This article originally appeared on The Marketing Insider.
Mergers and acquisitions done right can offer companies tremendous opportunities for growth. They can also be a complicated, messy time for brands. Building an effective, merged business is a high-risk act of undoing existing assumptions—for employees, for customers, for investors, and others. In this time of flux, brand equity must be managed strategically, clearly and consistently.
Here are key factors required for M&A success:
Start with the “future” story
The overarching goal of a merger is to create value. Leadership’s vision of how businesses fit together will define how the organization sees its future. Aligning senior leadership from the start is critical. A shared vision allows for more nimble decision-making in a time of intense transition.
Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn is a good example of a thoughtful future-forward approach. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner spent months bringing their teams together ahead of day 1.
Be customer-first in creating “one” enterprise
Mergers can create a clash of cultures. Cut through emotional decisions and opinions by using customer data to determine the optimal brand future. Conduct research to understand the opportunities, risks and implications that decisions about brand integration may represent. A brand strategy informed by customers will be a more sustainable and economical solution.
Before making a decision, consider what benefits the acquisition represents to the target buyer and how it supports the unified enterprise purpose. One of the most powerful tools in the branding toolbox is brand architecture and naming. This process brings order to the merged organization—from the corporate name to business units, operations, products and services—relate to one another.
Consider how the customer experience, and the interactions that define it, are likely to—or should—change as a result of the merger. Prioritize customer-facing teams first. Marriott-Starwood took this route when it combined rewards programs, garnering positive headlines and consumer goodwill.
Activate, clarify and measure
An airtight plan for integrating and managing both brands is key to achieving value. Design high-impact, brand led events that demonstrate the power of integration. Assemble a multidisciplinary task force to create a plan that prioritizes audiences internally and externally to:
- Involve employees early. A brand is only as strong as its people, so communicate with employees as soon as possible. Procter & Gamble did that in its integration of Gillette by using inclusive language like “merger” rather than “acquisition,” holding town hall meetings and pairing P&G employees with colleagues from Gillette.
- Gauge your progress. Because brand development should be designed to ensure merger success, it is important to measure results. Set early benchmarks with employees, customers, and other key constituencies. Some metrics will be financial, others attitudinal.
Successful M&A might feel like a high-wire magic act, but taking these steps will help you execute well in any situation.
Nancy Hansell is strategy director at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @Nancy_Hansell