When Misty Davis joined data company IRI as CMO in February 2022, little did she know how much change would be in front of her. “Just two months into my gig, I learned the merger with NPD would be happening. So by August, we were talking about how to figure out what our new company was going to be called,” Davis recalled. “And that has been quite a journey!”
In 2021, private equity firm Hellman & Freidman acquired NPD Group, a leading provider of market research and in 2022 merged it with Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). Davis shared the strategy behind creating the new company name for the combined entity. She explained. “We had two brands that had 90 years of combined equity in their fields. IRI had very, very significant brand equity with CPG companies and NPD had incredible brand equity in general merchandise. We had to have some really tough discussions over the seven months. Do we walk away from 90 years of combined history and start something entirely fresh? Do we walk away from 50 years of NPD and become IRI? Do we walk away from 40 years at IRI and become NPD? Or do we merge the two company names and make some sort of acronym together that could be IRI-NPD. That was not an easy decision. There was just so much deep research. We interviewed 1000s of employees, top clients, medium clients and new clients to understand what the merger meant to them and what the brands of IRI and NPD stood for. What were they looking at from this new combined entity that truly was a very different value proposition for the industry with one true holistic view of the consumer? Did we deserve an opportunity to start something fresh and something new? That became the direction we settled on.”
Eventually the company decided on the name Circana. Davis elaborated, “The name was very intentional. We generated over 2700 names. We were thinking about the roots of the word that we wanted to be a part of. We talked about what do IRI and NPD coming together equate to. A large portion of our words came around complete and around full circle, and how we tie everything together. As we were thinking about our brand, every purchase that consumers make throughout their day can be understood by us. We help clients and brands make better decisions based on that full, holistic look of the consumer. So circle and complete became a lot of what we were entertaining and circ, being the root of circle, became the root [for our new name].
She continued, “That complete consumer is one of our big narratives that’s out in the market – only with a partnership with Circana can you understand that complete consumer view. We started to think of who Circana was going to be and thinking about the complexities of consumer behavior – the understanding that consumer buying behavior was getting more and more complex. Our tagline inevitably rolled off of it which is ‘complexity into clarity’ – only with Circana can you turn that complex buying behavior into the clarity you need to understand the decisions you have to make for your business.”
Is the new brand helping create interest in the combined companies? Davis believes it is. “The brand narrative of Circana defines our value proposition. Being that complete view of the consumer is already sparking major intrigue and interest with not just new clients, but also our existing clients seeing us for more potential than they ever thought of. CPG partners who have worked with us for years are now starting to realize, ‘Wait, these guys now have insight into things that our consumers are watching, their video games, the toys that their kids are playing with.’ So if I’m someone like a cereal producer, I can start to think about using Circana data for the highest rising and the fastest growing toys. That opens up a whole new thinking about things like licensing deals. These are areas that they’ve never been able to interlock from a consumer data perspective that now they can turn to Circana as a true consultant. It’s not just what cereals they’re buying in the aisle, but what else are they doing. And what does that mean for us as a cereal manufacturer? That kind of brand is creating the demand for things that they hadn’t thought of the from the heritage companies. It’s exciting!”
Bringing two companies together under a single brand is not easy, but neither is bringing two marketing organizations together as one. Davis discussed this challenge and her approach to overcoming it. “In terms of bridging the gap between the two, we’re taking the best of each heritage company from a process perspective and combining them to make something even more powerful from a Circana perspective. One heritage company may have been better at their email marketing strategy, while the other heritage company may have been a little stronger in how they approached events and sponsorships. I use the expression ‘peel the onion back’ from a process perspective all the time. The team probably found it frustrating in those first early months, because I was peeling the onion back on every single process, because I truly believed we could take a learning from how NPD did things and how IRi did things. And one plus one equals three in each one of these processes. That was incredibly time consuming and something, to be very honest, we’re still working on. I just had a post-mortem of an event and sponsorship that we launched and I said, ‘I was seeing was a lot of last minute stuff coming down the line. How do we prevent that from moving forward? What are some of the things we learn from for the next one?’”
Processes are one thing but building a common culture is another. Davis addressed this directly, “In terms of building the culture, I will not sugarcoat that. It is harder than ever in this remote virtual world. I think about my time at Google when everyone was in the office five days a week and Google was building a culture in its startup days. It was easy. You just went to happy hour after work with some colleagues and you grabbed lunch in the cafeteria with each other. I am super intentional about visiting as many of our teams and our sites as possible. Our New York, London and Chicago offices being three of our biggest. When I’m in town, I make sure that the teams are getting together. I don’t think there’s ever been a Chicago trip where we haven’t had the team in whiteboarding, doing brainstorm lunches and something after work. Although our people are spread all over the world, when we are together, we make the best use of our time. We also are utilizing things like breakout rooms during our team meeting to create that smaller conversation approach to meeting more people. Making sure that you’re in a breakout room with folks from across the marketing organization, not just the folks you work with on a day to day, and posing different questions in our global team meetings so they get to know each other better. That’s a little bit of how we’re working to foster creative partnerships and extra content overall. We’re continuing to embrace creative ways to celebrate each other, to recognize each other and highlight key wins, key connections that are being made. We have global town halls; we have communication as an organization; and continuing to celebrate each other has been a huge focus.”
What advice would Davis have for other CMOs who are rebranding merged companies? “Have some fun with it,” she declared. “We threw ideas on the whiteboard and in emails that were wild. And we didn’t necessarily go with those ideas, but we spun them off and came up with things that were definitely out of the norm for our heritage companies. I don’t think Circana would have had that creativity and the excitement of our employees had we not pushed the boundaries the way we did. We reminded ourselves, we have to preserve the iconic brands that we were, but we have to embrace the new company we are becoming.”