Billion Dollar Exhibitors: Integrating Multiple Brands After Mergers & Acquisitions
Branding is always a challenge for any company: How do you position yourself in the minds of your buyers so they see you as the best choice in their industry and market segment?
But when your company earns over a billion dollars in annual revenue and exhibits at trade shows, you likely have a bigger branding challenge: How to manage your multiple brands. Because, as a billion-dollar exhibitor, you likely have more than one brand to promote at trade shows.
Multiple Brands Through Multiple Buyouts
To reach a billion dollars in sales, it is possible that your company grew solely through consistent organic sales growth of your parent company in its original market. But it’s much more likely that your company grew to billion-dollar status by buying other companies.
That creates an unexpected new problem: When you buy companies, you are also buying their brands.
What you do with these multiple acquired brands is the crux of this article. Let’s discuss some more of the problem of dealing with these brands before we propose solutions:
- You may have bought brands that are strong in an industry you’re not in yet, to gain a quicker entry into that industry. Perhaps you gained brands with a new technology better than yours. Or, brands that are weaker but have a book of business you wanted. They could be brands that are strong in a certain area of the country. All these acquired brands have value that you don’t want to simply throw away, but also that you don’t want to overly complicate your own brand messaging.
- You are also buying new customers. These customers may have already been your customers, too. But their perception of the brand you bought is almost certainly different than the perception they have of your company. You want to keep them as customers – this may be the core value of your acquisition. However, they may have more loyalty to your acquired brand than to yours, at least within the segment of your acquired brand.
- You also bought new employees. They may admire your brand, and are excited to be working with a leader in their industry. They may be ambivalent about joining your company. Or they may have spent the last several years viewing your brand as the enemy. You were the company that kept winning at their expense. So, they may be unwilling to quickly abandon their previous brand. You have to diplomatically bring them along.
So how do you integrate these brands into your brand? How do you retain your acquired customers and employees? And, how do you present these brands in relationship to each other, in your trade show exhibits, one of the most visible venues of your entire marketing program?
After decades of working with billion-dollar exhibitors, we’ve found that it’s the answer to one key question that determines how you handle all of this:
How strong are your parent and secondary brands compared to each other?
These acquired, secondary brands have different names depending on your company. You may call them a sister company, or a division, or a subsidiary.
There are four main scenarios when considering the relationship between a large company’s parent and secondary (mostly acquired) brands:
1. The parent company brand is strong/stronger and the secondary brands are weak/weaker.
This first brand scenario is very common. An industry leader goes about buying companies in their industry or in related industries, in an effort to grow faster, knock-out competitors, acquire technology they don’t have, enter new markets, and gain efficiencies of scale. Parent companies often stop using the brands of their acquired companies, causing an ongoing struggle for brand consistency versus divisional independence. The big question is how fast a parent brand should stop using their acquired brands. We’ll tackle this later.
2. Both the parent company brand and the secondary brands are strong.
The second scenario happens less often but still is fairly common. The parent company buys a leading brand in a subset of their industry, and does not want to erode that value by changing the acquired brand to their own. Thus, they champion both their parent brand and their acquired brands. This is more common with business-to-consumer brands. With business-to-business brands, it may be because the acquired brand is strong in a market segment (usually lower-cost) the parent company does not want associated with their brand (usually higher quality). The main challenges are maintaining clear market segment boundaries, and allowing independence without excessive exhibiting costs.
3. The parent company brand is weak and the secondary brands are strong.
The third scenario is where the parent company has the funds to buy other companies, but doesn’t have as much brand equity as the brands they have acquired. Thus, the parent company stays relatively hidden, allowing their acquired brands (which may be product brands) to continue as before. This is also more common with business-to-consumer brands. Even with the acquired brands being stronger than the brand of the parent company, there is still the opportunity for gaining exhibiting efficiencies managed by the parent company.
4. Both the parent company brand and the secondary brands are weak.
The fourth scenario is rare. The parent company and secondary acquired brands are both either weak from underinvestment or from some negative events associated with them. These companies may accelerate branding efforts to grow their brand perception so it matches their actual market position. Or, if the brands are sufficiently damaged, they may look to create an entirely new brand.
Here’s how these four brand scenarios look when plotted out on a graph, based on strength of the parent and secondary brands:
With almost any brand scenario, the most common issues are with inter-divisional friction, miscommunication, and responsibility. And the opportunity for economies of scale among all the brands, in marketing knowledge and logistics sharing.
How to represent your acquired brands in your trade show exhibits?
Your billion-dollar company has bought brands in the past, is buying brands soon, and will buy more brands in the future. How do you get the most value out of those acquired brands, while continuing to build your own parent brand? And how does that dance play out through the years within your trade show exhibits? This challenge may play out as how exhibit graphics evolve over time, what messages your marketing presents, and even if you consolidate brands into one exhibit versus retain multiple booths at major shows.
