Growing a firm by merging with or acquiring another firm is not a unique strategy in the accounting and financial services arena. In fact, consolidation of the industry continues to occur as the pace of M&A activity remains high.
As new firms emerge, they must establish a unified identity and brand message to differentiate from both competitors and earlier iterations of themselves.
Don’t sink before you leave the slip
When going through a merger or acquisition, leaders tend to focus on the quantifiable aspects of the transaction, such as financial models, tax implications and employment contracts. However, it is important that firms going through a merger establish a unified brand message that aligns with the new business strategy. When firms do not prioritize or consider their brand message they undermine and may sabotage the success of an M&A growth strategy—they sink the ship before it gets a chance to set sail.
Mergers and acquisitions present great opportunities for firms to rethink and refresh their brands. The manner in which a firm creates its new brand message after a merger provides insight into the new entity and how the unique aspects of the separate firms and cultures come together to create an “enhanced” organization.
Chart your course thoughtfully
It’s not an easy task to combine two company cultures to arrive at a unified brand with a common culture and brand message. The leaders of each firm must agree on a new brand that accurately reflects the combined strengths, differentiators and value propositions of the united organization.
We recommend firms begin the process with a strategic planning session, during which leaders discuss and agree to the strategies and tactics for integrating all aspects of the merging firms, including operations, marketing and culture.
There is always a lot to cover. Here are a few examples of the marketing and branding decisions that should be made during the strategic planning session:
- Whether or not to rename the firm, adopt a new logo or to co-brand
- The underlying brand position and how it will support immediate and long-term business goals
- Which key differentiators to highlight in marketing communications
- How marketing budgets and resources will be allocated
- What client retention strategies to implement
Row in the same direction
To avoid internal discord, spend time communicating with and listening to key stakeholders and representatives throughout the new organization. If everyone is “rowing in the same direction,” you will speak in a unified voice and be able to speak about the new organization—what it is and what it represents.
To gain maximum support and buy-in for the new brand message it’s best to get everyone involved early. Create an atmosphere of inclusion, in which people feel they can be heard and their voices matter. Not all opinions can be included, but people will know that the firm’s leadership listened and considered their perspective.
Don’t get caught without a paddle
Once a new brand message has been established, equip everyone in the organization with the knowledge and tools they need to communicate the message consistently. Leaders in marketing and communication can serve as key points of contact for educating the entire organization on how to speak behalf of the firm.
The firm’s brand message must include the consistent application of the visual brand in all marketing and collateral pieces, including sales materials, brochures, pitch decks and the firm’s website.
As you combine teams, provide your employees something to rally around and get excited about. Inspire their enthusiasm for the new brand by making internal communications a priority.
Consider throwing an internal launch event for employees and share the new brand message and materials with everyone. Explain key dates for external brand launch. Let them know what happens next, so everyone is on the same page when the new brand is fully in place. Keep employees at all remote locations informed as well. If it’s not possible to do this in person, plan to send regular communications like email newsletters from members of the executive team to keep everyone aware of what’s happening.
Don’t forget to tell your mates
Of course, you can’t forget your clients. Focus your rebranding efforts on your core brand message and positioning. Establish compelling differentiators and proof points so clients understand how they’ll benefit by working with you—how you will help them solve their problems.
Clients want to know that the merger will make their lives easier, not just grow the size of your business. Communicating the reasons for and vision of the merger is important for keeping clients as you merge.
Timing is critical when establishing a new M&A brand message. Moving quickly to energize staff, give clients confidence, and generate buzz about the transaction. To best leverage the communications opportunities, you must engage internal and external audiences from the start.
Establishing a new brand message due to a merger or acquisition can be a daunting process but when you plan well and communicate effectively it can present a golden opportunity to unify cultures, improve client relationships and strengthen a firm’s position in the market.