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When two companies merge, branding is too often an afterthought. Vincent Parisse argues that it should be at the heart of the project, defining the new company to staff and customers alike.

Mergers and acquisitions in the energy sector are at an all-time high, with nearly £53 billion of deals announced in the first two months of this year alone. Deal activity is 36 per cent higher compared with the same period last year, and the deals are significant – Bopco’s recent sale to ExxonMobil was worth £6.6 billion, for example.

A merger is an emotional, high-pressure journey for management, employees, customers and partners, one that inevitably comes with a multitude of questions and tensions.

But a smart, strategic approach to brand can help chief executives and leadership teams navigate these challenges, smoothing the integration journey and accelerating success.

Unfortunately, brand is still too often seen as a peripheral tool. Often delegated to the realm of marketing and communications, brand to-dos such as picking a name and deciding on a logo are rarely considered among the most critical early integration decisions. Viewed narrowly as a problem to be solved, or merely as an expression of identity, brand is an afterthought.

However, a select group of companies have shown that this is a mistake. Brand-savvy leaders such as GE, IBM and 3M put brand at the centre of their integration decision-making, using it as a lever to successfully unite firms and create impact. They regard brand as an emotional force, the glue that binds teams together. And they use it as a touchstone for setting the integration agenda.

Brand becomes the difference between a winning deal and a disappointing mash-up.

Lippincott has helped leading brands come together for more than seven decades, including the largest merger, ExxonMobil. So what have we learned about the role brand can play in creating lasting value for a newly combined company?

Share a single purpose

One of the biggest challenges in a merger is melding two distinct cultures. A shared brand purpose, built from key cultural legacies of each firm, can galvanise teams under a new and inspiring idea. A great brand purpose does not just align cultures and values, it tells a compelling story about why the company does what it does and the value it brings to customers and stakeholders.

Bringing brands to life needs to start with a shared, unifying vision and purpose – an articulation of how it will be different and succeed.

Create a converging movement

The identity of a combined organisation sends a strong signal that positions the company for the future. The name, as with any other asset, merits a rigorous, fact-based assessment that carefully considers the business vision for the merger and what best encapsulates the combined company’s strategy. A new name sets the tone for the integration.

Bringing methodological rigour will not only help determine brand changes, an analytical approach can also temper defensiveness and ego involvement among corporate colleagues, thereby boosting critical internal support during the change process.

Think of a visual refresh — be it a new visual system with an existing logo, a merging of the equities of the two companies, or a complete reinvention – as a unique chance to add new emotion and energy to the company, helping to convey the new company’s dynamic aspirations. In this sense, simplicity and beauty delivered through design can be transformational — imparting to all stakeholders a sense of a new beginning and shared ownership in the new enterprise.

Forge a new sense of belonging

Brand should be the driving force that embodies the DNA, culture and capabilities of the new company. It will help employees find a sense of belonging to the new organisation and move beyond uncertainties about their roles. And it will empower them to deliver on the new company’s promise, setting the tone for the customer experience from the beginning.

Merger integration is a time when teams are paying attention, ready for involvement and eager for communication and direction. The best companies rush into this opportunity with multifaceted brand engagement programs that are exciting, participative and inclusive and set the tone for how to communicate values and attributes associated with the new identity.

When brand issues are addressed too late in the integration process, brand decisions tend to focus on what is easiest to execute quickly as opposed to what will create lasting value. At each stage of the deal process, it is a logic of give-and-take for brand, infused in the merger activities while also being fuelled by them.

Leaders who see brand’s full potential – well beyond a name and a logo – gain a significant advantage as they address the challenges of uniting companies and creating a new common culture. Viewed in the broadest strategic sense, brand becomes a compass for synchronising the company’s internal culture with the face and values it presents to the outside world.

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