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How to Integrate Marketing Teams After Acquisitions

 

One of the biggest opportunities post acquisition is to find efficiencies on the marketing side, and this is often an ignored area because there are usually a lot of efficiencies in sales, product, finance and services.

Within marketing, there are five domains that you can look to integrate:

  1. Brand: making multiple business units and product lines look like one entity.
  2. Programs: initiatives core to the investment thesis to grow the business
  3. Teams: you have multiple business units with their own marketing teams and so you have to try to find synergies 
  4. Data Governance: you have customer data now living in multiple databases
  5. Marketing Stack: different business units are likely spending on the same tools or overlapping tools and paying for both

 

Brand

The biggest mistake is when companies focus on branding as the primary driver of value creation from the marketing function after an acquisition for the following reasons:

  1. Rebrands take a lot of time and effort, without any additional value created. They do not, in themselves, drive demand and growth for the business.
  2. Rebrands are a huge distraction and have a high opportunity cost. As resources are dedicated to rebrands, time is taken away from initiatives that can drive demand and growth.
  3. If the acquired company has any form of brand equity, rebranding leads you to give up that brand equity. In some instances, acquired companies have very loyal customer bases, a large market share in sub-segments and referral value — value that was likely factored into the cost of acquiring the business.
  4. Rebrands expose disruption risk. For example, if in the interest of a rebrand you decide to merge websites (we've seen this with our clients over and over again) to make it look like one company, you can lose a lot of website traffic or SEO value during the transition that would have been able to keep if you hadn't merged the websites in the interest of a rebrand.

In the first 100 days, these are all forms of lost enterprise value because you lose time, effort and also take a step backwards from a demand and growth perspective. Now you need to claw your way back to where it was when you acquired it. 

That being said, brand integrations can be valuable in specific circumstances. Here are two specific scenarios:

  1. The acquired company does not have a big brand in the marketplace but the acquiring company does. By integrating the brands, you can give the acquired company a lift in the marketplace. A good example of this is when Cisco acquired Webex. Having Cisco's massive brand behind Webex gives it a huge advantage in the market.
  2. The integration of brands allows you to tell a bigger brand story in the market which can help you drive more cross-sell, upsells and help you land a bigger chunk of the market that you previously wouldn't have been able to capture. For example, now that Terminus has acquired Sigstr, it can connect Sigstr’s signature marketing platform with its overall message of Account Based Marketing.  

You have to be very deliberate in deciding if the brand integration project you want to launch fits the latter scenario or the former. In many cases, you can probably capture that value without necessarily needing brand integration. 

There are real risks with risking political capital on a rebrand as well. The average tenure of a CMO is only about 43 months so if you're investing into a huge rebrand, you're investing a lot of your internal social capital on the rebrand, in the hopes that it will drive enterprise value. If you spend six months into brand integration but the pipeline doesn't increase, your social capital in the organization is going to decline significantly, especially if you have to explain this during a board meeting. Then, you've actually wasted six months of time that was available to you and now your time on hand to create value is even shorter which has real implications from a turnover standpoint.

A way to bridge this gap is with a shortcut, where with modest adjustments you can bring two companies closer together from a brand perspective. Companies who have done this include Webex (Cisco), Instagram (Facebook), Sigstr (Terminus), Wild Apricot (Personify), GoAnywhere (HelpSystems), Adespresso (Hootsuite) and more. It's far less investment and you can focus on the far bigger value creators in terms of where the business needs to go and what's in the investment thesis.

 

Marketing Programs

Your biggest lever after an acquisition will almost always be programs. Each company is acquired for very specific reasons. Often, there are 4-5 levers which are outlined in the investment thesis as the main value drivers:

  1. Greenfield: How big is the Total Addressable Market and how much of it is left to capture?
  2. White space: How much opportunity is within our existing base to upsell and cross-sell customers now that we have an additional product line to offer?
  3. Expansion: How much can we expand existing accounts through levers such as pricing for the acquired product line?
  4. Efficiencies: How many existing functions, programs and spend are focused on the same activities?

As you look at those 4 levers, you can use a RICE methodology to prioritize the levers based on reach, impact, confidence, and effort. For example, if an expansion initiative is in the investment thesis and can drive a lot of value from the existing customer base (e.g. pricing increase), then supporting that initiative will likely get priority over a lot of other levers available from a marketing integration standpoint.

 

Marketing Team

Connect to programs are the people we need to deliver on those programs. For example, if demand generation is identified as a core value drive post-acquisition, ensuring the business has a strong demand generation function is critical. If certain roles are missing to help demand generation — like a paid search agency — we need to identify that gap and then fill that gap to help the program succeed. 

At the same time, we need to look at whether or not there's an existing person in another business unit that can staff that function if we can repurpose people and move them around. Or if there are too many people doing the same kind of role, we can potentially merge those roles to find efficiencies for the organization.

This is where building centers of expertise internally is critical. In most cases, there can be 4 key domains of centralized expertise in a marketing organization:

  1. Demand Generation — one team can manage campaigns and playbooks across multiple product lines
  2. Content — one team can manage the content roadmap, resources and freelancers and prioritize according to the biggest ROI drivers for the business
  3. Events — one team
  4. Marketing Operations

In each of these cases, one team can manage campaigns, playbooks, roadmaps, systems, processes, reporting and resources for multiple product lines because of the domain of expertise required to run these. Individual business units won’t have the expertise needed to capture the value in each of these domains.

Each of these functions also needs a leader. In some instances, a leader will be present in the business unit within one business unit that can take over the function for the whole business. In other instances, the role needs to be hired externally. There will also be duplication of roles and functions that we can integrate or repurpose for other areas of marketing.

The CMO's role in many ways is to build these centers of expertise, while managing dedicated marketing teams for each business unit that cannot be leveraged via a shared services model. This will differ on a case-by-case basis.

 

Marketing Data Warehouse

With multiple acquisitions, you have data sitting in multiple different warehouses. If a customer interacts with one product line via the sales team and then interacts with a different product line via the website, your marketing data warehouse needs to capture those interactions to understand that prospect’s full buyer journey. 

If you're trying to build a list of the 2,000 ideal customer profiles for your organization that is shared by multiple product lines, your marketing data warehouse across all product lines needs to be connected. This requires a lot of effort and investment into creating the right marketing infrastructure, especially as acquisitions ramp up.

Unfortunately, this work often takes a backseat to flashier items like Brand integrations but it is far more important. It is the foundation upon which marketing can be scaled inside of a platform company. While brand give the initial impression of one organization, data integration and experience makes it feel like one organization.

 

Marketing Technology Stack

Connected to data warehousing is the marketing stack. If one product line is on Marketo, while another is on Hubspot, data integration becomes much more challenging. 

There are also huge costs associated with each of these platforms. As more acquisitions are added, you could have multiple product lines spending on the same tool in different instances across the marketing stack costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is an opportunity for finding operational efficiency.

There is, however, a huge risk to merging systems into one. Without careful deliberation, you can break an organization as you're trying to merge the data together. Unless the costs are prohibitively high, this is an area you may put in the “important not urgent” column as you plan your marketing integration. 

You can likely drive a lot of value through marketing programs and strategic drivers in the investment thesis without messing around with these components right away. If you’re acquiring multiple companies a year, then this area is worth investing in to build a process around for future acquisitions as well.

 

Conclusion

Overall, you need to address all five of these pillars. In terms of order of importance and value to the business, here is how to rank them:

  1. Marketing Programs
  2. Team
  3. Data governance 
  4. Marketing stack
  5. Brand

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