At some point in your communications career, you may experience the challenges and opportunities that arise from an acquisition or merger. With 2017 setting a record for the most mergers and acquisitions in a calendar year, according to Thomson Reuters, and 30 hospital and health system mergers and acquisitions occurring in the first quarter of 2018 alone, it’s evident that frequent consolidation is redefining the business landscape.
Given my experience with Canon Inc.’s acquisition of Toshiba Medical, I’d like to share the communications and marketing lessons I learned through this process as two iconic brands became one. It was fascinating to see an iconic company such as Canon — known for pioneering imaging technology — acquire an established diagnostic imaging brand that came with not only name recognition, but strong customer loyalty as well.
The acquisition was completed in 2016, followed by the formal name change to Canon Medical Systems in 2018. Our challenge throughout this time was developing a strategic and effective communications plan that resonated with employees, partners, existing and potential customers, and was centered around common understanding and trust.
While the opportunity to spearhead a communications and marketing strategy for an acquisition like this may seem daunting, in the end my team and I were able to add valuable tools and experiences to our skill sets. There are four key takeaways from the process that enabled us to successfully integrate the stories and cultures of both companies to find a new brand voice.
Look for common ground
We began the story-mining process by going back to the origin stories of each brand. Although Canon was not as big a player in medical devices as Toshiba Medical, we learned that its first President — Takeshi Mitarai — was a doctor. And, in 1940 Canon introduced Japan’s first indirect X-ray camera which was used for the early detection of pulmonary tuberculosis. These findings, among others, unearthed stories and a new narrative around Canon’s longstanding passion for healthcare.
From there, we tapped both companies’ origin stories — each rooted in health care — to fuel Canon Medical Systems’ new brand identity and vision for delivering world-class health care solutions. Our integrated communications strategy elevated our shared values through employee, stakeholder and market communications to introduce our new voice.
Bring the brand philosophies together
Next, we focused our efforts on the corporate philosophies and values of each company, in an effort to better understand how our cultures could potentially fuse. Toshiba Medical Systems built a legacy centered on its “Made for Life” philosophy, a longstanding commitment to our “partners, patients, and you” focus which calls for understanding that relationships rely on trust, respect, and transparency.
Canon’s heritage stems from its kyosei philosophy which conveys its dedication to seeing “all people, regardless of race, religion or culture, harmoniously living and working together in happiness.” These two points of view, both rooted in innovation and customer-centric solutions, are naturally complimentary, relatable and connected.
The innate synergies between our brand philosophies created natural synergies not only for our storytelling and communication/marketing initiatives, but for our teams as well.
Don’t go it alone
The third takeaway is to ensure that both internal and external audiences are engaged throughout the process, right alongside you. From customers and partners to every employee, we communicated frequently and made sure that the process was transparent. As a result, we achieved 84 percent awareness of the acquisition in the U.S. among physicians and imaging directors within months of announcing the name change.
Acquisitions inevitably breed uncertainty and during this crucial time we found that proactively communicating to all of our key stakeholders ensured that any seeds of doubt never took root. By engaging with employees, customers and partners, we found and leveraged new optimism and excitement for the future, as the newly minted Canon Medical brand emerged.
In fact, immediately after the acquisition, employees ranked the brand a stable partner (4.4) and technology leader (4.3) (out of 5.0 scale).
Content is key
The final piece of our communications strategy was tapping into visual storytelling during the transition. This enabled us to fully capture the excitement and to highlight the benefits of the two brands coming together as one.
The tactics we used to accomplish this were advertising, paid search, proactive media relations and storytelling, social tiles and web and video content, all of which was focused on humanizing the story and bringing the new brand to life. And whether it was earned, shared or owned content, we made sure that the messaging was consistent and that it spoke to our key audiences.
As I look back, I can see that the keys to our success were not only finding common ground and synergies between the two brands, but being transparent by communicating frequently and proactively with all of our key stake holders.
It was a great experience for my team and me, and a great way to remind ourselves that we can always learn and grow, which in the end better prepares us for communications opportunities in the future.
Cathy Wolfe is senior director of global strategic communication and market intelligence at Canon Medical Systems USA, Inc.