Maximising the Optivo merger - Housing Association Magazine

By Claire Hall

As featured in Housing Association Magazine, by Max du Bois.

The housing sector is currently experiencing an era of total flux as it continues to reinvent itself in a bid to capture more value by merging, creating new partnerships, developing innovative services, and branching out into new areas. In this increasingly fragmented landscape a merger may on the surface appear to offer organisations unfettered growth opportunities, yet the reality is that they are frequently underdelivering, and there is a good reason for this.

Building new style, sustainable, and effective organisations will only ever have impact if they maximise and demonstrate their joint strengths. Mergers should equate to great opportunities, growth and evolution, yet the greatest challenge comes not just from the perspective of managing the cultural shifts, but in safeguarding the core values each partner brings with them.

This is something AmicusHorizon and Viridian were well aware of when they decided to join forces and become Optivo. Building a larger entity without losing the value of each partner was a juggling act they had to rapidly learn to master. However, on the upside, both organisations came from a position where their core values were already closely aligned, which was quite a unique starting point in a sector that has seen many recent mergers happening.

By sharing a common commitment to working as one team alongside stakeholders to tackle the housing crisis head on and deliver great customer service, they already had one of the key ingredients to a successful merger; a clear definition of what they have got that really appeals, both on an emotional and a rational level to their audiences.

AmicusHorizon and Viridian focused on the salient question ‘how can we make what we do as relevant and supportive to all our audiences’? This enabled them to put the residents at the heart of their merger and become a fundamental part of their vision. This was particularly evident during the six month consulting and rebranding exercises that aimed to define how the meshing of these two organisations should look, feel and sound.

Likewise, they were adamant that the deep dive into their diverse audiences’ aspirations and key requirements should encompass everyone from local authorities and MPs to the staff and, most importantly, residents.

In asking ‘how can we make what we do as relevant and supportive as possible’ they effectively tapped into the 120 staff and residents whose voices, and emotional investment, led the process. It took a further 1250 staff and residents to define and tailor the brand positioning and name.

One of the biggest challenges a merger can throw up is accurately representing collective ambitions. Sometimes as portfolios merge they can either become barren or a tangled mess. In this instance each partner organisation had its own rich history of success, as well as its own unique look and message.

As a consequence the brand needed to take each partner’s distinctive skills, regional and national reputations and combine these to break new ground in ‘building homes, making places, enhancing lives’. And there is no one size fits all formula. A blanket style identity would have resulted in a bland, unengaging brand that would neither appeal nor differentiate.

Conversely, the numerous separate services both organisations brought to the merger risked creating silos if they were not properly meshed into the overarching brand. This would have hidden the collective breadth and depth of what the associations do and squandered a valuable commercial asset that could help establish the credibility of the brand.

Optivo aims to emulate the key insights that came out of the research and weave this into the very essence of what they do best: investing in their residents, their staff and their stakeholders. Investing in the difference housing can make to people’s lives. Investing in housing that helps people and communities build a brighter future.

This was not merely a rebranding exercise, this was a transformational merger that has resulted in a new generation housing associa"on reflected by a coherent and flexible brand that showcases the association’s numerous facets and highlights both AmicusHorizon and Viridian’s joint strengths.