In this article, we will briefly explain how to develop intangibles.
In our earlier article Identifying Intangibles in AdTech M&A Value, we explored how you, as a business owner, can identify the intangible assets that make your company more valuable during the M&A process. After identification is complete, the next step is to develop those same intangible assets. Developing intangible assets relies on key performance indicators (KPIs) in the same way identifying intangibles does. KPIs are the metrics you choose to represent the performance of an intangible asset.
Developing an intangible asset is the set of actions you will take to optimize a KPI. For example, we previously explored how more data interfaces can lead to optimized conversion. Therefore, the intangible asset is the data interface and conversion is the KPI. Optimizing conversion means increasing or decreasing it based on drivers like technology, advertising spends, or advertising quality.
To measure conversion, you must define the desired final action you wish your customer or visitor to take. This could include clicking an ad, buying a product, or providing an email address. The development of the intangible asset (e.g., data interfaces) becomes any action, investment, or improvement you perform to accomplish the final objective (e.g., click, buy, provide email). These developments increase M&A value. In our next article, Monetizing Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value, we will show you how to monetize them.
There are multiple ways to develop an intangible asset. Building a company for sale requires considering accounting and banking principles as well as intuitive, strategic ones. Imagine a company that performs direct digital marketing. If this firm wants to increase the number of people who click ads served to drive more website traffic, they have several options to encourage their users to do so:
- Create more compelling marketing content and design
- Acquire new contact information of people who are more likely to click the links in the body of the message
- Retarget consumers by making sure prospects are seeing ads in multiple locations and in multiple instances
- Invest in new technology that places more relevant ads in front of potential “clickers”
- A combination of some or all of the above
The best choice for the company is likely a mixture of the five options laid out above. The company must understand that each choice represents a distinct set of intangible assets, all of which are inherently identified and developed when the decision is made. The investments made in one, some, or all of these options are a part of “developing” the intangible asset. The intangibles must be measured and monitored so they can increase corporate value at the time of M&A.
As a business owner, how you choose to develop an intangible asset affects the accounting options available to your management team. Capitalization is a common technique for recording expenses as assets to minimize long-term costs. Specific rules exist about how and when to capitalize expenses that overlap with the development of the intangible assets recommended here. For example, you can capitalize costs to develop patents, copyrights, trademarks, and even proprietary software intangibles, but those costs must be recorded correctly. You cannot simply download a credit card statement 11 months after the expenses were incurred and then claim them as assets.
The principles of identifying and developing intangibles are relevant to business owners because they tie together strategies for growth, development, accounting, and exits. When used correctly, they break down silos between business units and bring together the operation and value of a business. Most venture-capital investors wait for companies to be purchased so the investor can then achieve liquidity. All owners desire M&A options for their hard work. Developing intangibles is the only way to combine the traditional business operations of growing, scaling, and building a company with the gritty accounting principles that affect the valuation and closing of an M&A deal.
Companies are rarely acquired with the intention to conduct business the same way it was conducted before the purchase. Therefore, it is important for you, the seller, to highlight the most valuable intangible assets of your business through their development and investment. This allows the buyer to utilize these intangibles to their own advantage. Ad tech companies are driven by these intangible assets, such as data interfaces, and new technology development that engages specific customers. Measuring these intangibles through the life cycle of the company will affect your exit valuation, creating a more accurate picture of what a buyer is ultimately paying for.