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What is it about M&A branding?

News has come about that CVS and Aetna are considering a merger.

Poor bastards.

For anyone who has been through one, the words merger and acquisition can create a level of dread surpassing those that come with oral surgery or an extended stay from know-it-all in-laws.

There’s no getting around it: they are painful. If you were listening to this instead of reading, you would have heard me say “painful” with the “a” sound drawn out for about ten minutes. They are only fun for the people who get to cash a big check and head to the beach. Anyone who sticks around? Not so much.

But why? What is it about mergers and acquisitions? What makes them any different from any other kind of corporate change?

First off, is the brand. Brands are emotional by design, and that applies to employees as much as it does to clients. It’s hard for both to shift their allegiances away from something they love, especially if their impressions of the alternative are neutral if not negative.

Voids abound. Information voids, emotional voids, sometimes even physical voids can take their toll on people. Longtime colleagues are suddenly missing, no one knows what’s going on, desks sit empty, or commutes change.

Then, there’s the money. It seems to simultaneously fly around like a swarm of bees and as scarce as martinis at a church service.

Mergers and acquisitions are risky. When brands are in limbo, client relationships are as well. Competitors seize opportunities to woo away customers and talent, people who may already be as pessimistic about the change as everyone else.

If that’s not enough to put everyone on edge, everyone knows you only have one chance to get it right! No pressure, right?

Throughout it all, if you keep your most important constituents in mind, they will continue to care about your brand, or in this case, perhaps, learn to care about your new brand.

Fear not! There are plenty of actions you can take before, during, and after mergers and acquisitions to numb the pain and keep everyone in your camp.

CVS and Aetna — or anyone else in their situation — should think carefully about the following before and after the deal is inked.


  1. Figure out the migration costs and build that into the price of the deal. Don’t take money away from operations (read: marketing).
  2. Think through all naming conventions, past, present, and future.
  3. Build consensus and support for brand-related issues among leadership. The word “leader” is in there for a reason. Make them earn it.
  4. Plan for the messaging voids. Think ahead for what type of questions employees and customers are going to have and work up a way to answer so you’re not caught off-guard or responding too slowly. If you do not fill messaging voids soon, others will — perhaps even the competition — and probably not correctly.


  1. Celebrate the past. Make it clear that the work up until this date has made the merger day possible.
  2. Blur! Do everything you can to blur the lines dividing “us” and “them.”
  3. Give them something to look forward to. Continually remind them of what they, as a unified force, will accomplish in your market and for your customer.
  4. Include everyone in the journey. Keep people in one section of the business up-to-date on what’s happening in another, particularly if those divisions are drawn down legacy brand lines. This step helps reinforce the “we’re all in this together” mentality.

There are more, many more, things to consider but these are some of the most important.

This content is taken from an upcoming book that Douglas Spencer is writing. Interested in learning more about the new branding book? Let me know! 

— Douglas Spencer

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