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Navigating Vision, Culture, and Brand Through a Merger or Acquisition

By Sunny Bonnell
Posted on 07/09/23
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When companies merge or one acquires the other, the integration process goes far beyond combining financial assets, operational systems, and customer bases. At its heart, it’s about unlocking new opportunities, accessing broader resources, and creating enhanced value for stakeholders. This often triggers rebranding, and successful integration revolves around three critical elements: aligning cultures, unifying visions, and merging brands.

Mergers and Acquisitions often lead to significant changes in the brand identities of the involved companies. The exact approach depends on the specific context of the merger or acquisition, the relative brand equity of the participating companies, and their strategic goals.

Challenges of Cultural Integration

Merging the cultures of two distinct companies is akin to blending colors on a palette – the resultant hue depends on the artist’s finesse. The stakes are high, as combined leadership and culture affect every aspect of a business, from employee engagement to customer perception.

Companies can have opposed cultures, one being risk-averse and the other embracing risk-taking, or one valuing hierarchy while the different values a flat structure. Navigating these differences requires deep expertise, open communication, and time.

“Research shows that cultural misalignment can account for up to 30% of failed M&A deals, highlighting the gravity of the challenge.”
Sunny Bonnell, Co-founder & CEO, Motto
Merger > New Brand

Approaches to Branding in M&A

One of the first challenges is determining which existing brands will dominate or whether an entirely new brand will be created. Each scenario carries its implications. For example, maintaining an existing brand can help retain customer loyalty but might not fully represent the new entity’s value proposition. Creating a new brand can signal a fresh start and a combined value proposition but requires building recognition from scratch.

There are different paths to branding in M&As, each with unique implications. The main strategies are Brand Absorption, Brand Fusion, Brand Endorsement, and Brand Creation.

Brand Absorption: One company’s brand is entirely absorbed by the other, effectively disappearing from the market. This approach is often used when the acquiring company has a stronger brand or when the acquired company’s brand carries negative connotations. The goal is to consolidate brand equity under a single, stronger brand.

Brand Fusion: Here, the best elements from both brands are combined to create a new one. This approach seeks to leverage the strengths of both brands and can be effective when both companies have significant brand equity. It can help minimize disruption by preserving familiar elements.

Brand Endorsement: This strategy involves the acquired company maintaining its name and identity while getting an endorsement from the parent brand. This is a common approach when the acquired company has a strong brand that is valuable to a niche market segment.

Brand Creation: A completely new brand represents the merged entity, indicating a fresh start for both. It can be particularly effective when the goal is to signal significant changes or both companies have comparable market standings. It represents the birth of a new entity with a shared vision and culture and requires a robust strategy to build brand equity from scratch.

Each of these scenarios has its advantages and challenges, and the choice of strategy must align with the companies’ business objectives, market dynamics, and brand equities. Successful post-M&A branding requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and effective stakeholder communication.

“One of the first challenges is determining which of the existing brands will dominate or whether a completely new brand will be created.”
Ashleigh Hansberger, Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Motto®

Rebranding and Renaming: A Leap into New Territories

Often, rebranding or renaming becomes an essential part of M&A, signaling a fresh start and new opportunities. It can be a powerful tool to create a sense of unity and shared identity, facilitating cultural integration and customer acceptance. These transformations require a deep understanding of the market, the stakeholders, and the new entity’s strategic goals.

The new brand should reflect the shared vision, resonate with old and new customers, and differentiate the company in the market. It requires a delicate balance between retaining legacy brand equity and carving out new territories. One must handle this process meticulously, ensuring a smooth transition without causing confusion or diluting the value.

The Leader’s Role in Rebranding

At its core, a rebrand following a merger or acquisition is an act of reinvention. It’s not merely about designing a new logo or changing the color palette but involves reshaping the identity and perception of the newly formed entity. Leaders are at the helm of this transformation, and their decisions and actions can significantly influence the success of the rebranding.

Leaders must create an environment that fosters dialogue and promotes collaboration. When Motto® leads mergers, we encourage all stakeholders, including key employees, customers, and some shareholders, to be part of the transformation process. This achieves buy-in early.

How Motto® Leads a Successful Merger

No matter the reason, a successful rebrand always requires a robust, well-articulated strategy. Here are a few things we consider when navigating this complex process:

1. Understand the Existing Brands
We always begin by thoroughly understanding the brand equity of both companies. What do they stand for? How are they perceived by customers, employees, and the market at large? This understanding forms the foundation for shaping the new brand.

2. Involve Key Stakeholders 
We ensure that all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and shareholders of both companies, feel included in the branding process. Their buy-in can significantly influence the success of the merger.

3. Develop a Unified Vision
A shared vision sets the direction for the new entity and acts as the bedrock of the new brand. We facilitate dialogues to either shape or refine a cohesive vision that reflects the strengths and aspirations of the primary company.

4. Choose the Right Brand Strategy
Based on brand equity, shared vision, and market dynamics, we must choose the appropriate brand transformation strategy: absorption, fusion, or creation. Each system has its unique implications and must be selected carefully.

5. Craft a Compelling Narrative
The rebranding process should tell a story that signifies the birth of a new entity, the coming together of two companies’ strengths, and the shared journey toward a common goal. A compelling narrative can ease the acceptance of the new brand and build excitement about the unified entity’s future.

6. Design a Resonant Brand Identity
The new brand identity, including the logo, colors, and big Idea Worth Rallying Around®, should resonate with the shared vision and the compelling narrative. Professional brand designers can ensure the new identity captures these elements and effectively communicates the brand’s promise.

7. Plan a Phased Rollout
Rebranding is not an overnight process. A phased rollout can ensure a smooth transition, avoiding abrupt changes that could lead to confusion or resistance. Start with internal communication and external branding elements such as logos, websites, and marketing materials.

8. Monitor and Adjust
Continuously monitor market responses and stakeholder feedback. Be prepared to make adjustments as necessary. Leaders should cultivate an environment that values feedback and promotes iterative improvements.

Leading a rebrand during a merger or acquisition is a significant responsibility. It requires careful planning, effective communication, and inclusive leadership. However, when done right, it can turn the combined entity into a powerful brand, perfectly aligned with its shared vision and culture and ready to seize new opportunities.

Sunny Bonnell profile picture
By Sunny Bonnell
Founder & CEO Motto®