An M&A deal is an exciting opportunity to quickly expand your financial services firm’s capabilities and market share. If you’re pursuing a merger or acquisition, the deal itself may be a no-brainer. But the process of actually integrating two firms into a single, cohesive entity? That part isn’t so simple.
In fact, an M&A deal represents a distinct period of vulnerability for your brand and, by extension, your business. Fail to seamlessly unite two previously independent organizations, and you’ll dilute the power of your brand—and undermine the impact of your deal.
Whether you are simply folding an acquisition into your existing brand or redefining your identity altogether, you need to understand and prepare for the brand challenges that lie ahead.
Hint: Your biggest hurdle? Integrating people, not assets.
What an Integration Means for Your Financial Services Brand
A merger or acquisition will always have implications for your financial services brand. However, the motivating factors driving your deal will determine the nature of those implications—and inform your strategy for managing them.
There are two kinds of acquisitions, broadly speaking. The first focuses on expanding capacity (such as acquiring a comparable firm in a new geographic region), while the second is about expanding capabilities (such as acquiring a firm that offers a new line of services or products).
The Challenges of Capacity-Focused Deals
In capacity-focused deals, an acquiring brand is more likely to subsume their acquisition into their existing brand identity. This means marketers’ primary focus is on onboarding: bringing the new team into the fold and empowering them to properly represent the parent brand.
The biggest challenge in this scenario? Gaining the acquired team’s trust and loyalty. Many individuals may resist or resent the change, especially if they were particularly loyal to their legacy brand. In this context, you can’t just hand down a set of brand guidelines from on high and expect to get brand compliance. For example, you might find that your newly integrated marketing team is executing your brand correctly, while individual analysts are “going rogue” by preparing presentation decks with the same old branding or styling intact.
It’s not just training you’re after; you need true brand buy-in. And that’s something you can’t mandate. You have to earn it. To do so, you’ll need to engage deeply with your new team and work to win them over to your brand.
The Challenges of Capability-Focused Deals
In a capability-focused deal, an acquiring firm will almost certainly need to refresh their brand to reflect their newly expanded abilities, products and services. Moreover, the acquired firm will likely want to weigh in on how their unique capabilities (and individual experts) are presented in the new brand. In fact, details about the acquired firm’s brand representation may be detailed in the acquisition contract itself.
The next challenge lies in applying those contractual details to the brand architecture. Internal brand teams aren’t always prepared to navigate those design complexities. When that happens, financial services firms often hire outside consultants to refine their brand identity.
Ultimately, in a capability-driven deal, resolving the new brand architecture is still easier than what comes next: bringing your newly expanded team into alignment about your new brand and how it should be expressed.
How to Seamlessly Integrate Two Financial Services Brands in an M&A Deal
One thing’s clear: Integrating two financial services firms while also preserving your brand’s integrity is no small feat. But with careful planning and a few proven tactics, you can transition seamlessly—and strengthen both your brand and your internal culture in the process.
Take the following steps to get started.
Get your c-suite on board
You already know how important excellent design and brand consistency are in building your firm’s reputational equity. But what about the rest of your executive team? Make sure they understand the true business value of your brand. Then, walk them through the risks presented by an M&A deal.
Your goal? Bring your entire C-suite is on board with the need to protect and preserve your brand through the M&A process. Having this executive-level buy-in is critical. It’s what ensures your entire organization is on the same page, from managers and analysts to your HR staff and customer service team.
Uncover and document use cases from both organizations
Whether or not a rebranding is in order, an M&A deal will almost certainly mean new use cases—and that means extending or updating your brand guidelines.
Plan to take a careful inventory of where and how both organizations currently use their respective brands. This should include everything from big-picture branding all the way down to in-the-weeds assets.
Make sure to consider your:
- Social media profiles
- Investor relations materials, including statements, one-sheets, press releases, and brochures
- Internal communications and HR materials
- Analyst presentations
Be aware that the deeper you get into the weeds of various use cases, the more complexity you’re likely to encounter. For example, analyst presentations contain everything from simple text to a variety of financial charts, graphs and other data visualizations. If you fail to account for all that complexity, individual team members are much more likely to take matters into their own hands.
In fact, a lack of detail at the “micro” level is precisely why (and where) brand compliance tends to fall apart. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, your team will quickly fill in any gaps in your brand guidelines—and their choices won’t necessarily align with your brand team’s preferences.
Give your acquired team a seat at the table
Want to earn your acquired team’s trust and buy-in? Give them a seat at the table—and a chance to weigh in on how your brand is operationalized and applied.
Of course, your brand isn’t a democracy. But when it comes to effectively conveying it to the world, every individual on your team counts. There’s a bit of inherent friction between these two realities. And it’s your job to resolve it.
Because an acquired team is initially unlikely to feel any affinity for or ownership of your brand, you must draw them in and give them a voice before you can expect them to comply.
That doesn’t necessarily mean asking your new team to weigh in on the specifics of your design language. But you should give them a chance to explain their way of doing things. Consider this an opportunity. Are there any processes, workflows or tools you can adopt? Doing so might just be the ticket to winning over your new team by preserving the familiar and endowing them with a sense of ownership—while at the same time improving your team’s operational performance.
Craft an internal launch plan
It goes without saying that you need to craft an external launch plan for your newly blended organization’s market debut. But just as you desire to build buzz and buy-in among your external audiences, you also need to generate excitement, understanding and alignment among your internal stakeholders.
On the first day you launch your newly combined entity, plan to include your internal team in the celebration. Make it exciting—think branded swag or a virtual or in-person event—that gives everyone the feeling they are part of something big.
The more effort you put into making “day one” a positive and significant experience for your team, the more they’ll buy into your brand. Even seemingly small gestures, such as a branded water bottle or updated business cards, can make a big impact.
Communicate your brand values
Your acquired team will never care about your brand if they don’t understand the why behind it. Win them over by communicating your brand values. As you do, make a strategic argument for how the integration (and the new-to-them brand) will benefit them personally.
For instance, will it help them recruit the best and brightest talent in the field? Create more job stability? Expand business opportunities in a way that also broadens their own potential for professional growth? Make their jobs easier by answering a market need or client pain point they currently have to work around?
By spelling out these benefits, your team will connect your brand not only to positive values but also to positive outcomes.
Establish the right tools and processes
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to set up a digital asset management (DAM) system and any other digital tools necessary to effectively manage your brand. At the same time, take this transition period as an opportunity to reassess and refine your operational processes, including roles and responsibilities and reviews and approvals.
By offering much-needed clarity on exactly how to implement your brand, you can empower your team (both your legacy staff and acquired team members) to create on-brand assets every time.
Train, train and train some more
Your brand guidelines form the foundation of your brand training resources. However, even the most robust brand guidelines won’t cut it on their own. Training is critical to your team’s ability to become fluent in applying your brand.
Initially, you’ll want to conduct brand training sessions with everyone on your team. Of course, your in-house brand, marketing and graphics teams should receive the most robust training. But other team members will need to understand your brand basics as well any specific instructions related to assets they produce themselves. For example, you may want to train your analysts on how to produce presentation decks.
At the same time, consider developing a digital “brand central” that includes detailed documentation as well as a series of short training videos. These videos can show staffers how to use tools, follow processes and complete specific tasks related to brand application. Finally, make sure you give your team the ability to contact a real, live person on the team with specific questions.
Transitioning your brand in the wake of an M&A deal doesn’t have to be a losing proposition. By focusing on integrating your people as much as your brand architecture, you can shepherd your combined organization into a bright new future with your brand—and its equity—intact.