Brand Building Post M&A

In this episode of The CMO Show, we’ll be speaking to Mireille Adebiyi, CMO, Head of Marketing & Communications at leading global capital markets technology service provider Itiviti, about rebranding post mergers and acquisitions.


Benedict Buckland Good afternoon, and welcome to The CMO Show, the programme where we ask the biggest questions in marketing to the industry's biggest names. And today I'm delighted to say we're joined by the CMO of trading technology company Itiviti, Mireille Adebiyi, to talk about how brands can be built, rebuilt and reimagined through mergers and acquisitions. So, welcome Mireille, and I believe you're joining us from Paris today.

Mireille Adebiyi Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Benedict.

Benedict Buckland Thank you. You're giving the show an international feel that I'm sure it was sorely needed. So that's great. Now I'm interested. I've only given you a very brief introduction there. So before we get into brand and mergers and acquisitions, the floor is yours if you'd like to give the audience a little bit of an extra background about you, your sort of like most recent experience and what you are all about as a as a marketer.

Mireille Adebiyi Okay, I'm going to try and be short, but there's a lot that can be told

Benedict Buckland We can extend it. I think it was meant to be fourty-five seconds, but you can have 90 seconds, if so needed.

Mireille Adebiyi OK. So I'll try. Just bear with me one sec. Power issue.

Benedict Buckland See, I'm always criticised for relentlessly wanting to be a live show, but I think this is what it needs is technological power problems. Anyway, we shall rewind, Mireille, conscious that I haven't given you a full introduction. So the floor is yours if you want us to give a little bit of background around yourself and yourself as a marketer.

Mireille Adebiyi Yes, will do so. Actually, I've been spending the past 18 years of my life working as a marketer, and what I love to say is that, I feel that my role is about building some really solid marketing and communication powerhouses. And I've been doing that for fintech companies, mostly French based, but with a global footprint and working on their positioning and helping them grow further at a global level. So that's in a nutshell what I've been doing.

Benedict Buckland And that was wonderfully concise. So that's perfect. Now, as I mentioned, as we just saw actually from the sort of the power difficulties we had, that this is a live show, which means we have a live audience. So if anyone does have any questions that they'd like to pose to Mireille at the end of the show, please put them into the box and we'll be able to pick them up once we've got through the questions that we have planned. And so today we're going to be talking about building brand through M&A. And I think as everyone can probably relate or certainly imagine, M&A can be one of the biggest upheavals a company goes through. So how can we navigate the turmoil and emerge with a brand that exceeds the sum of its parts? Now Mireille I mean, I have spoken to you before, and I'm very, very aware that you've actually had quite a lot of experience in that navigation that I've just referred to. But most recently, you've been involved in a brand refresh of Itiviti and partly to respond to sort of the changing dynamics of the COVID marketplace, but also specifically to help align a number of legacy brands following a period of acquisitions. And now I do have a breakdown of the companies, but I'm sure you will tell the story much better than me. So you return to Itiviti in 2020. What's the state of play? What were the issues that needed addressing when you came came back?

Mireille Adebiyi So as you said, I re-join in 2020, but the story with Itiviti dates back in 2016, even before Itiviti was Itiviti. The simplest way to describe it is a Russian doll. I first joined Ullink at the time had both NYFIX that was in 2014, then in 2018, actually mixing a bit of the dates. But in 2018, Ullink was bought by Itiviti, then in 20, then in 2021 Itiviti was bought by Broadbridge, so there's different layers of branding and changes that had to be done at that time. When I rejoined in 2020, Itiviti has already lived its life. That was where I cool off in the second season, integrating Ullink, NYFIX and four or five other companies that have been already part of Itiviti in 2016. So the issue was, we had Itiviti, we had the pandemic at the same time, there had been a first set of, first branding strategy that had been deployed to try and make this set of difference six or seven text one consistent offering and things had been done like the exercise was really cleanly done in terms of branding the look and feel and to try and make it appear as one. The challenge, especially with COVID, is, as we all know, as marketers. Covid just forced us to be much more digital. You could not apply what I would say was the traditional play of marketing. You have to be much more digital, much more offensive in a space that became very crowded by different, by everyone, invading those new channels or channels that were not new, but maybe not necessarily as invested in as previously. So the challenge when I came in was if I summarise it in two words, what might you ask me to do is go digital. And that was a translation of his vision on how Itiviti should be perceived more. I would say there are different layers. Make sure Itiviti is perceived more as this fintech leader and innovator, not just a fintech that has been standing there for years although we had a legacy of thirty years of tech stack that we're part of our value proposition, but really have this more disruptive feel in a positive way. And in it have also two impacts on how we would deliver marketing and how we would make a good use of the digital channels and the digital tools that we, as modern marketers now have have at stake and have as a possible leverage to all activities. And for this. Had to review the first exercise was there was this Itiviti branding, but that didn't resonate necessarily really well with how this positioning should be expressed and how we wanted to go to market. So the refresh that you mentioned earlier was about making sure that we could use whatever had been developed in terms of the look and feel in terms of the the tone of voice in terms of how we present a value proposition to make it this. I wouldn't say necessarily upgraded, but this newly, well, this refreshed, look and feel and positioning. So it was really to say. And I think that's maybe one of the key challenges we all have to remember is when you think of a brand, you shouldn't think only of the tone of voice or how you want to look or the nice logo. You have to think how it's going to be expressing itself and thinking of the channels for which you want to express who you are, what you do and what you represent is as important as thinking of the traditional colours that people may like or not like that some some people think branding these events.

