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A fact of life in business is that most large companies acquire other companies. Sometimes these deals are aimed at taking out a competitor, like when Starbucks bought Seattle’s Best. Sometimes they add complimentary offerings, like when Sears bought Land’s End. And Sometimes they don’t really make sense, like when Daimler Benz bought Chryslers. Often these deals are looked at financially, but there isn’t always a thorough exploration of the impact on the brand.

Since Apple has a war chest of $60 billion, there’s been speculation over whether the company should make more acquisitions. The company does have a history of buying other businesses but they are usually smaller deals aimed at building technological capacity. In 2010, Apple bought Quattro Wireless, Intrinsity, Siri and Poly9. Don’t be embarrassed if you never heard of these, most people haven’t. The question I like to think about is who Apple might buy if they wanted to do a major deal, and how might it affect the brand?

If you’d like to play along, please add your suggestion in the “comments” section.

Here are two to get you started:

Apple + Nikon:

The famous photography company is valued at just under $8 billion, well within Apple’s price range. The brand is know for making superb products for professionals and consumers – just like Apple, and Nikon focuses on a target audience of creative people – just like Apple. There are also some notable synergies. Apple offers two software packages for editing photography: iPhoto and Aperture. Both are superior to Nikon’s own software. Apple also makes the leading video editing software: Final Cut. Nikon’s newest cameras also shoot video. Apple’s latest hardware, including the iPhone, iPod, iPad and Mac computers, all have built in cameras. Unfortunately these cameras aren’t very good. Imagine dropping Nikon cameras into these devices? Overall, I think an Apple/Nikon deal has a lot to offer.

Apple + Nintendo

This is a pricier deal – Nintedo has a market cap of about $30 billion – but this is still well within Apple’s grasp. Apple’s has $60 billion in cash and a market cap of over $300 billion, so if both companies wanted to do the deal it would be easy to pull off. The value? Well both companies are known for innovative, elegant products that challenge industry conventions. When gaming hardware companies were all focused on adolescent boys, Nintendo changed the industry by targeted everyone else with their incredibly popular Wii. And Apple has recently started to wake up to the potential of gaming. It’s AppStore has become one of the largest gaming outlets in the industry. Imagine AppStore for Wii and DS? Seems like an interesting fit.

With both Nikon and Nintendo, I think there’s an ideological harmony, but maybe you disagree. I’d like to hear your opinions and your suggestions for an ideal Apple mash-up. Just use the comment field to join in on the conversation. And if you’re a marketing professor, ask your students what they think and let me know.

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Last week Procter & Gamble announced the purchase of the retail chain the Art of Shaving. Stepping into retail might seem like a peculiar move for the consumer products company, but it follows a pattern of increasing innovation for the organization.

Back in 2005 P&G made a lot of noise when it bought Gillette. At the time, I was interviewed by BusinessWeek, which picked up on the innovative shift signaled by the $57 billion deal. [The article is available here: Branding: Five New Lessons.]

The deal made a lot of sense for P&G. Gillette was a master at marketing a cohesive family of products under one brand. P&G is growing in this area, extending brands like Crest into broad families of related products. Gillette also benefitted from the combination of innovative hardware paired with consumables — the razor and the blades. P&G has expanded greatly in this area with electric toothbrushes, Febreze air cleaners, Mr. Clean car wash kits and Swiffer wet mops.

So if putting hardware and consumables together and building product families can boost your brands, why not control even more of the consumer experience? The Art of Shaving deal could teach P&G some important lessons, but only if they do it right. Back in the 1980s, P&G picked up the Vidal Sassoon product line, but left the high-end hair salons alone. The brand languished, and Sassoon and P&G found themselves on opposite ends of a heated lawsuit. In retrospect, P&G might have missed an opportunity to explore the connection between product and service. A connection the folks at Starbucks exploited when they expanded from selling bags of coffee beans to serving the coffee in upscale bistros. When brands mix product and service, the resulting experience can increase customer loyalty, reduce price sensitivity and boost differentiation.

Given its position as the leading consumer products manufacturing company, P&G could content itself with sticking to the existing formulas and leaving the innovation to smaller, nimbler players. But with this entry into retail experiences, it looks like the company that invented brand management might just be on its way to reinventing it.