As we wrote above, the most important factor in understanding how to represent your acquired brands is how strong they are in relation to your parent brand. Going more granular, it also determines the pace at which you transition acquired brands to your parent brand. Our experienced advice is this:
The stronger the acquired brand, the longer the transition to the parent brand
Let’s explain this rule by looking at four transition scenarios, based on brand strength:
WEAK ACQUIRED BRANDS: You may change the branding of an acquired brand to your parent brand within one or two years. For example, you could show both brands in your exhibit graphics with equal weight the first year of the acquisition, to let the market know you have made this acquisition. Your strategy and messaging are all about the acquisition – what new advantages your acquired brand’s customers will receive by now being your parent’s brand customers. And then the next year, your exhibit graphics evolve to only represent your parent company’s brand.
MEDIUM-STRENGTH ACQUIRED BRANDS: With medium strength in your acquired brand, you stretch the complete brand change of the acquired brand to your parent brand to three or four years. For example, you could show both brands in your exhibit graphics with equal weight the first year of the acquisition, to let the market know you have made this acquisition. Then you have an intermediate step for a year or two, where you still show both your acquired and parent brands in the exhibit graphics, but the parent brand is given more value (larger, more times, in color, higher) And then in the third or fourth year, your exhibit graphics shift again, to only represent your parent company’s brand.
HIGH-STRENGTH ACQUIRED BRANDS: With a high-strength acquired brand, you stretch the complete brand change of the acquired brand to your parent brand to five to six years. You still show both brands in your exhibit graphics with equal weight the first and perhaps even the second year of the acquisition. Then you have two or three intermediate steps for three to four or five years, where you still show both your acquired and parent brands in the exhibit graphics, but the parent brand is given progressively more value (larger, more times, in color, higher), while the acquired brand gets less value. And then in the fifth to sixth year, your exhibit graphics shift again, to only represent your parent company’s brand. This longer schedule lets you retain full value of your high-strength acquisition. And, by committing to this schedule up front, it helps set the tone with the employees of your acquired brand that while you are not rushing the change to your parent brand, you are committed to making the complete change eventually.
HIGHEST-STRENGTH ACQUIRED BRANDS: With a highest strength acquired brand, you decide up front that you are going to retain the acquired brand forever. This is usually when the acquired brand is strong in a market position you wouldn’t want associated with your parent brand, or because the acquired brand is a strong consumer brand. Thus, there is no schedule to making a brand transition. For companies with weaker parent brands, they may sometimes wish to represent their parent brand as the owner of this (and other) acquired brands in a “house of brands” style exhibit.
Here’s a visual representation of how fast to transition acquired brands to parent brands in your trade show exhibits, based on the relative strength of your acquired and parent brands:
Scheduling exhibit graphic transition of acquired brands to your parent brand
We have just shown how the relative strength of your parent and acquired brands affect the best length of time to transition acquired brands to your parent brand. Let’s take that theory and put it into a calendar. Below is an example schedule of how 5 brands, acquired in 2021 and 2022, could be evolved towards the parent brand over several years.
For each acquired brand, by considering its brand strength compared to your parent brand, you decide how long you will stretch its transition to your parent brand. The shortest range shown is 2 years, and the longest is 6 years, as indicated with the orange rectangles. You could also decide, as shown with Acquired Brand 5, to retain that acquired brand forever, and show it thus on the schedule.
We’ve graphically portrayed the relative value given for each stage of the brand transition with the font size and color weight. This is a very rough approximation of what you can do, and what our clients have done with their own logos on their exhibit graphics. As mentioned before, during the transition to a parent brand, it is usually represented larger, more times, in color, and higher than its acquired brands.
Why bother scheduling this? Because, by proactively setting up an Acquired Brands Transition Schedule, you make explicit within your team your agreed-upon plans for integrating brands into your company. This will help avoid last-minute internal battles, multiple exhibit design revisions, and more expensive graphic printing rush charges. It also gives you a framework for quickly planning for new brand acquisitions as you add them to the schedule.
Smarter planning for acquired brands within billion-dollar exhibitors
Billion-dollar revenue companies that exhibit at trade shows almost always have multiple brands, often acquired through buy-outs, mergers and acquisitions. It’s an ongoing challenge to integrate and retain the value of those brands, to also retain the loyalty of their customers and employees.
We hope the concepts and frameworks we have presented here give your billion-dollar exhibiting company new insights into how to portray your multiple brands for maximum effect, lower exhibiting costs, and minimal conflict.
Let us know if you would like to discuss these ideas further, and to see examples of client exhibits that follow these practices.
Also in this series: Billion-Dollar Exhibitors: 14 Reasons to Centralize or Decentralize Your Trade Show Marketing