Benedict Buckland Yeah, I think it's absolutely true. And I think that understanding the actual strategy which sits behind branding rather than that sort of cosmetic element that can sometimes sit at the top is absolutely integral. So you spoke about sort of coming in and you've been given that brief about, let's get this more digital. But you were dealt a sort of a hand where there were these legacy brands, which again existed. And I know that, you know, there had been progress in bringing those together. But to what extent was the approach that you took dictated by the need to make sure that those differences were reconciled and there was that sort of harmonisation that was going on amongst the legacy brands?

Mireille Adebiyi I would say to some extent, although the challenge was huge coming back in 2020, when you think everything is halted like, you know, it was almost a state of sidération, COVID hits, we can't use the same, the same kind of channels. We have these brands, but we need to make it more in line with what we have in mind. So this was a true challenge. What was easy, I would say, was that's the vision that our new CEO at the time had was very much interconnected. It wasn't just marketing, make some magic out of nowhere and make us exist in a certain way and that product that's over there is about something else. And the go to markets from a sales perspective is something else. Everything was dictated by the vision that the company had, and marketing was directly a translation of what is the vision and the positioning we're trying to get. And that's having this connection with what is our value prop? what is the offering that we have? and how can marketing leverage that or make that more consistent? And I would say, I mentioned product sales, but also HR as a company who are we trying to be? Having this consistency in this unique strategy that had to be deployed across all the different branches made it easy and for Itiviti, we have a platform, and the whole story was about just making people aware of this platform story rather than saying we have a composite of six stacks. No, it's not about having different bits and pieces is about having enough room that is quite compelling, that covers different areas within trading and connectivity, and that as a whole can service our target audience. So it was complex and not an easy challenge because you had to afterwards to make everything work together to look and feel, the tone and orders. But building that strategy, considering how embedded it was with what was the what our CEO had in mind and how everything came together in a very consistent manner that made it simple.

Benedict Buckland Yeah, absolutely. And I think that the vision certainly is that guiding light that I think all strategy needs and absolutely marketing is an essential part of that. So you spoke around having that sort of that singular vision, which was really helpful and you talked about sort of how that translated and developing at consistent value proposition as well. What involvement as a marketer did you have in shaping that value proposition? And also just the sort of additional element which I'm really, really keen to sort of understand is how was it bringing together some different value propositions from the legacy brands to reach that point where that was that unified understanding of how you should be presenting yourself and the value that should be offering to your marketplace?

Mireille Adebiyi So first, on the value proposition, as I said, what made it easy was that the whole, there was already a vision that was defined as a plan, but being able to be considered and to have marketing as a partner of the product strategy. I'm always never going to say marketing does everything. But marketing can sort a lot. We are the ones that bring everything together. So being able to have that dialogue with the product strategy and others helps to really shape a product's value proposition that is really in sync with what we have to offer. So this was really very much in the beginning and just talking about the platform story, and I would say I leveraged I mentioned when I when we began that I had 18 years in the space. So this some level at some points of products understanding and some of the challenges we, especially capital markets that comes with it. So I think that this helped me to be able to have that's really very, I would say, collaborative conversation with our Chief Product Officer at the time to make sure that's the platform vision and how we wanted to tell that story was what we needed to do and to build all our branding and others on the proposition that the platform had to offer. That was the that was the key part.

