Building Brand Value with an Eye to Exit Strategy

Brand strength helps sell products and services, and it can also be the determining factor when selling or taking portfolio companies public. A strong brand can help your portfolio company stand out in a crowded IPO pipeline. It can also help generate excitement in an otherwise downward-trending M&A market. In private equity exits, building brand equity can be a great opportunity to create more value for your portfolio company by using brand to engage with investors, potential buyers and customers and helping them understand the “new and improved” portfolio company better.

Until now, however, the caveat has always been about time. Most brand consultants will tell you that brand building can take a good 18-24 months – a luxury that doesn’t fit a typical exit strategy timetable. But if done right, rebranding a company is doable in 12 months’ time or less. I like to call this Turbo-Branding, an innovative process we formalized when a 200+-year-old global financial services client made the decision to spin off a major portion of its business in under a year.

We used Turbo-Branding to develop the spin-off’s brand strategy; create a new company brand name and get it legally approved around the world; design a new corporate identity and visual look; implement the brand across all the company’s communications (websites, signage, marketing collateral, etc.), and prepare all the materials necessary for an initial public offering. Along the way, we found that even small tactics generated interesting value. For example, we were able to secure a rare coin from the parent company’s founding year to present to the New York Stock Exchange president as a token of appreciation.

While attracting investors through strong branding was a key objective, we also had to think beyond the IPO and use Turbo-Branding to quickly create a brand that could help attract and retain customers. The new brand had to resonate with customers in a powerful and confident way to attract a new following while keeping existing customers engaged and willing to continue, and grow their relationship with the spin-off. So while public funding was the primary goal, the longer-term value of the new brand was to help grow the business.

The basis of our Turbo-Branding approach is to embrace the need for speed and accuracy by taking the right short cuts in the branding process and getting to the heart of key branding issues faster. Here’s how it works:

Expedited Leadership Visioning – This requires a small executive team or board committee that must be willing to meet quickly and as many times necessary to define the vision, mission and values of the company, which will ultimately be communicated by the brand. There is literally no time for broad operating management or employee “buy-in”. Designating this core team to handle all the necessary decision-making is imperative. The CEO needs to be the team leader to ensure that the brand will accurately reflect the new company positioning. In parallel, the development of a communications strategy to cascade key information to the broader management team is important in keeping everyone fully apprised about brand development.

Accelerated Brand Analysis – Accelerating a brand process requires determining what’s important first. Because there isn‘t time to answer every question in massive detail, it is important to have an organized way to prioritize what inputs and whose insights (?) are critical to fast decision-making, and which ones will be useful later downstream to refine thinking. Creating a compelling brand idea that is differentiated means starting with two key pieces of information – a rapid understanding of: 1) the DNA or culture of a company and 2) how primary competitors are positioned. Turbo-Branding uses focused processes to accomplish both.

Stepped-up Brand Development – The key to keeping brand and design development on a fast track is to ensure that the process is firmly grounded in strategy. Developing a thoughtfully worded brand strategy document that can be used as a filter in decision-making makes the process more efficient. For one, it focuses creative development and becomes a powerful tool to evaluate brand and design options. Verbal expressions, such as tag lines and marketing messages, and visual expressions, such as logos, can be efficiently vetted by using a single, clear document as a strict guidepost. The ability to move quickly comes from the rigor of having a solid, carefully crafted strategy in place.

Parallel Launch Planning – With time frames so condensed, developing a practical plan for launching the brand even before it is developed is critical. This includes forming a dedicated launch team whose job is to focus on the listing day of an IPO, for example, and the activities surrounding it.

Rapid Brand Deployment – There needs to be an easily managed, centralized system in place for efficient brand training and coordinated, broad-based dissemination of branded materials across the entire organization. Prior to the launch, for example, certain brand materials should be made available online for easy access and reproduction, to allow for consistent brand presentation in every market.

By employing these key steps of Turbo-Branding, we were able to help our client successfully launch a new global brand on the NYSE within eight months – fast enough for even today’s volatile marketplace.

So if you’re thinking about your next private equity exit, it may be worth checking to see if you have the right brand in place – the brand that tells the story of your portfolio company as the winner it is today and going forward (and not the underperformer that it was in the past). Because if you don’t, you probably have time to change it.

John Grace is the founder and managing partner of BrandTaxi, a brand strategy consulting and design firm. He blogs here.
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