executed research is a looking glass that reflects your brand and company’s true essence off of your target audience’s perceptions. It can also serve as a highly personal listening tool, with customers and employees opening up about their hopes, needs and potential concerns for your organization and its peers. Research taps into and harnesses these insights in a way that best positions a newly unified entity for ongoing success and market dominance.
Marc Desmond is Director, Analytics & Insights, Siegel+Gale