Keeping Your Brand Through an Acquisition

(left to right) Glenn Weinstein, co-founder of Appirio, Manpreet Singh, General Manager of Appirio India, Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro Ltd., and Chris Barbin, CEO of Appirio agreed on the value of keeping the Appirio brand following acquisition.

Acquisitions happen for many reasons. Accelerating growth. Financial challenges for the soon to be acquired. Taking out a competitor. Buying (rather than building) a particular technology. Cash in the bank. And on … and on. Of course, most of the time, the real reasons may not even be crystal clear to the outside world, but inside the often cited motivation from the acquirer to the new acquiree is, “the brand” and its people.

In fact, the brand was one of Wipro’s expressed reasons for acquiring Appirio last fall. It was decided that the Appirio brand would remain, so that both parties could leverage the momentum and reputation we have built over the past ten years. But that decision was only reached after negotiations at the highest level had hashed out the pros and cons. Everyone had to be comfortable with the decision.

But, what does “the brand” really mean? And if it’s true — that a brand’s value can drive an acquisition — how does an acquired company maintain that brand and its obvious value through the haze of integration?

I can’t speak for every company trying to maintain (or more accurately, GROW!) their brand through an acquisition, but I can tell you that we are doing it with a relentless, concerted focus on three things.

1: Make a stand, but keep an open mind.

In an acquisition, some change is inevitable. But there will be some things worth fighting for and the advice here is the same I give to parents with a toddler; “Pick your battles. Win the battles you pick.” Many acquisitions go south when the negotiations seem to pull in everything under the sun, diving into the weeds on issues that are either inconsequential or political. Instead, if you are clear about the issues that are core to maintaining your brand, negotiations can proceed in good faith.

In the case of Appirio, remaining Appirio, was non-negotiable. The brand had wide recognition in the market and NPS scores that are through the roof! It’s certainly not something the Appirio leadership team or Wipro wanted to walk away from.

Appirio’s core values of customer, team and fun are demonstrated through the company’s many community involvement efforts in communities across the country and globally.

Now it’s time to LIVE that decision every day in seemingly small actions. A great example for us came in the form of keeping or changing Appirio’s core values. When the founders started the company they agreed on three core values and three hiring principals. Core values being customers, team, and fun. Hiring principals being trust, grey matter, and professionalism. While we plan to embrace the spirit of Wipro fully and build it into the DNA of Appirio, our core values will live on.

Every potential Appirian gets evaluated on trust, grey matter, and professionalism — that’s how we keep the bar high. Likewise, when we think about culture and leadership it’s about focusing on our customers, building great teams, and having fun along the way.  At the end of the day we are a people based business, and our people are our brand. I will never fund billboards or airport signage to grow our brand, our investments go to making sure our people live and breath Appirio’s vision and values.

It’s not always a battle and it’s not an us vs. them situation, which is why I say keep an open mind. The goal is to grow the brand, which requires the maturity and introspection to know the stuff you can do better with the help of the acquired company.

2: Merge cultures.

When “the people” is cited as the reason for an acquisition, what they really mean is the culture. In any company, people will come and go. The culture of a company should remain as people at every level cycle in and out (at least if it’s a culture worth keeping).

But here’s the tricky part for an acquisition — the culture in the trenches of a company could be very different from how that company’s culture is understood in the c-suite where deals are hammered out. A little self awareness goes a long way, and so do other voices from levels up and down the organizational chart.

During our acquisition by Wipro, we’ve been very proactive about involving a diverse sample of roles from a number of teams. These people are where any grandiose culture or value statement actually comes to life. They know what’s real and how it impacts them on a day-to-day basis. And like identifying corporate non-negotiables, the employees will have their own treasured aspects of the culture. Find some of these and fight for them.

In our case, a quick win was the dress code. Appirio is a hip, comfortably casual kind of place. We love our jeans and dreaded the thought of digging out our Dockers from the back of the closet. We’re cooler than that! And we’ve been fortunate that not only did Wipro listen to our fashion sense, they actually decided it was a good time to ease up their own dress code.

The Appirio “comfortably casual” dress code remains as demonstrated by (left to right) Appirio founders Glenn Weinstein, Mike O’Brien, Narinder Singh, and Chris Barbin.

It certainly helps if the acquiring company, which is typically larger and more established than the company they’re acquiring, approaches merging of the cultures with an open mind. Bigger isn’t always better, and it’s great to pick and choose policies, processes, and culturally minded people to help find the best way for both companies to evolve.

3: Sustain consistency.

It may not be perfect, but it has to be GREAT. Now that you have your brand and culture decisions sorted out, you have to roll it out. After all, if people are not living the brand and consistently communicating the joint value proposition all you have are slews of PowerPoint slides and a fancy website.

Appirians from the office in Jaipur, India, are living the brand with the same core values as the state-side Appirians and offering customers the same exceptional experiences.

Like many acquisitions in the global economy, Wipro and Appirio have key people scattered across every time zone on planet Earth. And now, we have this amazing opportunity to educate 170,000 new coworkers about who Appirio is and how we can work together for the the benefit of our customers and company revenues.

Consistency is key to unlocking our joint potential. It has been Appirio’s secret sauce in shifting the brand from “the cloud guys,” to leaders in creating amazing customer and worker experiences. This is why we all have to know our new joint value proposition, and to be able to articulate it accurately and consistently every single time.

I’m kind of nuts about trying to make it perfect and ensuring the process is in place to get everyone enabled. I think I drove my new colleagues at Wipro crazy the first few weeks of the integration by digging my heels in on sending out a joint value proposition. I was not trying to be difficult, but I’ve learned the hard way that once a strategy or a vision is out….it’s out. It replicates like a virus in a petri dish. If you release it without enablement and when it’s just good and not great, people change it or make it what they think it should be, and before we know it no one is on brand and on message.

They say in sales that time kills deals. In acquisitions, especially those where the acquired company is maintaining its brand, ambiguity is the grim reaper. It’s critical to fight for what’s important and then communicate it clearly to every level of both organizations. Short of that, the culture, brand and, ultimately, the bottom line will wilt on the vine.

About the Author

As Chief Marketing Officer, Latané Conant runs Appirio’s global go-to-market strategy, solution innovation, branding, and marketing programs. She has played an instrumental role in transitioning Appirio from a cloud consulting firm to a truly innovative company delivering the future of worker and customer experiences.

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Appirio is a global services company that helps customers compete and win in the cloud.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Latané Conant is chief marketing officer at Appirio.