The trend to consolidate like-businesses gained significant momentum in 2014 and, by most accounts, the pace of mergers and acquisitions will accelerate even faster over the next few years. Some of the most visible transactions have-and will continue to-come from within automotive dealerships, healthcare, insurance and technology sectors. As companies (both big and not-so-big) restructure for growth, old brands will die, new ones will be born and legacy brands will be expected to extend their reach. But the business of consolidating brands can be a tricky one. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte US earlier this year, nine in ten corporate executives cite that at least a portion of their past deals failed to generate the expected ROI largely because of execution gaps and a lack of synergies across the portfolio. This serves as a sharp reminder for marketing leaders that, when it comes to rolling up multiple brands under one entity, they have one chance to get it right. This is especially true for consumer-facing brands. With so much at stake, it’s imperative that marketers manage a disciplined process and hold fast to three basic rules when rebranding.
Great brands are built from the inside out. Ask, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos or Howard Schultz. Peter Drucker’s adage, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is popular among innovative leaders because it’s true. Your most important brand asset is not a new logo, television ad or website; it’s your people. They are the face, no, the heart and soul of the brand. And they are the asset that will interact with your customer most. Start there. That, of course, makes it sound easy and it’s not. Change is hard. And, for many employees-and leaders for that matter-holding onto the past will be a far more comfortable thing to do. But, they will take the journey with you if you include them in the process. Bring them behind the tent. Show them why the consolidation plan was the right strategy-for the company and for the employees. Show them what “can be” and how the new brand will take them there. Spend lots of time talking about it. And then, continue to talk about it-not for days or weeks, but over the course of many months. Give them the card for their wallet, or for their desk, that clearly articulates what the new brand is all about and what that brand will expect of them, every day. Ask them to make a video of what the new brand means to them. Make it THEIR brand (not yours). And, if you can get them to the point where they really, truly believe in it, they will eagerly share it with your customers.
What will the new brand stand for? What promise will it make to your customers? Spend adequate time crafting a thoughtful, written brand promise that is driven by your customers’ needs. Make sure it’s realistic-something your company can consistently deliver. Broken promises kill brands. To get it right 80% of the time is to get it wrong with one in five customers. That one customer is far more likely to talk about her bad experience than the remaining four will be to talk about their good one. Invest heavily in training programs that ensure your employees get it right every time, with every customer. Create products and services that will support the brand promise and distinguish you from the competition. Nobody does this better than Starbucks, Virgin Airlines and Tesla.
Map out all that needs to be rebranded. Leave no stone unturned: business cards, parking spots, distributor kits, sales collateral, websites, vanity numbers, call center environments, etc. If it wasn’t important for you to go all the way, it won’t be important for your employees to present it consistently. Once you’re ready for the changeover, burn all the old, branded material. Have “toss” parties which not only reduce the chances of old material popping up, but also become a symbolic transition and commitment to the new brand. Lastly, don’t skimp on design. This is your brand. Present it in its best possible light. Cheap looks cheap and cheap doesn’t attract or stand the test of time. Design is a part of your customer promise that says you are relevant, professional and trustworthy.
Brand consolidation provides companies with a great opportunity to realize operational efficiencies, leverage scale and gain a competitive advantage. For the professional marketer, rebranding is an opportunity to align employees to fuel the brand, to set and deliver on customer expectations and to visually bring a business strategy to life. Or, said another way, it’s a great opportunity to rewrite the rules and build something great.