Your company has announced a new brand acquisition or is being sold, and up until now, this new company that’s now in the mix has been a competing brand.
First off, this really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. According to a BuyBizSell’s survey, over half a million businesses change hands each year, and the gaming industry, in particular, is no stranger to this type of action, and the latest big announcement that Eldorado is buying Caesars is creating even more conversation.
Which properties will they keep? Which will they sell? Who is interested? Consolidations and mergers are a constant source of discussion in the business community.
Let’s say your company is being bought or sold. As executives in charge of marketing for your company, what is your next step? What is the impact on the customer? How will we integrate systems and policies? What happens to the existing brands? Also, for some, what is the regulatory impact?
For the sake of staying in my lane, let’s look at the question of the brands. With every consolidation, there is a chance a company will acquire brands that are entirely different from their existing core. Some may be stronger than the ones they started with, and some may be much weaker. How do you decide which ones to keep, which ones to transition, and which ones to polish a bit? Moreover, how do you handle consolidation of efforts when you have a portfolio of numerous different brands?
Let’s start on with some positives. Buying an existing brand helps you skip all the steps to building a new brand and the costs associated with creating and launching something novel or unique. If the business you are buying has trademarked slogans and elements that resonate with the customer, you’ve already covered a time consuming legal process. Moreover, if those trademarks resonate on a national scale, then you have something that could strengthen your existing operations.
However, even if this is the case, at some point, you will have to come up with a unified and integrated brand marketing strategy for the entire portfolio. Here is some advice on how to make this process as painless as possible.
Jules Rule #4: Establish a corporate DNA
A successful portfolio integration will indeed share DNA, but to first understand this, you must define the company vision – your corporate DNA – a step that will help determine if a new brand can be easily integrated. This step could also open your eyes to leveraging a brand you had thought of as a strong contender before this examination.
Some brands in the casino industry have already established stable and easily recognizable public personas (the data-driven company, the fun and friendly one, and the one creating great resort getaways, to name a few.) Take an (honest) look at your company. What is your mission? Why do you exist in the hearts of the customer? How are the brands focused on the purpose? Better yet, ask your customers what they think you’re trying to accomplish and how well you’re doing that.
It’s also a great idea to get an outside point of view on your brands and your mission. As owners of these great brands, we can often fall in love with the concepts we create and lose sight of reality. Additionally, over time, the brands shift, often becoming something altogether different than what we initially envisioned, a phenomenon that someone outside the branding team will be more likely to catch.
Your agency should be a vital part of the team, not only because they will take the journey with you but because their daily efforts expose them to brands in and out of your particular industry. The insights gleaned are an advantage to us as brand managers.
Create categories that promise a distinctive experience
Now that you’ve taken a good hard look at your brands, have spoken to customers, and have some in-industry and comparative industry insights, you can start to understand the precise categories of experiences and begin to develop a clear vision for your brand portfolio.
Look at the Marriott acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts portfolio in 2016. Marriott had to understand the categories of brands they had as a new company. They had to ask questions of how well utilized the brands were and how well known they were to understand which brands they would move forward with. Le Meridien was a brand with an international name but somewhat underutilized. Was it worth keeping and expanding, or would they change the flag to something like Renaissance, which Marriott was building as its upper-upscale brand? The questions you ask about your brands will determine which you keep, which you change, which you update or modify and which will be put away in the legal files for some future use.
Don’t break anyone’s heart
You have to be mindful of the employees that have worked hard to bring the brands to life before your entry onto the scene. There was a time when companies would acquire ongoing operations and instantly deem them “our brand” without understanding the heart and soul that kept the brand alive enough to become attractive for purchase—the employees.
Additionally, as the heart and soul of the brands, these employees can give it life or let it wither and die. True story: at one place I worked, we thought of dusting off the Lady Luck brand; but the initial reaction we got was dubious at best. The most common comment was, “we got rid of that a long time ago.” Once it was becoming a reality, some of the folks around at that “got rid of it” time suddenly started remembering what a great experience it had been. Quite frankly, no one could remember why it had been put away with the legal documents. I never asked why the team chose to get rid of something that seemed to be working because I know what it’s like to be in love with your brand to the point where you think the only option is to rebrand an acquisition to the one you already know.
Jules Rule #3: Operationalize your brand
Your brand has to be more than the logo. It must live throughout your operations. When you can’t see a difference between what you say you do (marketing) and what you actually do (operations), that’s when you know you have a great brand. When evaluating the brands you are now working with, determine which best tell the story of the experience and ensure those brands can deliver on the promise you are making to customers, employees, and stakeholders.
Jules Rule #2: Brands are built from the bottom up
Let the transition begin. This does not mean merely changing logos…or that you must put a logo on everything. I used to work at a company where I once remarked that they put the logo on everything that didn’t move fast enough to get out of the way.
Remember the employees. This isn’t about handbooks and training sessions. Tell them the brand stories that will become lore on your front lines. Then let your operation start to breathe on their own and figure out how to live it at the local level.
I can’t stress this enough. One of the biggest mistakes I see is only thinking it’s about colors, logos, and slogans. You must stay focused on the experience, day in and day out, and discover how to deliver that experience consistently.
A final consideration
I want to point out is about the brands that are going to be woven through and across differing experiences. For casinos, this means, that brand experience as to live in your buffet brand or your players card. These rebrands are often considered obvious steps, but you have to think about how those brands may differ by location. If you don’t understand those nuances, you will quickly find you have one brand that has a variety of different meanings because of the operations themselves are different.
Deciding what to do with a new portfolio of brands says a lot about the company and its vision for its stakeholders. It only seems right that this process is well-thought and appropriately executed.
This column originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Casino Journal.