M&A Portfolios: Are You Thinking Like a Digital Native?

Companies need radical flexibility, not “house of brands” hang-ups.

After several quarters of near-frenzy pace, global deal-making is starting to slow. But for those in charge of managing portfolio and architecture strategy, the recent mergers and acquisition binge is creating something of a mess.

Many of the decisions about customers, brands and marketing have been addressed too quickly as deals were coming together. And once the integration process starts, those initial plans unravel. As the financial and operations teams that finalized deals hand them off to those responsible for taking new assets to market, tangles of false assumptions and the sub-optimal use of brand assets emerge; the value creation logic of the deal never gets out of the spreadsheet. And with $1.24 trillion in deals already on the books this year, that confusion presents material risk for shareholders.

Increasingly, clients are coming to us for help figuring out the best ways to organize and manage new, post-deal asset bases. Often, they start by asking: “Should we be a house of brands? Or a branded house?”

“Should we be a house of brands? Or a branded house?”

We’re not afraid to say that’s simply the wrong question. Digitally-focused companies can’t afford to think that way. The modern approach to architecture and portfolio strategy, and the one inherently chosen by digital natives, is radical flexibility.

Older companies are coming to understand this, too, focusing on customers earlier in the M&A process, aware that integration management offices are often working with incomplete data.

In order to get this right and maximize the value of today’s deals, we believe the best post-merger decisions come down to answering three essential questions.

Three Essential Questions For the Best M&A Portfolio Strategy

1. Are we customer-obsessed?

Our research on brand relevance offers compelling evidence that companies that are obsessed with customers significantly outperform others. It’s no surprise that the names that dominate the top of the Prophet Brand Relevance Index® are digital-first, including Apple, Amazon and Netflix. And those at the top of the list consistently outperformed the S&P 500 by 3x in revenue and 205x in profit in the last decade. These companies constantly ask themselves: Are we putting customer-use cases and environments first? All decisions are filtered through the perspective of customers and prospects.

When considering customers first—the buyers, the deciders–it’s easy to see how easily a company like Procter & Gamble and Schick might be outflanked. Direct-to-consumer brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s have devoted themselves to changing and improving the razor shopping experience, rather than focusing on promotions and product features.

In post-M&A environments, brand portfolios should be built around key customer use cases, balancing the desire for efficiency with a customer-centric model that leverages the strongest brand for each use case. When J.P. Morgan & Co. and The Chase Manhattan Bank merged, they prioritized efficiency over customers and created a brand mash-up that weakened both brands. After a couple of years of brand value degradation, a new strategy that led with customer needs was founded with a powerful institutional brand, J.P. Morgan, and a powerful retail brand, Chase. This approach allows for effective targeting of clearly defined customer segments with separate brands and tailored offerings, and is paying off for JPMorgan Chase, with a five-year gain in brand value of 53%.

2. Can we find max value?

When M&A deals fail to generate revenue synergies, there is usually a lack of early focus on customer, marketing and branding issues. Playbooks often don’t include these steps and when they do, the discussions are qualitative and overly reliant on opinion and emotion.

The solution is in this key question: Are we deploying our assets to maximize customer use cases?

Companies can find significant incremental deal value when they integrate customer and marketing analytics in pre-close analysis and the integration management office. We studied one deal that doubled the final price of a $5 billion global asset by modeling the financial impact of future (post close) brand use cases. Another estimated market-share gains between 2 and 3% on a $60 billion deal through brand portfolio economic analysis. And on the cost side, we are helping companies lower post-merger migration costs between 15 and 40% by using cost-optimization analysis.

3. Are we serving up the right offer?

The best way to achieve this optimization is to constantly elevate the right offer for each person, on the right device and at the perfect time. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and SAP are experts at this kind of hyper-responsiveness, with nearly-infinite capabilities for personalization, depending on the needs of each customer. They continually ask: Do we have an adaptive brand architecture? To win with today’s digitally demanding customers, companies need to maximize all the flexibility available through digital tools, making sure offers are as adaptive and individualized as possible.

Amazon remains a perfect example. Rather than being a monolithic Amazon or a fragmented collection of sub-brands, the brand adapts to its audience, use case or environment. Do you listen to a book at 9 p.m. each night? If so, it’s likely Amazon will push an Audible brand message just before. Recently ordered paper towels? Alexa will check-in to see if you need a refill. Context is king in our world, and successful companies will deliver an adaptive architecture that ensures maximum relevance.


Older companies don’t have to cede their future to those that came of age as digital natives. Moving forward, all companies–and all brands­–can benefit from a modern portfolio and architecture strategy. And while all companies acknowledge that the future is digital, we’re convinced that those that win are those that also understand that the digital’s primary power is in better serving customers.

For more information on capturing greater value in the M&A, please contact us today.