M&A branding: how do you signal this is the real deal?

The volume of mergers and acquisitions has declined this year amid economic uncertainty. But survey after survey suggests it will bounce back in 2024. So, if you’re planning a deal, how should you think about brand and branding?

Mergers and demergers will account for one third of Wolff Olins’ revenue this year, a big jump from pre-Covid. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Five broad topics recur in the briefs we receive. They focus on how brand can help the business succeed, rather than branding in the narrow sense of names and logos:

1. What risks do you identify and how can we mitigate them?

2. How do we take stakeholders on the journey?

3. What approach do you suggest to insight & validation?

4. How do we make it clear that the company is entering a new era?

5. How do we balance customer-facing and corporate brands?

But ask Google about branding mergers and demergers and you get a lot of guidance on  identifying shared DNA and translating it into a name and visual identity. That’s all well and good, but is it enough?

Being blunt, it is not. Branding a merger or demerger should be treated as the birth of something new. Not an exercise in crowd-sourcing shared DNA or new logos. It’s a once in a generation chance to assert what makes you special and rally key stakeholders behind you.

The first big merger Wolff Olins worked on was in 1997 when we created Diageo. Anthony Greener, the chairman, explained: “A new name was important to make the point that this was a new company, not just two old companies joined together. That was important from an investor and employee point of view.”

Mr Greener’s point about creating something new is true not just when companies join but also when they split. So, in 2021/22, we have seen healthcare giants like GSK and J&J split into two, with the pharma businesses doubling down on science and innovation and the healthcare businesses refocusing on consumer care.

The Diageo, J&J and GSK examples suggest five imperatives in branding a deal:

1. Your brand needs to signal that the business is at a major inflection point

2. It’s the birth of something new, not the marriage or divorce of two has-beens

S. So, it must show why your business will be a winner - and how the deal helps

4. The people to persuade first are investors and employees

5. Because the brand needs to buy you time to prove the inflection point is real

You are excited about your deal. How do you get other people to share your enthusiasm? Don’t just say you are a leader. Act like one and use the brand confidently. And think how to engage them in the process sooner rather than later. After all, this is the real deal!