Elasticity And Speed In Rebranding To Unlock Private Equity Portfolio Company Value
This story first appeared on Forbes January 4, 2022.
Private equity firms are one of the more frequent users of rebranding as they pursue growth strategies that will create value for their portfolio of companies. We've noticed that trend is accelerating among financial sponsors with the recent merger and acquisition surge.
Rebranding is the process of redefining your value to customers in a forward-facing and aspirational way. Rebranding often includes a new company vision, an entirely new name, a new look and feel of the brand, and certainly new messaging and marketing. I’ve always admired the saying “old keys don’t open new doors.” Rebranding is a new key that helps even an established company better present its value proposition, diversify and enter new business categories, and engage the entire enterprise behind a new customer promise. And it’s especially effective when mergers and acquisitions create a new industry player.
In 2017, I shared with Middle Market Growth magazine the nine important questions to address when building a rebranding business case to ensure that efforts are focused on driving value. Our recent rebranding experiences with PE-funded businesses reinforce two important criteria to meet the unique dynamics financial sponsors require in delivering the return on investments: elasticity and speed.
Rebranding is often a viable option as financial sponsors consider bolt-on acquisition strategies for consolidation of businesses in a similar space, integrating product lines and operations to create efficiencies, and relaunching as a new stronger entity. A new brand for the flagship or consolidated business needs to recognize the current product line but build the ability to expand into complementary categories or cover additional acquisitions.
We call that brand elasticity, the ability of the brand name and positioning to cover sufficient ground to allow an additional acquisition in companion spaces that can create a stronger, more competitive player. The rebrand should serve as a relevant and broad umbrella to support your long-term investment strategy.
Facebook’s creation of the new corporate name Meta is an example of creating elasticity, or more room for the company to expand its scope and product development into virtual reality. By using the brand name Meta, the company is now able to “own” discussion and energy around the future metaverse.
We created elasticity in a recent rebranding we worked on following the merger of Riegel Linen, T-Y Group and Harbor Linen, all providers of linen products to the hospitality and long-term healthcare industries. We identified the common experience and brand essence across the three organizations, and the business relaunched as 1Concier. The “1” represents the three companies coming together as one, to be the first choice of quality linens and a one-stop shop for customers. “Concier,” leveraging the role of a concierge to meet guests’ needs, is about exceeding expectations to enrich the guests’ experience. The name is a dynamic portrayal of the brand essence and provides sufficient coverage for the PE firm’s further addition of hospitality or healthcare industry acquisitions.
You can ensure elasticity in your naming by not choosing options that define the work or service you provide today, but rather investigating options that are more aspirational and reflect the larger value your business delivers or the industry you serve. Think longer-term and bigger, and avoid descriptive word choices.
The second requirement is speed, an important dynamic when your hold time horizon is in sight.
A robust rebranding effort typically requires 12 months from beginning to end, some stretching even longer, a timeline that’s usually unacceptable to a PE firm with a short hold time in mind to achieve operational transformation and traction with an acquisition.
While you have to spend sufficient time on the discernment and creative process to define a unique and memorable new brand name, the hang-up tends to be in the trademark application. With the explosion of startups and new business entities, it is becoming increasingly harder to identify new names that meet all branding requirements and also don’t run into potential trademark challenges. Traditionally a trademark application is submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with a usual four- to six-month turnaround for approval. During this time, marketing teams are busy creating newly branded websites, signage, sales materials and packaging, and updating the customer experience to launch upon trademark approval. But during the pandemic, many of our clients have been experiencing slowdowns that stretch this timeline longer, beyond the patience level of many investors eager to see the quicker benefits of rebranding. More frequently, we are seeing trademark attorneys provide a legal perspective on the “probability” of trademark approval based upon search requirements. With a high probability that the trademark won’t be challenged, companies are moving ahead with launching the new name before approval is received, accepting and managing the risk involved. The pressure results in the creation of more innovative or coined brand names and trademark attorneys making clear judgment calls on the probability of approval to give the team confidence to announce the rebranding before application approval is complete.
To enable your branding team to move as expeditiously as possible through this process, be sure to provide sufficient time for your involvement, and share meaningful and specific insights and guidance that are actionable and prepare for quick review and approval times.
Recognizing these requirements of elasticity and speed, financial sponsors can pursue ambitious transformations within portfolio companies to include new branding that makes them more attractive to the companies’ customers and to future potential acquirers.