Four Brand Strategies for a Successful M&A

The following is a transcript of the video.

Mergers and acquisitions are a big part of the industry right now. Over the last two years, we’ve had almost 500. I think it wise that banks truly think through how it is best to manage a merger and an acquisition. For us we recommend 4 major ways of thinking to work through this process.

  1. You’ve got to think through all your existing shareholders, your existing employees, your existing customers. We must first communicate to them to make sure everybody understands what’s happening.
  2. Then after that, we have new employees that we’re bringing into the organization and how do we best communicate to them.
  3. Then you have all these new customers you’re acquiring and bringing in.
  4. You have this new marketplace that we want to introduce our self to.

So let’s walk through each of these one at a time and talk about the best approach we can take to this.

Step 1: Communicating to existing shareholders, employees and customers

The first place to begin in communicating through a merger and acquisition and the process by which we are seeking to successfully develop this whole acquisition/merger so that there is this positive living brand at the end, we just need to do a really good job of communicating and providing material to existing employees so that they know this is the process, here are the timelines, here are the frequently asked questions, here’s how you manage and communicate to customers. So in this first stage of merger and acquisition, we’re thinking about communicating to existing shareholders, existing employees and existing customers.

We want our existing customers to understand that as your local community bank, as we’re growing and thriving, and thinking of ways we can better serve you, now we’ve brought into the fold additional locations, additional ATMs, maybe even additional capacity through this acquisition and merger, so you do want this positive message going out to your existing customers letting them know something very exciting is happening at their community bank, and here are the details and here’s how it’s going to benefit them. That’s the first stage in the process: we’re communicating to existing shareholders, existing employees, and existing customers.

Step 2: Communicating to new employees

After we’ve communicated with all of our existing shareholders, employees and customers, probably one of the more critical elements of this whole merger and acquisition is making sure we thought through a process by which we are communicating to new employees. For employees of the acquiring bank, they’re just not sure what’s going to happen yet they are so critical to this process. Through this whole process of the merger and acquisition, they are the ones communicating with new customers that you’re picking up. [We’ll talk about that in a minute.] So we really need to be proactive and as soon as we are legally able to do so, we need to go into that new employee base and really have some great communication. I like the idea of going in and having some type of town hall setting as CEO of the acquiring bank, and getting all the employees together and sharing with them the vision. The goal isn’t just to bring in new employees and customers but it’s to build the brand and you want to make sure you are bringing them into the brand. You want to make sure you’re sharing with them this is who we are, this is what we’re about, this is our passion, this is our mission, this is our vision, this is our story and you are now an important part of this vision moving forward. So you want to make sure that there’s this communication with these new employees, that you’re walking them through this is what our brand is and this is what you’re going to be a part of and this is why you can feel good about being a part of this organization.

Bring them into the brand, not just onto payroll

When you’re thinking about this communication with these new employees, think more than just about verbal communication. Yes, you’re having this town hall meeting, you’re going in and talking and giving them the vision and you’re answering questions, but make sure you are providing quality material to these new employees, so they have everything they need.

I’m thinking we provide most often a packet/a portfolio, inside that is a brand book, walk them through what the brand means, there are brand cards that have the brand values, there’s frequently asked questions in there, there’s a timeline, information on how to access, build into the intranet, new employees have access to the intranet, there are videos, FAQ, all types of information. Provide quality material to these new employees because that also represents an experience for them that will create a certain feeling they have toward this new brand. So, you’ve looked at them, you’ve been very honest, you’ve answered all these questions and now you’ve provided them this quality material and they can be excited about being part of this new brand. That’s the goal: You’re bringing them into the brand, not just bringing them onto the payroll

Step 3: New customer communication

The third stage in this entire process is new customer communication. These new customers are important. They’re in as the value on the balance sheet for this deal. It’s important that we’re very proactive in our communication with new customers. We need to let them know as soon as possible what is happening, what is coming their way. We want to make sure we communicate to them the fact that there’s this new brand – once again not just a bank but a brand. – what we’re about, why we’re a good choice, why we’re a good option. In reality, while we are acquiring them and they are brought into our balance sheet, they still are making choices.

