Recently, there have been several high profile solar mergers and acquisitions, and I’m positive there will be more. In fact, I’ve just completed my own M&A, and so I thought I’d share my perspective for the process of evolving two brands into one.
First, let me say that mergers and acquisitions are healthy for the growth of the solar industry, and I encourage more of them.There’s plenty of competition in every sector of the solar industry, so I’m not worried about any installer or manufacturer cornering a solar segment internationally, nationally, or regionally.
It may be a cliché, but there is strength in numbers. So, if you have a friendly local installation competitor or are a manufacturer whose strengths can complement a competitor or perhaps add synergy to an existing client, don’t shut that M&A idea down. Make a call and see what happens.
So, let’s say you hit it off, the lawyers are relatively happy, and you sign the papers and become one. I’m sure that was all tough work, but now there’s brand work to do. It’s going to take time to find the new solar company brand identity that represents the best of both companies. Perhaps one of the existing brand identities will suffice, but even then, the company has changed and has an opportunity to refresh that existing brand.
With that in mind, here’s some general advice. It’s incomplete and certainly won’t fit every kind of merger, but I hope it will point potential partners in the right direction.
Do brand research. This is a marriage, and when two people come together, they each have a completely separate history. The same is true for companies. They each have separate brand stories to tell, including different negative qualities and different positive qualities.
Customers may love one company’s service and hate the other company’s financing terms. One website is easy to use and attractive, and the other is ugly—but it has great SEO that drives organic search traffic.
Ideally, you want to combine the best qualities of both solar brands and toss out the worst, but you won’t know that without customer surveys and an internal or external brand audit of both entities. Only then can you start building the elements of the new combined brand.
Create a new mission statement that everyone can remember. Few people know or can remember their company’s mission statements, and that means they’re worthless. I mean, why have a mission if you can’t remember what it is?
Even when a larger company swallows up a smaller one, your new company has the opportunity to look at its new self and build a memorable mission statement, slogan, and logo that truly reflects the company’s reason for being in business. That brief statement should guide every move the new entity does from now until the next merger. It should be so simple and memorable that every employee knows it by heart and understands it.
Think Nike: “Just do it.” That’s technically a slogan, I know, but it also embodies a mission, doesn’t it? They’re three words that are so simple, yet so deep and can guide all employees and inspire customers, as well.
(By the way, Nike’s real mission statement is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Note that it’s also simple, but I still think “Just Do It” encompasses that and more.)
Let go of the old brand, and embrace a new one. I call this the Brady Bunch Brand rule. You’ve got two families coming together, and they all want to hold on to their old lives and ways of doing things, but as with the Brady Bunch, they’re forced to grow and let go of their way.
To resist change, especially with an M&A, is to deny the reality that something different has been created. Even when large brands swallow a smaller brand, there will be adjustments on both sides.
The larger entity’s influence, processes, name, and logo may all remain the same, but that may not always be the best strategy. After all, something has changed internally, right? So, even a slight logo revision could bring positive brand attention, enticing old customers to visit the new website and find out what’s changed and why it matters to them.
The customer might even discover (or re-discover) your brand’s new slogan and mission statement, and perhaps they’ll like the new you. That may then remind them to reorder or refer you to someone else who wants your product or service.
Don’t rush it. Finally, don’t feel you have to plow into a new branding process right after the papers are signed. Your new brand, mission statement, slogan, and voice should be carefully considered. In fact, all of these elements may become more clear and make organic sense after working together for a while.
For example, regular readers may have noticed that much of my UnThink Solar website and bio remain largely the same—for now. As I mentioned, it’s a process that shouldn’t be rushed. I do know that while the brand will change under the Impress Labs banner, we all agree that the “UnThink” creative marketing philosophy will remain.
And so I will continue to end my blog posts by reminding my solar marketing friends to …UnThink Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is the Chief Marketing Officer of Impress Lab’s new Solar Lab, and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are his own. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the UnThink Solar newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.