Building a platform via M&A? You can’t afford to ignore branding.
Acquiring people, products or technology typically means acquiring brands.
The more brands you combine, the greater the complexity integrating the businesses and clarifying the value - and, potentially, the longer time to exit.
Nearly 30% of PE-backed companies undertake at least one add-on acquisition, compared to fewer than 20% that did so a decade ago. More than 25% of add-ons are now being acquired by platforms with at least five total add-on deals. (Pitchbook 2018).
A common default for acquiring companies is to integrate by retaining all of the brands - leaving it to customers to figure out what’s what. That’s a big mistake. Platforms by their nature demand that users trust there to be a strong foundation. Look disjointed and customers will assume you are.
Which brand(s) to keep, which to sunset, or when it’s time to rebrand entirely.
If you maintain multiple brands, how they relate to one another and what the right story is to extend customers across the portfolio;
If you build around a single brand, how to transition equity from the old to the new.
The time to address branding is not when you suddenly face the need for a new name or story after the deal. Build branding into your approach to due diligence if your goal is to create a strong platform for growth.
This simple framework will help identify and scope issues that inevitably emerge with platform add-ons.
Case in point: Affinitiv
Affinitiv, an automotive aftersales platform, was built by acquisition in 2016. Alongside complex operational integration, a swift transition from a set of acquired brands into one new corporate brand reinforced a vision to give dealers control over the entire customer lifecycle.
CIP Capital, a private equity firm, saw the opportunity to create a new market leader in this direct marketing technology space, a crowded and specialized category ripe for consolidation.
Affinitiv was born with the simultaneous acquisition of four (mostly) complementary companies - OneCommand, TimeHighway, DPS, and Peak Performance. None of the existing brands had the ability to grow into the bigger story this new platform was poised to tell. And, a reliance on heritage brands would undermine the promise of a game-changing end-to-end solution built to foster deeper, smarter relationships.
CIP recognized the opportunity to establish a new leader in the market and to unify the organization under a new common purpose. Once the Affinitiv brand was established, future add-ons - like the 2017 addition of WSA Solutions - had a blueprint to guide brand integration.