Acquisitions and mergers can provide extensive opportunities for financial institutions, but it’s important to keep an open channel of communication with constituents throughout the entire process. If you don’t, you may end up losing customers before the event even takes place. A solid marketing plan can help you alleviate concerns ahead of time so that you can retain your customers and star employees.


Creating a Timeline for Your M&A Marketing Strategy

When preparing for your financial institution's merger or acquisition, it’s best to organize your marketing strategy in four stages.

Stage 1: Pre-Announcement

During this period, you’ll start to define your key messages for both internal and external constituents. You should also identify the platforms you’ll use for each audience. More on both of these shortly.

Stage 2: Announcement Day

This is the day you actually announce the details of your financial institution’s merger or acquisition. You’ll likely want a press release, but it’s also good to create an announcement specific for your customers to ease any potential anxiety. Develop a strong set of FAQs to either provide to your constituents or get your employees on the same page.

Stage 3: First 100 Days

Your first 100 days are critical, and require a sound communications strategy. It’s important to continue to emphasize your message to both employees and customers. Equally important?

Keeping your customer service at — or even above — expectations. To truly have a successful transition process, you must prove the value of the new institution over and over again at the beginning of the launch.

Stage 4: Up to Year One

By this point, both financial institution should be fully integrated into an “us.” You should have the kinks worked out by now. If there’s any existing tension or confusion (internally or externally), you must make it a priority to fix it immediately.

Throughout each stage, it’s in your power to control much of how the transition is perceived by all stakeholders.

I’ll take you through the pre-merger or acquisition process to the post-process and show you how to create an effective message for all your audiences — plus tips on how to reach them.


Addressing Constituent Concerns Before the Merger or Acquisition


A successful merger or acquisition involves communicating with your primary constitutions early and often. Start off by defining all of your specific audiences individually. It’s important to tailor.

your merger or acquisition messaging to each group. In order to do this, map out each concern or issue for your various audiences.

Remember to include both internal and external groups. In addition to your customers and staff, think about shareholders, vendors, regulators, non-profit organizations you support, and the press.

Once you’ve defined the potential concerns for these groups, you can then assign each one a goal (such as retaining customers), a message, and one or more communication channels.

Let’s take a look at an example to see how this could play out.

Employees, for instance, might worry about their future job security regardless of whether their employing organization is acquiring or merging with another financial institution. A common goal, however, would be to retain top talent during these organizational changes.

To do this, your message should revolve around the better career opportunities available with a larger financial institution. Your platform for this message could be through your financial institution’s intranet, emails, events, and even one-on-one meetings with your best employees.

It’s also worth noting that your best employees aren’t necessarily found by looking at their title alone. Talk to all levels of management to find out which employees are truly creating a positive experience for existing customers and be sure to work on retaining those individuals.

Once you have all of these messaging tactics recorded, turn that information into a timeline of deliverables. Be sure to build in time for the review process and other logistics leading up to the merger or acquisition.

It’s also vital to start the communications process as early as possible. You don’t want a firestorm to occur simply because basic information was leaked before an official announcement. The proper planning can keep you in control of how the merger or acquisition is perceived by other parties.


Rebranding After a Merger or Acquisition


It can be difficult to create a unified voice when two organizations come together through either a merger or acquisition. And even if an acquired financial institution won’t retain much or any of its original identity, it’s still important to incorporate their existing constituents in the new brand.

Once the merger or acquisition takes place, it’s important for both sides to sit down together and finalize the brand. You may need a new name, logo, or brand position. It’s also important at this point to decide on the new brand’s differentiators moving forward. Also, what is your new marketing budget like? What resources do you have at your disposal?

All of these decisions not only influence the new partnership’s identity, but also (and perhaps more importantly) your client retention plans. In a best case scenario, you should make the majority of your branding and messaging about the benefits your customers will receive from the merger or acquisition.

In fact, you should always keep your customers in mind when determining the right tone for your financial institution. If you fail to do this and instead neglect them, you run a much greater risk of losing customers somewhere in the merger or acquisition process.

This is particularly true if the acquired organization's current strategy doesn’t offer anything moving forward. Take the best the financial institution has to offer and incorporate it into the new marketing plan. You can do this by interviewing customers about their positive and negative experiences so you know what to keep and what to fix.

The acquiring organization should also consider what current policies have helped to empower employees and which of those could be incorporated in the new company moving forward. This is a great way to make sure you’re keeping the best talent and avoiding any unnecessary interruptions during the transition process.

After you’ve created a new unified voice, be sure to roll out the plan to your employees. Everyone should be on the same page regarding how to communicate information about the new financial institution, especially those on the front lines assisting customers each and every day.

A great way to do this is through an internal launch event for employees. It can build morale, bring together new teammates, and help everyone feel like they’re an important part of the process.


Controlling Post Merger or Acquisition Perception

People are more likely to leave a financial institution after a merger or acquisition if they perceive a negative change in the service they receive. Even if your financial institution doesn’t plan on changing much about its products or levels of service, it’s more important that customers walk away with the right perception.

This can be done at several points throughout the communication process, which we’ve already talked about. But just as important as the when is the how of the matter.

Think of it this way. If you received a dry, legal letter from your financial institution talking about the technical ramifications of the merger, how would you feel? Probably confused and maybe even put off by the situation. Even if great things will happen from the merger, your customers won’t understand unless you tell them in an emotional way.

So give them the information in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. Consider using less traditional platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. You can also use emails, FAQs, online statement splash pages, and microsites to reach your target audience. When you address their concerns, be sure to pair any negative change with a positive one to help you control the perception.

The goal in any financial institution merger or acquisition is to help people succeed: customers, employees, and management. When you focus on these key stakeholders, you’ll find that success for the financial institution comes as a natural result.