There is often a difficult decision to be made when crafting a corporate website, as to what should be served within a single site (and domain) and what demands multiple ‘micro-sites’ (separate domains, potentially).
This challenge is amplified by the ever-evolving culture of mergers and acquisitions, with corporations increasingly an amalgamation of numerous businesses; all housed under one roof, perhaps, but commonly operating in silos.
The extent to which they choose to operate, and be perceived, as a single harmonious entity, plays a significant role in finding an answer to this conundrum.
Brand strategy as an extension of business strategy
Before we consider digital strategy, let’s start with brand strategy and a few fundamental truths.
The first ‘home truth’ is that the communication challenge following a merger or acquisition is as much internal as it is external. By its very nature, the process of merging with or acquiring another business involves the marrying together of two different internal cultures and the integration of new personalities into the new/parent business.
The second home truth is that mergers and acquisitions have timeframes and often turn around very quickly, leaving little pause for breath let alone strategic thought. They also tend to be fairly sensitive. These two ingredients – sensitive change, happening at speed – only adds to the pressure of getting internal comms right. Brands must, therefore, employ techniques that embed the idea quickly, in parallel with external pressures.
Credibility and relevance
The premise that sound brand strategy follows sound business strategy infers that business strategy must be accurately reflected, and part of the proposition, in order for there to be clarity around the added value that merging with or acquiring a business generates. The beginnings of that brand strategy should reflect the new world that both parties are coming together to create.
Former Interbrand CEO Rune Gustafson, a non-executive director of Graphic Alliance and now President EMEA at Prophet, says there are two fundamental things to take into consideration (amongst others); credibility and relevance.
Making it believable
“Today we merge, tomorrow we take on Apple”… for some brands, that statement would not be beyond the realms of possibility. For most, however, the need exists to realistically consider the scope of the new brand and position it accordingly. The question should be asked as to what these two, previously distinct, entities can achieve when combined? What have they been doing before; in what contexts are they already established, differentiated and successful? Making it all believable is critical to earning internal buy-in and enthusing staff toward make it a reality.
Ensuring it resonates
In short, who gives a damn and why? Why is the merging of businesses significant? Why did everyone set about doing this in the first place? It might have been dictated by a shift in consumer trends or it could be that company A’s strength in market A stands to be bolstered by company B’s strength in market B. Whatever the reason, clarity is fundamental to ensuring it resonates – internally and externally.
All for one or one for all
Whether to merge a business’ digital properties into one domain or maintain separate domains is a logical question to consider when merging or acquiring a business.
Technically speaking, there is a compelling practical argument for breaking down the silos that often constrain businesses internally, in order to create one, consolidated online presence. A tangible example wherein merging or acquired businesses would benefit greatly from a ‘strength in numbers’ approach is in search engines, where many factors combine to contribute to better rankings.
“Having all parties pull together towards a common goal, with quality content creation multiplied and the load spread across the business, is a powerful advantage, each party contributing to each others’ success”.
Included in this matrix of contributing factors is the overall size of the site, the number of high-quality inbound links it has received and how old the domain is (with varying degrees of significance). Having all parties pull together towards a common goal, with quality content creation multiplied and the load spread across the business, is a powerful advantage, each party contributing to each others’ success.
The potential for efficiency doesn’t end here, either. Shared learning of a single content management system and even shared functionality – in the context of a ‘multi-site’ environment wherein all sites within a single network share their code base – can be equally as fruitful.
Meanwhile, within businesses wherein the opportunity exists for cross-selling, a consolidated presence also exposes the customer to all aspects of the brand’s offering.
Conversely, for businesses with little or no potential for cross-selling, where the acquired brand is ubiquitous or where it offers a bespoke solution for a niche audience, maintaining segregation may be beneficial. Businesses operating within niche markets, where market share is already weighted in their favour, a wider array of services might be seen as a distraction, rather than a complement.
Remaining customer / client-centric
Critically, corporates must look beyond their internal structures to identify what makes the most sense to their audience(s). From digital communication organised around departments and business units, to solutions targeted at the needs of customers and with the burden of joined up thinking embraced by the business, not the customer. This is nothing new, yet it remains a continuous trap that many fall foul of.
In the context of an acquisition, it’s importance is further amplified, since the incoming business inherently brings with it a group of customers and potential prospects that may be new to the parent company and require an investment of time in order to earn their trust.
One reason why corporates often maintain separation is for technical reasons. In an attempt to move at a pace more comparable with that of its audience, companies forgo internal processes – particularly IT procedures – to create something new and standalone. Although the business need is understandable and the principle of keeping pace with demand is legitimate and often unanswered, it is not necessarily in the customer’s best interests.
“From digital communication organised around departments and units, to solutions targeted at the needs of customers and with the burden of joined up thinking embraced by the business, not the customer.”
Asking the right questions
To aid the decision-making process, here are 5 key questions to consider:
- How ubiquitous are the brands – can the parent brand survive fragmentation or would the acquired brand(s) need, or benefit from, the parent brand to be successful online?
- Is there the opportunity for cross-selling between the two brands?
- Are there any practical reasons for separating the entities online, such as regional selling restrictions?
- Could the incoming business ever hope to compete online, specifically within search engines, on their own merit or does it need a helping hand?
- What role does brand play in the customer’s decision-making criteria?