Content Strategy for Mergers and Acquisitions (5 Step Framework)

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If you have ever been a part of one, you know that handling content strategy for mergers and acquisitions might result in a bit of a chaotic and messy web presence. Most companies lack neat and tidy content on their own site, so the effort to combine two unorganized sites (or ‘not optimized’ -- to sugar coat it) often leaves marketing leaders holding the keys to a stressful, chaotic, and inefficient web migration project.

Our content strategy team has developed content strategies for many of our clients in similar circumstances -- spin-off companies, merged companies, companies adding or changing go-to-market strategies. -- and have compiled a few key areas to focus on that can make the experience not only more manageable, but ultimately more effective for your newly combined brands.

This article can be helpful for any marketer, but we wrote it specifically for those who are fully integrating their brands after a merger or acquisition. Some mergers choose to retain their original brand identities, and thus, their individual websites, but in this article we’ll be addressing those who are looking to fully integrate their presence on the web.

What makes this different?

At the end of the day, you’re creating a content strategy -- which we have established a repeatable process for and have executed many times with success. But what about an M&A process makes this different from a run-of-the-mill website project?

Obviously, the complexity of seamlessly integrating two formerly independent and autonomous brands into a single entity is something unique to this type of web project. In a ‘traditional’ strategy, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of bringing a brand onto the web with clarity. However, starting with two brands complicates the matter exponentially because  (as we’ll discuss later) it’s not an exercise in simply stitching two websites together. It’s about breaking both sites down to their smallest pieces, and fully integrating the content from the ground up.

Start With the Business

Before we get into the technical advice, we *always* recommend starting with the most core business goals and objectives. That is, when the M&A is complete, what will the experience look like for your ideal customer(s)? Don’t get pulled into the trap of trying to connect the dots between two different websites without first thinking about the end result. The easiest way to get started is to ask the simple questions, “Why are we doing this merger?” and “What will the customer expect from an experience with our post-merger brand?” The answer will inevitably start to lay the foundation for the purpose your updated website will serve.

Take Action: Just like you would for a brand new company website, begin by outlining the core components of your strategy: 

  1. What role will the website play in executing your business, sales, and marketing strategies?
  2. How should the website support your customers throughout their journey?
  3. How will you measure the effectiveness of the website? What specific KPIs will the website be graded on?

When merging two companies with existing marketing departments, this is also the perfect time to make sure both groups are fully aligned on the new direction, and are fully prepared to sacrifice ‘how things used to be.’ One of the biggest sticking points we encounter is a marketer who ardently tries to avoid change or hold on to their previous marketing strategies or efforts. It’s completely understandable, since they have typically poured weeks, months or years of work into the ‘pre-merger’ marketing strategy. But for the good of the future brand, we encourage all parties involved to be open-minded and committed to collaboration and compromise.


Audit and Document Your Current State

Eventually you’ll be able to look for common denominators and integration points between your websites, but before you do, you have to completely, thoroughly, and exhaustively document the current state of each website. Depending on the complexity of the existing websites, this can be a pretty huge task. But it is absolutely vital to executing a smooth and effective merger content strategy.

Take Action: If you haven’t done a content audit on a website before, it typically includes documentation of the following a: 

  1. Sitemap -- A visualization of the underlying architecture and organization of your website.
  2. Taxonomy & Content Types -- If your current site uses dynamic content or tagging structures, be sure to document the behind-the-scenes taxonomy that allows you to classify your content.
  3. Content Inventory -- An output (usually a spreadsheet) of every piece of content that exists on the website, with metadata and attributes noted.
  4. ROT Analysis -- Just like you don’t pack up and move garbage from one house to another, you should thoroughly review content for items that are Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial (ROT), and tag them to be left behind in the merger.

Remember, your end goal is to build one inclusive website that represents the post-merger organization -- NOT to stitch together two unique websites like Frankenstein’s monster. With this end goal, it’s critical to break each existing website down into its smallest pieces so they can be assessed and integrated seamlessly. The content audit is by far the most effective way to do that.


Map the Journey

At this point it’s very tempting to start connecting the dots and mashing content together, but there’s one more thing to do before you start that process -- map your customer’s journey through an *ideal* website experience.

We start with the journey (often called user paths or conversion paths) to ensure that your future website is truly built  on your business goals and your ideal customer’s expectations. In the user paths, it’s important to understand your customer personas and their preference for using the web. Do they prefer to browse, reading about product categories and applications before narrowing down to a product or do they use the search bar to jump to a specific product? Depending on what you know about your customer’s habits, your user paths should document an ideal path to conversion.

With this ideal path carved out, it’s finally time to start fleshing out your content strategy.


Build Out Your Content Strategy

Steps 1-3 helped you gather and organize the key components for your content strategy based on the two existing websites and all of their unique attributes (the individual Lego pieces that will ultimately become the Eiffel Tower replica), and now it’s time to start fitting them together to build the final web experience.

  1. Start by identifying patterns -- Knowing your customer and their preferred web experiences, you can start comparing both content audits and looking for patterns, similarities, and common denominators. These are the easiest content areas to start with because you can be sure that content on both unique websites will continue to be valuable when they are merged.
  2. Put the rest of the puzzle pieces in place -- Each of your existing websites inevitably has unique content that needs a new ‘home’ in the merged website environment. Now is the time to start classifying content, grouping similar topics, and using the logic and rational approach to information architecture that allows you to create a clean, hierarchical catalog of content. Remember, you’re not stitching together two websites, you are building one new website with one set of building blocks. Those blocks just happen to have originated from two different websites.
  3. Identify gaps and content needs -- It’s inevitable that there will be new, non-existent content needs identified in this process.  This could be content that bridges the gap between merged content, adds context to the new company structure, or simply demonstrates new products or services as a result of the merger. These content gaps must be identified and put through the content creation process within your organization. Similarly, much (if not all) content from one or both companies may need to be re-written to align with the company’s brand guidelines for voice and tone. 

Take Action: This is  where you develop the holistic content strategy for the website, which typically includes:

  1. Taxonomy Development
  2. Content Model Development
  3. Sitemap Development
  4. User Path Documentation 
  5. Strategic Wireframing


Don’t Forget to Collaborate

As we mentioned before, a merger or acquisition can be a sensitive time for many marketers on your newly combined team. Chances are, they have put their time and care into a marketing and website strategy that is now being completely changed and absorbed by another brand. Even if everyone is excited about the future and in good spirits about the direction, it’s still a good idea to be empathetic and respectful towards your coworkers. (This is always a good way to be, but especially now.)

So much of the success of this type of initiative is rooted in the early stages -- determining what the end result needs to be in order to serve both your business and your customers. When you start by defining the goal, then work systematically to construct the experience with the individual parts and pieces of the two original websites, you’ll find the process goes much more smoothly and successfully.


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About the Author
Justin is the owner/founder of Fox Consulting Group, and a lead consultant for strategy engagements.
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