Successful Banking M&A Needs Creative Communication in 5 Key Areas

Numerous challenges and opportunities were uncovered during a recent merger between two banks. Through creative thinking and a total team approach, they were able to develop impactful ideas and solutions to successfully execute the merger.

It’s no secret that mergers are a massive undertaking. With multiple moving parts, key stakeholders and regulations to adhere to, it’s no easy feat to keep everything organized and on track. And that’s before marketing enters the mix.

Mergers are often perceived as a regulatory, legal, operational, IT and HR exercise, where the role of marketing is typically underestimated and underutilized. But that is far from ideal! Overcommunication — internally and externally — is key to the successful positioning of a merger, and that is where marketing comes in.

Pannos Marketing recently completed a merger with a client where we worked closely with the marketing and executive teams of both banks. Throughout the process we uncovered both challenges and opportunities, and through creative thinking and a total team approach, we were able to develop impactful ideas and solutions to successfully execute the merger. Here, we’ve split a complex process into five vital areas.

1. Naming and Branding

It’s important to determine what the name of the new institution will be early in the process. Whether a new name is developed or a pre-existing name from one of the two financial institutions will be carried forward, naming and branding will need to be one of the first orders of business. No matter how you spin it, at least one group of customers’ banking experience will be impacted and the name on their checkbook will change.

The brand equity as well as the locality of both financial institutions’ should be considered when identifying a new name and brand for the merged institution. If neither reflects the new total market area, or the vision for the new institution, a renaming could be beneficial. When determining the best direction for moving forward with your merger, it’s best to leverage external research and internal discoveries, layered with marketing insights.

2. Employee Communications

While often thought of as an HR concern, employee communications can be positively impacted by marketing’s involvement. During a recent merger, discovery sessions with the bank’s employees revealed that there was a lot of uncertainty regarding how the merger would impact their day-to-day lives, positions and ultimately, job security. To mitigate these concerns and encourage transparency and communication, the marketing team launched an employee newsletter.

Bluestone newsletter

The newsletter, which began as a bi-weekly communication, highlighted key dates and information, as well as a summary of what was being communicated to the bank’s customers. This helped the employees feel that they were in the know and eased many of their uncertainties.

To encourage further buy-in by employees, the marketing team also held a photo contest where employees could submit photos to be used in the bank’s calendar. Prizes were awarded for the 12 photos chosen, with a grand prize for the image that was used on the cover. Employees were able to vote for their favorites from the finalists, ultimately having the say in which photo ran on the cover.

Though the focus is often on customer communications, employees are your brand ambassadors and should receive just as much, if not more, love.

3. Customer/Member Communications

When in the midst of a merger — which can be all-consuming — it’s easy to fall under the assumption that everyone else is as “in the know” as you are. That is far from reality. Instead, many financial institution customers and members remain blissfully unaware that anything is happening until the last minute. Overcommunication and a strong internal marketing push can help resolve that fact.

Identify all the channels through which you typically communicate and leverage them all — Statement stuffers, in-branch signage, ATM screens/receipts, emails, online banking messages and more! Rather than simply sending the minimum required regulatory mailers, send several.

Bluestone customer eblast

As part of a recent merger, the bank opted to send postcards to all their customers announcing the new name and logo. When the official merger date was two months out, “welcome books” were sent to all customers with additional key dates and FAQs, ensuring that they had all the information needed.

In addition, consider a strong digital push to further the reach of your message with your customers. Many of your social media followers are likely existing customers, so that’s a good place to start. Beyond that, remarketing can be used to show ads to previous visitors of both institution’s websites. If needed, this can be further narrowed down to only users that have clicked to login to online banking.

As part of the digital campaign, a microsite is extremely beneficial to share important dates, FAQs and next steps. Unlike print pieces, the microsite can be easily updated as things progress, ensuring it’s always up to date.

4. Digital Presence

The digital presence of both institutions involved in a merger or acquisition is something that is incredibly important but often overlooked. A plan should be put in place well in advance to determine what changes are needed.

There may be changes to core systems happening in tandem with the other shifts which will impact your digital presence and capabilities. (Many institutions use these major changes as the opportunity to roll out online applications.) Regardless, the websites for both financial institutions will need to be updated, and a new website may even be considered. Google locations and local listings should also all be updated to reflect the correct name once the merger or acquisition is complete.

Bluestone Facebook communication

Don’t forget about your social media platforms! Often an afterthought, many consumers — particularly Gen Z and Millennials — get their information from social channels. Ensure you have a strategic plan in place in regard to communicating and transitioning names, locations and brands on your pages, as well as the potential launch of any new social presence.

5. External Communications/Launch

Though the instinct for some is to focus on communications with employees and existing customers, don’t forget about your market as a whole. It’s safe to say that your competitors will be looking to leverage any potential unease to their benefit, so be there to combat it.

Bluestone newspaper ad

Product specials and giveaways — we’re talking cash, not free swag — will make a splash in the market and help to keep a positive focus on the merger. Just like your employees need to feel the love, your customers and the market need to feel confident and excited about the change.

Navigating the waters of a mergers is far from smooth sailing, and there’s always more involved than initially meets the eye. A merger or acquisition is similar to a stone being thrown into water. Just like the ripples the stone creates, the areas impacted by a merger reach far and wide. These are complex and require a well thought-out plan and detailed timeline, especially if new branding or name change is involved.

Throughout the process, keep top of mind that overcommunication is key! One letter to your customers is not enough to ensure they know what is going on and what it means for them, and it does even less for your employees. Ensuring that the message is received requires a solid communications plan with multiple and varied touchpoints.

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