Your organization’s portfolio of brands has just grown. And the new brand is about to land in your lap. Depending on your role, you might feel exhilaration … or panic.
If you’re with an equity company and about to become the manager of this new brand, you’re thinking: How fast can I move to scale this business?
If you’re a private investor taking over a young or underperforming brand, you’re thinking: How do I quickly determine what’s working so I can fix everything else?
If you’re a CMO at a multinational, you’re thinking: How can I make bold moves to make my mark on this brand?
If you’re a manager at a company that owns a suite of brands, you’re thinking: Great. Now what?
What You Know, What You Don’t Know
As you work to onboard the brand as quickly as possible, you’ll need to figure out a bunch of things:
People — the culture of the team you’re inheriting and how they sync with your org chart
Products — the lineup of products, whether it overlaps with other brands under the corporate umbrella, and how the mix needs to pivot to avoid cannibalizing your other business
Processes — where and how the products are manufactured and distributed, and how those systems play with existing operations
Opportunity —the potential audience for the brand, and the ways you can leverage existing retail channels to bring the new brand into new markets
Visual expression — how the brand’s packaging and external presence should be updated, either to fit within your family or to pursue new audiences
The due diligence process that preceded the acquisition likely answered this preliminary information. You’ll have access to bottom-line reports on the brand’s scalability and growth opportunity, and operational details about procurement and distribution.
In our work with brand leaders and investor groups, we’ve found that the information most relevant to marketers is often not a part of due diligence. The business, finance, and ops people driving the deal are less concerned with the “softer” discipline of marketing the brand to a real audience of real people. In fact, you might have surprisingly little relevant marketing info: probably some Amazon figures and shopper or sales data of some sort. But that data doesn’t look at the upside; it looks at history.
Tackle These Marketing Priorities First
If you’re the brand manager or CMO charged with shepherding this new brand, you must move quickly to gain the insight you need. These should be your top intelligence-gathering priorities:
Our work with food, beverage, and wellness brands typically involves a category traction audit, which answers several pressing questions, including who owns the market currently, where the market (channel) is, and who are the players you can take share from. The category audit frames your brand within the aisle you compete in.
This is our deeper dive into your brand’s world, probably the most valuable thing you can do for this new business. The name is a misnomer; it’s not about your direct competitors but rather about all the things competing for the shopper’s dollar. Suppose you’re an organic post-workout snack bar, for example. In that case, you’re not just competing with other nutrition bars … you’re competing with apparel and equipment brands and wellness products; basically, the entire pot of money the consumer spends on fitness and wellness. The competitive audit will reveal any disconnect between what you’ve been told about the brand and its cold, hard reality.
With the acquisition, you probably gained a high-level introduction to the brand’s core audience. But to grow share, you need to understand how these loyalists compare to the category and to the channel. Any disconnects will point you to the future audience.
Almost every time we advise a client, we encounter institutional bias within the brand team about who their target audience is. Marketers tend to assume that the larger universe of potential buyers looks exactly like that group of a couple hundred hardcore, longtime fans of the brand. You might have been told that the new brand’s audience is young women with a quirky sense of style; analysis might show that the core is actually senior citizens, and they’re using the products in a completely different way than expected. To build a bigger audience, you have to understand who your current users really are.
The Brand Manager’s To-Do List for an Acquisition
As they say, the only way to eat an elephant is bite by bite. So let’s outline the must-dos for several milestones in your leadership of the brand:
What’s Task One on Day One?
Your first priority is people, and there are three components:
1.Meet with the people who work on the brand you’re acquiring. Even though you don’t yet have firm plans for the business, be open, honest, and reassuring.
2. Engage with the stakeholders to identify and agree upon what success for this brand will look like.
3. Find a neutral third party to vet ideas and keep things honest.
What Are the Year One Priorities?
You’ll be focused on building. Use the full suite of consumer data tools at your disposal to build clarity and confidence that the prospective new audience you’ve identified is attainable. Create new design and marketing systems, put them in place, and dig into testing and learning. And get your sales team so jacked about the opportunity that they’re getting you in new doors.
What Does Year Three Look Like?
By Year 3, you should be seeing the truckloads of cash pull up to show that you’re right. If you don’t, you did something wrong — or, more likely, you didn’t do the right things. You didn’t invest in innovation, didn’t align the team with the new vision, didn’t follow the plan, didn’t do the deep brand strategy work. Instead, you just put a new face on the brand and thought that would do the trick.
Two Final Watchouts
We’ve coached plenty of marketing leaders and investors on how to steward a newly acquired brand, and we’ve seen two pain points you need to watch out for.
The first is communication. The people on both sides of an acquisition will be freaked out no matter what. The team associated with the business you’re absorbing may be REALLY devoted to the brand and feel like they’re lending their skills and dedication to the larger movement. Your existing team may worry about new colleagues, added work, losing their job because of redundancy. If you don’t communicate openly and frequently, the lack of information allows people to imagine the worst or assume the best, and both of these are probably wrong. Lack of communication about your intentions for the business creates fear and consternation, which translates to an exodus.
The second is design. Managers taking on a new brand almost universally want to quickly make their mark by jumping straight to rebranding and packaging. And that’s the biggest risk because it stands to wreck the brand if you don’t have the strategic foundation in place first.CMOs and investors in food, beverage, and wellness brands trust our team to guide them along the acquisition path and grow their business to unimagined heights. If a new brand is about to land on your plate, let’s get in touch now about what you need.