Benedict Buckland That's great. And I think that clearly, collaboration is key and working very closely with product is good to hear. On the flip side of that, if you were to look back and almost be, I suppose, a harsh critic, where did it not quite work so well in terms of where potentially not those points of collaboration, which if you could go back, you would do differently and would get a better result when it comes to going through the branding process?

Mireille Adebiyi To some extent, without saying that's all that was done between 2020 and 2021, was perfect and there is nothing that I would challenge. It's more, I would say, lessons learnt from what had been done. That was once again a good exercise, but that I would have approached differently so that maybe we wouldn't have had to do more of a heavy lifting to get this well packaged together. I think that the first thing that I would bear in mind is what I'm saying that made my life easier as a marketer, having it's really embedded with this strategy. What's the vision? If the vision changes then we have to have something that is agile enough to adapt and to change consequently. I'd say the first thing probably is a brand, as much as a brand is a reflection of what the company is and what the company is about. We have to remember that the key part is, of course, the value proposition. But the perception, is who we are we trying to target? Who are we? Who is this? Who are we trying to influence and to whom this story is targeted to? If you don't think about this, you're missing the point. If you have to, especially when you talk about branding, you can have a lot of very emotional attachments that people may have. And when you're talking about six, I said text tax, but that's six different set of values, six different ways of seeing the offerings, six different ways of going to market. If you want to be able to go one step above that, you have to sort of neutralise and not think about what's the vision or the strategy coming from you. But what is the perception that your value proposition has in the market? So you almost have to reverse it. It's almost like, it's not about you, it's about them. What does your target audience want? What is their perception of your value proposition? And start with that rather than trying to link together stories that not quite completely fit because you're trying to build as one, and you have to also agree that there will be some sacrifices, you're not going to be able to capture each and everything. And I think as marketers, sometime no matter what we working for platforms or different business solutions, we try to cover everything at once. You have to prioritise. It's not going to happen. What needs to come out of a branding exercise is the consistency and something that works together and that builds a story that you can develop further but not try to capture each and everything. But brand equity is a key part, and you have to be able to do that analysis with internal and external stakeholders. But assess, don't assume, assess what is the real value of our solution or our offering today, not based on what you think it is, but based on an audit that you have to execute. I think this is going one key element.

Benedict Buckland It is, and I'm going to pick up on something that you talked about there, and I completely agree that consistency is actually winning half the battle when it comes to branding. And you rightly said that that sometimes involves some sacrifices and you are talking in the context of six different brands, different value propositions, different stories, different identities coming together. And clearly, there will be some very obvious synergies. Fantastic. But as you said, there are going to be some sacrifices as well. Now, I don't want you to necessarily sort of divulge any sort of privileged information. But I would be really interested to hear what were some of those sacrifices that need to be made and and how did you manage that process? Because that's actually really key to a successful so that rebuild of a brand post M&A, is almost negotiating where the sacrifices are and where the sort of complementary elements are going to be.

Mireille Adebiyi So as I said, you have to remove the emotional aspect and think brand audits. What's today still exists? You may have some solutions that we're coming from smaller size companies that people live and breathe by, but that's at the at the scale of things will not necessarily have the same impact. So I would say measure what the brand equity is. That's the first thing. How useful is it? Second, you can also think, as I said, the brand strategy is not something that happens overnight. It's something that is going to be evaluative. The way I approach it is. My goal was to raise the Itiviti brand and the Itiviti platform, and underneath you had a few and a number of actually brands that are probably more powerful than Itiviti itself and some that are important but less critical. In that case, I would switch for what do they do, rather than spending money in trying to position some brand or keep them alive because you have to be aware that branding is an investment. I would just mention that they are still part of the tech cycle of the overall offering, but name them, but by what they do, the function rather than the brand. So there are some sort of switch. And regarding the Itiviti story, there were already some decisions that were taken when I came back in 2020 to sort of turn the volume down. So instead of maybe mentioning the six or seven different brands, stop telling that story. Maybe that's worth it. When it just happens, when it's been two years, you have to start moving forward and you progressively, not necessarily sunset. But as I said, from my perspective, in any case, the goal was to switch, let down the name, especially when names who are marketers, we can be quite creative. So you come with very interesting names but they don't say what you do. So to me, that's like, yeah, interesting, but not in that context. And the other thing is, you also have to consider at what level you're talking when I'm thinking branding overall. I'm talking to my whole audience with all the different segments in different business solutions and all this. That doesn't stop people when they go out to reach to clients to talk more specifically about, Oh, what I'm saying in this, this is what I'm referring to. But this is more to some extent, like one to one conversation, and you can still leverage and use the brand equity of some of the some of the names that are out there to make sure that clients have a good recognition of what you're talking about. But that should be more, as I say, conversational level rather than big company wide strategy.

