Last year was a big one for M&A activity (a “record high”, according to The Economist*). Many of these deals made perfect sense. Some left people scratching their heads. In either case, a merger can often wreak havoc on a neatly buttoned up marketing message. If you’re running marketing or sales for one of the thousands of newly combined companies, how do you make sure your message doesn’t get lost in a whirlwind of post-merger confusion?
We recently finished a core messaging engagement for a freshly merged company. Three different B2B technology businesses had come together in a private equity deal to form a combined entity that held a lot of promise for the industry. It made sense strategically. But it made a mess of their messaging. For example, the new company could no longer own the focused, specialist positioning that helped make each of the legacy companies successful. On top of that, their target audience was now so broad it was almost undefinable.
Here are three quick lessons from this experience:
#1: Don’t rush a half-baked message out to the marketplace.
The CEO of this company was under a lot of pressure to present the new brand to the marketplace. Customers, employees, and other stakeholders were all eagerly awaiting a big unveil. But, instead of rushing something out the door – or dripping it out gradually in bits and pieces – he wisely waited a few months to get a fully-baked message in place first (even before unveiling the name and logo).
This kind of restraint pays off – preventing the confusion that inevitably occurs when you send incomplete or mixed messages into the marketplace. Now this company can hit the ground running with everyone rallied around a single, clear, differentiated message.
#2: Don’t settle for a “lowest common denominator” message.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. In an effort to make your new corporate messaging understandable and applicable to every audience, you end up diluting it so much that it becomes meaningless. This company’s leadership team was committed to finding a differentiated message for the new entity – not just a watered-down amalgamation of messaging from the three legacy companies.
To develop a truly meaningful message, we had to start from square one. First, we worked with their team members – and even customers – to uncover the core strengths of the newly merged company. We compared these to their competitors’ strengths and identified the three most important qualities the new company would be known for. Each was given a “sticky” name to make it more memorable, and messaging was developed to apply it to their different types of customers. Going forward, all their marketing and sales communications would be built on this core messaging platform.
#3: Do face your customers’ fears in your messaging.
We conducted several customer interviews early in the process. These uncovered some apprehension about the merger from customers of each of the three legacy companies. Some customers worried the culture would become more institutionalized, or more financially driven, or less customer focused now that it was owned by a private equity firm. Others worried that the company would simply be distracted with all the change.
This sense of insecurity is common in PE and M&A deals. You have to face these fears head-on. Don’t gloss over them with a whole-greater-than-the-parts platitude. Be honest about the change. Acknowledge where there may be some friction. But then get very specific about how this new development will benefit your customers.
See the mess as a gift.
While a merger or acquisition can present some thorny messaging challenges for marketing and sales leaders, it’s also a great opportunity to step back, rethink your messaging and positioning, and then re-introduce your company to the marketplace.
*SOURCE: “Pushing the limits: A frenzy of deals is awakening America’s antitrust regulators”, The Economist, Dec 12th, 2015