This week saw the announcement that the SAE Group is to be acquired by Navitas, a broader-based educational (and considerably younger) operation. 'The acquisition represents the next phase in SAE's ongoing growth,' said SAE Institute President Tom Misner.

Fast-and-Wide turned to business analyst Linguabrand for a look into the two companies' brand language...

This is a 'no previous knowledge’ assessment of compatibility based on both companies portrayal through their web presence. The way in which companies speak about themselves and their operation can be telling – usually very much more than they are aware.

Let’s remember that when companies merge or acquire others, there has been a full courtship ritual. And it’s usually promoted by mergers and acquisitions (M&A) people. They connect simple desires for material wealth and status. Most marriages have been made that way for centuries.

And with more than a hint of a Hollywood prenuptual agreement, SAE has kept its property assets out of the deal.

‘Status’ is an important psychological angle not always linked to wealth. Breeding matters, to many. There are egos to be massaged and managed. ‘Will my name be retained?’ answered wrongly, could kill the deal. But, essentially it’s about the hard cash. The idea that businesses would join in a romantic, idealistic union is currently laughable.

Yet corporate cultures are distinctive. They determine the day-to-day approach to business of everyone in their businesses, not just the management team. So after the matchmakers have moved on (via the bank) our couple come together in the realities of everyday life. Success, or failure, of their venture is down to them alone. And, given shareholder value, peoples' jobs and management reputations, the stakes are high.

Honeymoons are remarkably short in business life.

So how likely are Navitas and SAE to be successful in fitting together?

Communication counts

Understanding how companies communicate reveals their deep-seated personalities – just like listening to people.

So Linguabrand, the inventor of brand language analytics, has listened to SAE and Navitas to gauge the cultural fit between the happy couple. Significant differences in their brand agendas would highlight areas that management would need to address. And tone of voice, how they deliver that brand agenda, is a useful guide to personality types. We’ve listened to both aspects.

To compare each company’s agenda we isolated the top 10 brand themes for each. After discarding language that both have to use to describe their business these are the results:


By putting these brand themes together, you can build the basic sales propositions of each company. Navitas makes a lot of its overseas academic programmes. It also thinks, and talks, a lot about its range, while highlighting specific countries where students can enrol. It’s all a little functional, don’t you think? If we were to listen to its direct competitors our guess is that these ideas would be generic.

 SAE is more focused on the deliverables to its students. It has a strong bias towards industry specialisation, echoing it’s A/V roots. But gaining work or a career through practical, and rapid, learning is its main message. This is supported by the claim of investment in equipment and professional tuition - all with a focus on the individual. This is much more customer-focused than Navitas. Consequently we think they’d do well to learn from their new partner.

Tone of voice

Linguabrand’s tone of voice model is method of classifying how brands are talking about themselves. It uses more than 40 linguistic measures which are combined to show a sound wave of the brand speaking as a person. It’s been applied to over 2.5m business words and it consistently uncovers underlying brand personalities.

This article is beyond an in-depth explanation, but just take a look at how the two brands sound next to one another:

You can see almost immediately that there’s a close correlation here.

The good news for both companies is the almost perfect match in terms of ego (references to self) and affinity (references to ‘you’ and ‘your’). If the levels were reversed – high ego and low affinity – we’d have two arrogant organisations trying to come together. Empathy is references to others, and Navitas shows much higher levels than SAE.

There are further similarities in their negative and positive outlooks. Negative references are minimal for both, so neither company talks about problems. But SAE has a much more interesting approach to time. It talks about its history but its outlook is predominantly about the future. It’s talking about what will happen - an echo of its agenda theme of future benefits for those who study with it. There are few differences in the way the companies approach the rest of society, what we call ‘socialisation’. The high score on ‘domestic’ for SAE is largely due to the A/V specialisation as this measure includes leisure activities – so film and music result in the higher ratings.

There’s not a lot of variation in the way the two companies think. SAE uses slightly more logical reasoning but given its practical agenda, we’d expect to see a more action-driven thought process. This is delivered by using more verbs and adverbs. Currently it’s pretty much the same as the business average, so it’s not really backing up its claims to practicality

Even a cursory scan of the two websites reveals differences in tone of voice delivery. Navitas is much more tentative – it doesn’t make promises – with many more ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. Perhaps this reflects its status as a quoted company; whereas the previously privately-owned SAE makes grander promises. These may have to be tempered by Navitas. The up-weighting of sensory language for SAE is another echo of it’s A/V specialisation. Brands often use references to sight, sound and feeling to warm up cold writing, but for SAE these references come with the territory.

Let’s be clear about this…

The tone of voice analysis highlights an issue for both companies - neither are particularly clear communicators. The average reading age needed to understand what Navitas is saying at first reading is 17.3. For SAE it’s 18.5. To put that into context the leader of the London Times newspaper can be understood with a reading age of 16. And this article clocks in at 15.3. Complex ideas don’t necessitate the use of convoluted language. They just need to be thought through to be well communicated. The fact that the audience for both brands are likely to be young, and often not have English as their mother tongue, suggests they need to clear this up.

For richer, for poorer

After the economics have been settled amongst the respective families we believe that this marriage has every chance of success. In business diverse personalities rarely come together successfully – AOL and Time Warner? Ford and Jaguar? Navitas and SAE demonstrate greater similarity than difference, but with plenty to learn from one another.

Next time you’re hitching up with someone just remember how much you’ve listened to them. Businesses should do it more often.

So how does this analysis sound to you on the basis of what you know of the SAE and its schools? And what do you think the acquisition will mean to the shape of education in pro audio and A/V?

Alastair Herbert is MD of Linguabrand

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