Benedict Buckland And did you, because I'm almost as you're describing sort of that measuring of the respective levels of sort of like brand equity, when and when not to leverage that relationship or association. Did you actually map that out? Was there a sort of a document or an asset which could be presented back to the business, which showed the respective levels? This is when you should leverage. It is when you shouldn't leverage it.

Mireille Adebiyi So, to some extent, I in 2020, I had more of a express approach. Some work had already been done. This analysis had been done with this sort of strategy of not completely sunsetting, but prioritising some of the key brands that were part of the ecosystem. From my perspective of what I did when I joined it really feeds into the Itiviti platform story, make that the core story and the other ones were supporting stories. But lead with, the Itiviti platform is about this. And of course, you can recognise there are some areas where you have this or that name, but it was about building that above any others and leveraging, especially when we were talking about specific business solutions in certain regions. Yes, you mentioned a few of the names here and there, but if you go to our website today, high level, you won't see the specific brand names. You'll see Itiviti platform. And then when you go and navigating to the website, you can still recognise them.

Benedict Buckland Fantastic. Well, I mean, as I said, I've got a great image in my mind of almost like Eco System or Solar System, of the different brands, how they sort of like centres of gravity sort of like change, which I think is wonderful and we've kind of always been talking around it here. But a big decision that needs to be made when you go through sort of merger and acquisition is do you retain the legacy brand or do you subsume it, which is almost that sort of. Do you go for a house of brands or a branded house within the particular sort of context of Itiviti. Was that a decision that had been made before you sort of got your hands on it and it was passed down to you in terms of which brands would be kept? Which brands wouldn't? Or were you sort of empowered as the marketing leads to make that recommendation about how the brand should either be subsumed or retained?

Mireille Adebiyi So the funny thing, and Itiviti really is a fascinating story because the Itiviti that I had to deal with in 2020 was already this second version of Itiviti, which means it was a first Itiviti that had four companies and there was a second Itiviti that had the four companies. Plus you UIlink and NYFIX, plus the company that had been hired and there was a question. Should we go for Ullink and Itiviti, Ullink as a new name of the whole or Itiviti and whatever. I would say maybe for our specific case, it's not secure that it's the most. I mean, not it's not the most interesting, but it would have been one or the other. And I don't think that was ever a question of keeping both. But I would say it would be some important criteria to take and to keep in mind when choosing a branded house or household brands is more what are we trying to deliver? If you are targeting different audiences with different set of business solutions, then I would say, especially with brand equity in mind, it's worth to consider more of a house of brands because they would be resonating and you'd be talking quite differently to your audiences based on what you have to offer. I think what makes sense for Itiviti is that at the end of the day, even if it was bringing together different components of an overall trading and connectivity platform, they all make sense as one. And it was the same people that we were targeting or the same that could benefit from the consolidated offering. So here to me, having branded house was more and made more sense. And I think generally when we come to M&A, that has to be the question. Once again, even taking into account the brand equity of the sub brands, it has to be a matter of what are we building one consolidated offering or are we having different offerings with different target audience and maybe even different regions and afterwards this plus the analysis of the brand audit this is what could help and direct the decision.

Benedict Buckland Yeah that's excellent. I'm just going to I mean, I've got a couple of other questions I'm really keen to ask, but it's just given what we're talking about. And Rhiannon Beeson has just asked the question. What did you use as your measures for the brand equity? And I think that's a really good question because we've talked around the importance of measuring brand equity, and letting that inform the decisions we're making. So what did you use to make those judgements?

Mireille Adebiyi Yes, I will actually give them not give you an example, but I'll use the most recent experience because Itiviti has been successfully sold, was successfully sold in 2021, which means that some job has been well done. And now we are tackling another kind of post M&A sort of situation where Itiviti is now part of a bigger company and where we are assessing how we incorporate all this equity of Itiviti into something bigger that is going to leverage our international footprint and our trading and connectivity offering. So as part of this, each time, whether in this situation is not to become another fintech, is more incorporating a bigger size fintech. The idea is we are completing the offering now. Itiviti has a name. We have sub brand names. What do we do? The first thing that we did is what I mentioned earlier. Go back to what is the value proposition because now it has evolved. So the branding has evolved. What is the brand equity, and for this I mentioned earlier, don't assume, assess. We did the brand of it. That is a mix of internal and external stakeholders asking them questions on what is our offering. What do you need? What do you think is the the key benefit from bringing everything together? And we did that, as I said, internal and external through internal surveys and leveraging some due diligence that we're done and also external serving. And here we will ask in a very neutral way, for instance, what do you recognise or what's how do you perceive this or that brand without seeing in the beginning? This is to assess Itiviti versus x y z. But just to really capture what is the understanding and the perception that our target audience has from our overall effort?

