The financial services space is always in motion when it comes to M&A activity. In fact, many financial services firms rely on mergers and acquisitions to fuel their growth. All that disruption may be good for business, but it makes managing brands and communications much more challenging.
If your financial services firm is in acquisition mode, you must take special care to present a united image to the public. After all, in our visually focused, brand-first society, your customers expect nothing less. But the process of integrating a new acquisition automatically puts your brand at risk. It’s not just about managing all the moving parts. There’s another threat at play: Your newly acquired firm may resist taking on your brand’s mantle and way of doing things.
If you don’t recognize the most common stumbling blocks and develop a strategy to bypass them, your brand’s equity will be the first thing to go on the chopping block.
How an M&A Puts Your Brand Communications at Risk
Regardless of your deal’s particular details, integrating two individual organizations is never simple and straightforward. Because M&As involve so many organizational changes, they can easily undermine the integrity of your brand and communications. Following are the main challenges that could threaten your firm’s communications program.
The struggle for internal buy-in
When your financial services firm acquires another company, the first and biggest challenge is to get your acquired organization on board. Remember, from your acquired team’s perspective, this major change may not be expected or welcome. In many cases, it’s almost like trying to bring together two opposing armies from warring nations. The generals at the top make the decision to join forces. And now the soldiers are expected to fall in line. In order to do that, the soldiers must first let go of their loyalty to their old nation and switch allegiances to the new one.
But nobody likes change—and especially not change that is foisted on them. Your new team may resent having to adopt a new brand identity. They may avoid learning new systems and procedures. They will likely resist the change and default to “the way we’ve always done things.” If you can’t entice your new team to buy into your brand, they will inevitably hinder your ability to consistently deliver on-brand communications.
The more decentralized your brand’s communications are, the harder it will be to keep them aligned in the throes of an M&A (and that goes triple for global brands).
Of course, your corporate office likely controls your most prominent communications, such as your main website and social media channels. But what about everything else, from presentations and pitch decks to stationery and business cards? Assets like these are often managed in regional offices, which means less oversight.
Clear, centralized brand and communications guidelines are a start. But you will also need to take a hands-on approach to overseeing these communications until the M&A is fully executed. Only then will your new team be up to speed.
Integrating an acquired company into your financial services organization is no small feat. It requires an enormous amount of coordination between your internal communications team, that of your acquired organization and your portfolio of external agency partners. It’s a situation that is ripe for miscommunication—miscommunication that leads to a diluted brand.
How to Present a United Front in Your Communications During an M&A
If your financial services firm is gearing up for a major deal, it’s time to take the following steps to protect your brand’s communications through the M&A process.
Assess your communications
The first step is to take full inventory of your brand’s communications—and that of the company you are acquiring. In the event of an acquisition, it’s all too easy to hand over your brand guidelines and expect your acquired organization to magically just…adopt them.
But in order to pave the way for a seamless transition, you’ll need to understand your acquired organization’s existing communications portfolio and operational approach as well. How are they used to doing things? What are their review and approval processes? Do they regularly create communications that represent new use cases that your existing brand and communications guidelines don’t yet address?
The answers to these questions will reveal key insights into what training, guidance and documentation is necessary to empower your new team to more quickly adopt your brand’s communications guidelines.
Develop robust, centralized brand and communications guidelines
Comprehensive and flexible brand and communications guidelines are essential to successful brand governance. That’s a given. But it’s especially critical in the event of an M&A. With so much in flux, your brand’s consistency is at stake.
Before embarking on a new deal, take the time to review your brand and communications systems. You should have a centralized repository with a full “kit of parts” in place. This brand and communications library should act as a single source of truth to guide your full communications team. Taking this approach ensures that everyone—from your newly acquired entity to your internal design team and external agency partners—are on the same page.
Make sure to identify which parts of your system are rigid and which parts are more flexible. For example, you might dictate that your communications use a particular grid, type family and set of colors. At the same time, you may allow for a higher degree of flexibility in terms of illustrations and photography.
Earn buy-in with brand training and change management
As we’ve already established, gaining your acquired team’s buy-in represents the biggest hurdle to cohesive communications in an M&A situation. You must be intentional in your efforts to welcome your acquired company’s team on board. In short, you should make them want to shift their loyalty to your brand.
To that end, you must first make sure that your team understands the why behind your brand. What does your brand stand for and why does it matter? What are your core values—and how do you express them in your communications? The more your entire organization understands and aligns with your brand story, the more invested they will be in getting your communications right. And whatever you do, make sure to give team members from the new firm space to share their legitimate concerns and ensure their needs are addressed.
Additionally, you must provide adequate training to ensure that your team understands the technical requirements to create on-brand communications. For example, let’s say you use a software add-on to make your PowerPoint presentations more sophisticated. To implement the brand correctly, your team will need to know how to use that additional software.
Your training should cover everything from how to use the necessary tools and technology to your specific processes around that work (such as reviews and approvals). This may take the form of internal training videos or step-by-step tutorials complete with screenshots.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of human resources. In addition to online training materials, make sure that you identify a main point of contact who your team can reach out to with questions.
Formalize your onboarding process for acquiring a company
Many financial services companies pursue growth via acquisitions. If that describes your firm’s growth strategy, then it’s critical that you formalize your brand onboarding process. What steps can you take to ensure that each acquisition is brought into the fold smoothly, without undermining the integrity of your communications?
One thing is clear: An M&A means a great deal of organizational change is about to occur. But with a little care and thoughtful planning, you can integrate a newly acquired organization without skipping a beat in your financial services firm’s communications program.