Why Merged Brands Seldom Impress
Mergers among CPA and law firms are more rampant than ever. In the legal space alone, consulting firm Altman Weil reports there have been over 106 combinations in 2018, the most they've ever recorded in a single year. So why do so many mergers fail to make an impact in the minds of buyers? There are many factors, but from a brand standpoint, we consider these to be the top five.
1. Client benefits are not clear.
This becomes painfully obvious when we help create the merger messaging and the top benefits cited are about keeping profits per partner high. Firms need to carefully analyze the value to clients of the new offerings and footprint. There also must be an objective, disciplined analysis of how many of your current clients will really benefit.
2. The new firm name is not memorable.
In the dozens of mergers for which we’ve provided counsel, only three times were the parties realistic about the value of their firm’s name outside their client base. More often than not, they overinflate how well their firm is really known. Even when independent market research proves those assumptions wrong, management can be quite resistant to facts. We’ve seen grown-ups turn into petulant children when told it doesn’t make sense to have their legacy name as part of the newly merged firm name. Face it, three-, four- or five-word firm names are not workable. They are impossible to apply in social media, and news outlets will seldom use the full name. Firms need to focus on a new name that can be easily remembered and expressed visually. Otherwise the marketplace will shorten it and assign you a street name.
3. Post-merger marketing gets short shrift.
Many firms believe that sending out a merger announcement, posting a couple of times on social media and redoing their website is enough promotion to burn the new firm name into long-term memory. It isn’t. Post-merger you must invest in sponsorships, advertising and a highly disciplined public relations program to keep reminding the marketplace who you are. Clients will get lots of reminders through your work product, but prospects and influencers need the reinforcement for at least 18 months. Post-merger marketing activities are almost never properly funded because the parties see it as taking money out of their pockets, not as investing in the brand.
4. The firm’s new visual identity plays it boringly safe.
The merger is a chance to create buzz about the new firm. And one way to grab attention is to have a new look that is different. Note different, not inappropriate. Why are most new identities not visually memorable? The top reasons are a lack of understanding about the role of branding, marketing being involved too late in the game to create something powerful and leaders who don’t want to take on their partners. Playing it safe may keep the internal troops happy but will do little to move the needle externally.
5. Internal audiences are not well-equipped to talk about the new firm.
Firms need a robust series of internal messaging for weeks running up to the merger and then a fulsome post-merger integration plan. We find that even if firms agree to an internal campaign, they don’t invest in tools that really work. Wordy memos and dull meetings don’t create excitement. Firms should harness the power of social media-like communications that are short, sweet and to the point. Infographics, witty photography and on-the-fly video can be informative, fun and culture building. But as usual, resources and a budget are needed to make this happen.
Merging is a disruptive process for everyone involved. But if the merger is strategically beneficial for clients and the process is well-funded, it can be a powerful business development tool. One word of caution is that it works only if all parties involved can leave their legacy egos behind and focus on creating new DNA.