Benedict Buckland And when you said you getting down setting from the target audience, do you sort of a like a quantitative sort of methodology? Or was it more qualitative interviews that you were doing with your?

Mireille Adebiyi It's a mix. And this exercise that I'm mentioning, we did it in the course of six months. So it's always, I'm always in kind of situations where things have to be done in like now so. So I leveraged some of the work that had been done as part of the due diligence. So all the analysis that is done before acquisition is made. So there was a mix of a lot of qualitative reviews and the survey that we did was more counting on quantitative, still a mix of qualitative and quantitative to really capture what is the perception of people without them knowing that this is part of a specific due diligence or a specific acquisition. So it was a mix of the two, but qualitative we got, I think, for the external survey, over 100 of the reviewed and validated decision makers in our industry, which can sound small in the B2C world. But in the B2B, it's it's quite significant.

Benedict Buckland Yeah, I think it's a common misconception when it comes to sample size with B2C versus B2B. But it's a much smaller pool effectively, so you can be more specific there. That really interesting. I'm going to be really ambitious. I'm going to ask you another question, and I know we've only got two minutes to run here. But I think it's really, really important for us to talk about M&A, you know, invariably involves the integration of different cultures and people with different ideas, different backgrounds and from your experience, how can brand play a positive role in creating a new, cohesive identity for employees as well as the sort of corporation itself?

Mireille Adebiyi Yes, I would say it's like it's not how it can play, it's it must play. It's become even more a must have if you think of employer branding, if you think now of all the all the trends, the trends around diversity and inclusion. If you think of tone of voice, I'm in this situation where if you have, if you are thinking as a global company but your tone of voice, you thinking of or you speaking in a very much European way or a US way, you're missing the point. But once again, diversity and inclusion, employer branding. And if you think now of ESG and all the trend, I think it's a must have and I think that branding can be a capital role in it. When you think the value proposition, I guess that, not I guess, but we have to consider not only what products we are delivering, but what we stand for, purpose and the values that we represent before it used to be a bit of a, I used to think, I didn't really like people just posting values because they weren't meaningful. I think that now they definitely have to resonate with how we portray ourselves, what tone of voice and what we stand for. So now it's becoming essential and having that great coordination, I mentioned for the value proposition. When we look at our offering, we have to talk with sales with products if we want to make sure that we have a good brand. We cannot not talk with our peers from the HR teams, and we have to make sure that what we say and how we build the brand is a story that serves everyone.

Benedict Buckland Fantastic. Well, you actually saved me. I had another question I was going to ask, which was about that collaboration with HR. We started the call talking about the importance of having collaboration with product. And I think, you know, we're now concluding it nicely with that sort of collaboration with H.R. as well, which is absolutely vital and it really is. It's a change management programme introducing a new brand, and you've got to take the people with you because they're going to be the representatives of the brand itself. I mean, thank you very, very much for giving up your time today to talk about sort of building your brand through M&A. I think there are lots of really interesting aspects which came out, but for me, I think there was probably two things. I think firstly, the importance at a very, very sort of like top level within the company is to have that clear vision, that clear sort of like a guiding light for how the business should operate and therefore how the brand should be built and should be articulated. But the second aspect, and I think maybe even more important, is now I'm going to use slightly different language, but I think what you were saying is the importance of being market orientated approach rather than sort of building a brand based on the sort of the whims or the preferences of the organisation itself. It's about having that really, really sort of analytical approach, understanding what it is your audience is saying what the market actually needs and then making informed decisions about how you build your brand in sort of response and correspondence to what we're seeing within the marketplace. I think that that's absolutely critical. So again, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for everybody that joined us remotely as well. Please stay tuned for future episodes of The CMO show. But yeah, once again. Thank you, Mireille, and have a good afternoon, everyone.

Mireille Adebiyi Thank you very much.

Benedict Buckland Thanks. Goodbye.

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