So your company has merged or been acquired. Hooray! Time to pop the champagne, sit back and savor your hard-won success, because the rest will be a piece of cake, right? Nope.
For a merger or acquisition to be truly successful, NOW is when you to really get to work, and make no mistake, time will evaporate before your very eyes. Whether you’re converting a slate of existing stores, bringing in new product offerings, creating a whole new brand experience or all of the above, there is so much complexity in the post-merger environment that it may be difficult to wrap your arms around what happens next. To address what can be a complicated and convoluted scenario, we’ve put together a practical primer to help jumpstart your upfront strategic thinking and process planning.
When a merger takes place, one of the first elements that must be addressed is tiering. What we mean by that is having a clear map of all of the physical retail stores or branches, how they currently operate and how you want them to function in the future. Some will be prime locations that do a lot of business and others may be flagging in the market and may need a revised approach, coupled with a modernized footprint. If a company is only acquiring the physical real estate and not the book of business of those locations, the decisions will be quite different than if an acquisition is all-encompassing. By purchasing locations and the backend business, brands will have to rebrand locations, communicate new products and services to current customers and work to mitigate any employee and customer attrition.
Within a holistic tiering strategy, companies will have a clear assessment and understanding of whether a location will simply get an update of existing signage or whether there will be a brand replacement strategy to reestablish the brand by optimizing both exterior and interiors in those locations. There may be opportunities to reposition the signage on the site to advance the brand and the outward projection of the (new) brand, and to adapt the interiors to support your brand, strategic customer experience and core communications strategies. What we want to understand is: what is most important to the company in establishing and elevating the brand within the network of physical locations; how they’re making a brand commitment to the customers to minimize attrition; and how the company can maximize the new presence and gain new customers by introducing their brand into those markets.
It takes planning and a lot of watchdogging to do a merger and subsequent conversion successfully. From the physical environment and staff all the way to the customer, user and brand experience, there are many moving parts that must be defined, designed, deployed, and adopted by the staff. Let’s face it: there is no quick course for “branding and conversion following a merger” and this is not a process that can be undertaken by the seat of your pants. Even people who have gone through a merger or acquisition before have come to understand that each scenario is different and conversions require customization. You need planning, communications and attention to detail for each step in the conversion process from end-to-end.
Once a holistic strategy is developed, you need a team that can leverage brand experience, retail expertise and design implementation into a successful brand rollout. What we want to help our clients do is to strategically think about how their brand gets executed, purposefully design brand into the retail space, and intentionally manage how that brand gets implemented physically and on the back-end, including operationally and culturally. There is also an entire digital strategy that goes along with the operational deployment of brand, as well as team training and sustainment that is part of cultural alignment. So, three major phases of a brand conversion are: strategy, design, and implementation.
A Working Example
To bring these concepts to life, we’re including a bank branch conversion mini-case study. A bank brand had 225 branches operating in the southeast. With the acquiring bank, our team had worked with the bank to develop their curbside branch and their schematics guidebook – a kit-of-parts or cookbook – a set of standards to inform design direction for branch formats, coupled with consulting on how the brand and communications are laid into those branches. In 2017, the bank announced that they were acquiring another bank that had 200 branches. With some overlapping markets, they planned to close 50 branches and rebrand the remaining branches. But it needed to happen quickly with conversion of 150 locations in a nine month timeframe.
The Adrenaline team managed the entire exterior and interior brand conversion process. We worked with the bank to develop holistic tiering strategies and completed site visits and surveys to all 150 locations. Our team completed a survey of existing signage and a brand survey of any existing branded element within the branches, both on the interior and exterior. Based on the results of the surveys married to their tiering strategy, we then helped them develop sign packages for each branch and managed the work teams installing them. Coupled with signage implementation, there was another entire workstream simultaneously managing the interior rebrand, which was facilitated with the existing guidelines from the previously established brand cookbook. So, in less than a year, the bank brand grew its brand presence and nearly doubled its branch footprint.
Smart strategy and focused execution are what separate successful conversions from lackluster facelifts. What we’ve found in some merger scenarios is that there may be a series of specialist silos operating separately without influence under the brand experience umbrella. While some companies may be looking for one company to plan, design and implement – handling the myriad steps in the conversion process – others may want to take-on some of the work themselves, or with different implementation teams. The bottom line is that someone needs to integrate it all together under a seamless, streamlined, comprehensive effort. As long as the strategy is right, an effective workstream integrator can help ensure that the brand promise is delivered upon every step of the way.
Are you in the process of merging or being acquired? We’d like learn more about your particular challenges and help you tailor your M&A strategy and process plan. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.