Now we know statistically most people do not want to change banks, but if ever there is an opportunity for people to change, it’s at the point of disruption. So we do not want to create such disruption that we have this major attrition that is cannibalizing this balance sheet for the very reason that we acquired them.

Being proactive with the details

We like to create a really nice conversion and acquisition booklet that when we send out to this new customer base, yes there’s a letter, but there’s a really nice booklet could be anywhere from 12 to 20 pages, walking them through who we are, what our vision is, what our brand is all about, why we’re excited about this. Then it gets down into all the details about the conversion (this was your existing account, there’s mapping, this is your new account, if you’re using these checks, using these cards etc.) all those details that they want to know and we’re proactive. Also put in frequently asked questions in that booklet as well because we already know the questions they’re going to have, so let’s go ahead and put those questions in and let’s answer those questions for them.

And let’s have a place where they can go on our website as well, where they can go and find those questions, let’s have video content on the website, people like watching video and they feel comfortable with the emotions video offers, and let’s have a special 800 number that people can call if they have a question. If we can be very proactive and if we provide the breadth of communication and all the opportunity to them, people will feel more comfortable.

How to handle the bank’s special customers

With all that said, with every acquisition I’ve been a part of for the last 31 years, there’s still going to be a handful of people that we’re going to have to think about going out and hand delivering communication to them, there’s going to be say 50 or 75 or 100 that we’re going to need to put together very nice portfolios and packets; these are very important customers to the bank. We’re going to walk out with an existing officer or loan officer, go to them, introduce ourselves to them, let them know who we are, what we’re about, how all the things they’ve trusted all these years with their existing bank that’s not changing. Hopefully we’ll have more opportunity, maybe more products and services. We want them to feel so comfortable; they are so important to the balance sheet, we need to make sure there’s a handful; we go out and talk to them personally, give them portfolios, answer their questions and hopefully they, through this process, can actually be ambassadors because they feel so good about us.

Step 4: New market communication

The 4th step of communication that must occur in any acquisition or merger is the new market communication. Not only did you go through this acquisition because of the balance sheet of what you’re acquiring, but hopefully you were thinking about there is a new market that we’re entering and there is this opportunity for growth and so we want to make sure we think through a strategy that once we’ve gone through this whole process of merger and acquisition and communicated to all these various groups, now let’s ask ourselves what can we communicate to the marketplace as a whole. What is going to be our marketing strategy moving forward? We want to make sure we introduce our entire brand to them, our vision, and our passion as an organization. You want to make sure you go in and make the necessary steps, if you will, to ingratiate yourself to the marketplace. It would be very wise that you go in and think out about very well thought out sponsorships and contributions. You should go in right away and think about some scholarships with some of the local schools; most marketplaces are tied around their children, education and sports. So I’m thinking about doing some things to support sports, have some scholarships with the local schools, I’m going to think about some things with the children as well.

What’s your marketing strategy?

I’m just going to make sure we have a strategy as we introduce ourselves to the entire marketplace. Of course each bank individually will have their own strategic goals that when you go into this marketplace you’re going to be thinking about whether it be small business commercial growth, core deposit growth, you’re going to put together a strategy in which you are introducing over the the next nine to 12 months, our brand strategy in this marketplace because you want to grow new customers from this new marketplace, so develop a strategy by which you do that.

Do this to maximize opportunity

As you think about mergers and acquisitions, there’s a lot to do, there’s a lot to think about. You have to think about the details of the deal and like most bankers you are probably very concerned about the whole conversion process but make sure you think beyond that. Make sure you have a strategy by which you are communicating to existing shareholders, employees and customers so they can see the value of this. Make sure you are going out to new employees and bringing them on board to a new brand and providing them everything they need to be successful moving forward with this new brand. Then you are reaching out to all those new customers and you want to make sure they feel very comfortable about this process and they understand clearly what is happening and they know that all the people they liked and trusted before they feel good about that still being a part of the brand but now there’s even more, and 4. Make sure you maximize the opportunity to develop a marketing strategy to go out into this new marketplace and be able to experience the growth that you’re looking for. If you do these things you will have, if you would, a surviving brand through this merger and acquisition that is stronger, that is better and will have even greater opportunities.