Coming Together Better: 8 Secrets to a Happy Merger and Successful Rebranding

By The SHSMD Team posted 01-02-2018 16:28


In 2014, the iconic Betty Ford Center merged with addiction treatment pioneer Hazelden to create the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, forming the nation's largest nonprofit addiction rehab and recovery resources provider. If ever there were a "meant to be together" story, the merger of Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center fit the narrative: Our respective missions, visions and values were already closely aligned and our leaders had long enjoyed a friendly and collaborative working relationship.

Still, merging the assets and attributes of two beloved yet distinct legacy brands held challenges. Both the Betty Ford Center and Hazelden brought loyal, long-term constituencies to the merger table, including staff, donors, referents and—especially—former patients. All of these constituent groups expressed concerns about a host of potential merger-related changes to a brand they had come to know, value and support.

Of utmost importance to both parties was ensuring the merged brand would duly honor the history and legacy of each institution while championing the strengths and advantages created by the merger. Both parties also appreciated what a “stronger-together” merged brand would mean in terms of cementing the new organization’s leadership position in the addiction treatment and recovery field.

Here is an inside look at some of the key decisions and processes involved in this rebranding challenge—and eight takeaways to inform your rebranding efforts.

Finding the Path Forward, Together
Our leadership team wisely enlisted an outside agency to guide stakeholders through the rebranding process and facilitate development our new brand identity and assets. The agency’s initial steps centered on conducting audience/market research, developing naming and messaging architecture and creating the brand’s visual identity.

First, the research: In a national study designed to gauge the level of customer familiarity with both of our brands, the Betty Ford Center registered an aided-awareness rating of 72% compared with Hazelden’s 8%. The study also revealed that, while the Betty Ford Center had the stronger consumer brand, Hazelden had the stronger professional brand.

In addition to conducting brand awareness and competitive identity studies, we facilitated focus groups with former patients, family members and staff from both organizations to gain brand insight. The focus groups provided the dual benefit of identifying constituent perceptions and expectations while also helping those participants recognize similarities between the two organizations.

Developing a new name for our merged organization was another first order of business. Options on the table included assimilation (choosing one of the two brand names); reinvention (creating an entirely new name for the organization); business as usual (keeping both brand names); or fusion (blending the two brand names).

Leadership ultimately determined that fusing the two names would garner the greatest brand recognition and visibility while also honoring the storied legacies of both brands. Retaining both names in a new, blended version also helped to preserve the strong emotional connection felt by influential staff and patient constituencies.

Hand in hand with developing the brand name, the agency began creating a new visual identity system. The selected blue and green logo design represents “the coming together of two nurturing organizations, much like two hands joining to create a comforting shelter of care.”

Hope, optimism and wayfinding are also represented in the design, with its strong use of line and repetition in an upward motion.

Careful thought was given to the new brand color palette, typography and photographic style as well, with selections that expressed key brand attributes such as growth, dignity, positivity, approachability, relatability and engagement and conveyed a feeling of freshness and energy balanced with strength and expertise.

8 Secrets to a Happily-Ever-After Rebrand

  1. Identify common goals at the outset. For us, the potential to help more people reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction was the ultimate shared goal of both organizations. Every stakeholder and constituent group could wholeheartedly support this shared goal.

  2. Stay true to your core values. There’s a lot of compromising that goes into the rebranding process, but hold dear to your core values as if your very reputation depends on it—because it does. Your values are the principles that create the very essence of your brand. Our brand is built on the long-held values of both organizations: respect, science, recovery, leadership, growth, service and teaching.

  3. Maintain close communication with leadership through every step of the rebranding process. By keeping the lines of communication open, you can iron out differences as they arise—not that it’s always easy. Be prepared for some emotional discussions along the way. Two of my go-to mantras for staying the course and gently pushing forward: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “This too shall pass.”

  4. Bring in outside help to guide your rebranding efforts. Having a neutral, third party perspective can be invaluable in helping you understand the brand picture of how your brand is perceived. In addition to serving as a sounding board for your team, your outside consultant will likely be a tremendous resource for research and data to inform your rebranding strategy.

  5. Leverage your rebrand as an opportunity to become more consumer- and SEO-friendly. Rebranding provides a rare opportunity to reintroduce your organization to customers, this time supplied with research and analytics about customer preferences, expectations, needs and wants. We viewed our rebrand as a breakthrough opportunity to boost our domain equity, heighten our search rank and expand our following.

  6. Consider how your rebranding efforts could jumpstart other initiatives. Launching our new brand in 2014 provided the perfect vehicle to carry us more swiftly into the digital age of marketing, search engine optimization, mobile devices and social media platforms. We were headed in that direction, but rebranding helped us get there faster.

  7. Fully engage employees in the rebranding process. You are building a brand culture as much as a brand identity. The look, feel and messaging of your brand should reflect and inform the work employees do every day. Employees will be your best brand ambassadors if they have a clear vision of your organization’s future, a mission they believe in, and shared values that have everyone pulling in the same direction.

  8. Celebrate the everyday and bigger milestones as you come together. In little ways (new employee lanyards and business cards) and big ways (billboards and executive communications), be mindful of fostering a sense of belonging among your constituent groups. Like any big changes that come our way, a rebrand can be unsettling until we can see where we fit into the new scheme of things.

By Melissa Fors | Posted January 2, 2018
SHSMD Member
Executive Director, Marketing Strategy
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation​

1 comment


01-10-2018 10:06

Good article. I think point four is especially important. Too often, one of the merging organizations will not have strong (or even any) data about its brand position. The leaders will just say, "We have a great brand and couldn't possibly change our name." That leads to compromises that aren't always in the best interest of future growth and reputation management. Doing research is key and getting a neutral opinion and recommendations could help you resolve an impasse that might otherwise result in someone just making an uninformed decision to keep the merger moving.​