Brand Architecture - Don’t forget the due diligence

When businesses merge or acquire other businesses, they don’t spend enough time thinking about what to do with the brands, products and portfolios. This is our experience anyway. 

It’s not done deliberately, it’s just that there’s so much other stuff to consider. Stuff that’s immediate and important. So, naturally, issues like offices, manufacturing plants, staffing and distribution are all given headline billing throughout the integration process. They’re tangible and have a high profile in terms of overhead for the business. Successful integration could deliver savings to the bottom line - which may have been one of the drivers for the deal in the first place. That all makes sense.

When it comes to issues around brand, we find that it’s not given the same level of thought or consideration. Too often comfort is taken at a skin-deep level that satisfies ego and legacy - bolting together two names or two visual identities to create something cumbersome, confusing and flat - but offering the veneer of a seamless integration.

This might work as a band-aid at the main brand level of the organisation, but if you dig further down into products, names and portfolio management - where the rubber really meets the road - you’ll find friction.

And it’s in these seemingly unimportant recesses of the marketing department that the trouble really begins to brew. It takes a bit of time to take root and grow, but if the conditions are right, it can develop into a significant challenge to any organisation’s identity and offering. 

In one particular case, we got involved with a client who had acquired a number of businesses across the globe, all with different names and ‘sub-brands’ which weren’t considered during the integration phase. The result three or fours years down the line was a completely schizophrenic organisation that couldn’t understand or navigate its own product portfolio, let along present them to customers. It led to a full-blown identity crisis and almost total paralysis with the sales team.

So, what can we do to help avoid, or mitigate against these risks? Here are our top 5 tips:

1.    Change is Positive

View the fact that things (names & identities) are going to change as a positive. Too often we try to avoid change in the mistaken belief that our customer base somehow won’t be able to keep up if we change or alter a name. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is always a positive message and halo effect to be garnered if we manage the job on the front foot with the client. (I caveat this to say that change isn’t always necessary, and if you don’t need to change, then you shouldn’t!)

2.    Talk to People. Lots of them

The consultation period and stakeholder management part of the process is really important. Meet with the sales teams, contact staff and customers (as well as the marketing and senior management teams). Find out what they think is important. What needs to change and what is sacrosanct. If they feel consulted, then it makes any change further down the line more palatable.

3.     Expect Some Pain

It’s very rarely that we take on a task like this without there being some casualties. Sometimes it’s a product name or the established conventions around how they’re created and other times it’s a trade-off on colours or visual identities. But remember that hard pruning now creates a platform for stronger future growth.

4.     It’s the Mother Brand

Within the B2B world, the brand equity is almost always in the mother brand. Not in the individual products or ‘sub brands’. It’s best to streamline the sub-brands with a simple, descriptive convention which future-proofs the organisation and makes the portfolio coherent and navigable. This isn’t the time for the marketing department to express its creativity on the naming front. It only creates confusion further down the line.

5.     Take Legal Advice

Always. This is one of the most important aspects and often the one that’s left to the end of the process. If your names are changing in any way, shape or form then you need to take specialist advice to make sure there’s no infringement. Get specialist help from a patent attorney and get them involved in the process early.

If you’re facing a brand architecture challenge through merger or acquisition - give us a shout. A cold, dispassionate and objective view is often the catalyst needed to get things started.

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Chris and Stewart went into more detail around the challenges in brand architecture. Have a listen, hit subscribe, enjoy.