Anyone who has so much as thought about starting a business has probably had a conversation about branding.
Branding is often discussed, and it’s misunderstood nearly as often. I know from over a decade of experience that the vast majority of folks not only miss the mark on what branding is, but they also fail to appreciate why it’s so important.
When it comes to bringing a business into the Big Show, branding is step one — a business that isn’t well branded might as well be playing stickball in the alley in comparison.
So my question to you is simple. Are you taking your MSP’s brand strategy seriously?
What is branding and why does it matter?
Branding encompasses a vast number of ideas, images, and initiatives. It goes far, far beyond a logo and a tagline (although we’ve encountered plenty of small businesses who don’t even have those squared away).
Branding is a comprehensive representation of who your business is — sort of like a social media profile for your operation. It should convey layered messages about your culture, purpose, and value propositions.
Your brand should also help you stand out from your competitors — a huge challenge for most MSPs these days. It doesn’t need to be silly, funny, serious, or corny. Your brand just needs to be memorable, meaningful, and authentic.
A memorable brand earns greater mindshare and respect because a) it’s unique, and b) people assume that tiny operations and fly-by-night business don’t invest the time or resources to really brand themselves. Your perceived success and expertise increases when you are branded.
A meaningful brand allows you to contextualize what you’re offering in a way that your competitors cannot. Rather than laying out a shopping list of IT services (like most MSPs), a good branding strategy provides room to “veneer” that common, mundane list with your image and attitude. Dozens of fast food chains sell hamburgers, but if you want a Big Mac, you have to go to McDonald’s.
An authentic brand gives your business credibility and makes it easier to connect with your audience and prospects. Your brand image should be a true reflection of yourself and your business. Being a phoney is not the way to go.
Where Does MSP Brand Strategy Fit Into Digital Marketing?
Ideally, your brand strategy should inform all of your marketing decisions. What most people consider marketing (primarily the digital marketing side of things) is actually just promotion. Promotion only makes up one-quarter of the entire marketing mix. Elements of branding such as positioning, pricing, and product make up the rest.
Think of promotion as the “how we’re saying it” part of marketing. Branding is what you’re saying. That’s why it’s so important! Getting people to hear or see your message only matters if the message elicits the desired response. Awareness is very much oversold, and promotional marketing that isn’t driven by a solid brand strategy does little more than make people aware that you exist.
In today’s competitive market, that’s not enough. You’re being shopped. People are comparing you to your competitors. You have to stand out and demonstrate clear, unique value. That’s what a brand strategy helps you do.
Why do so many marketers ignore branding?
Yeah, I already know what you’re thinking. If branding is so important, why don’t our marketing company reps or favorite YouTube guru talk about it all the time?
I used to wonder the same thing.
I’d ask myself, “Why do so many professional marketers change the subject or try to downplay branding?” because I KNOW how important it is. It’s one of those things that really not refutable. Casting shade on branding makes zero sense.
And then I realized the answer…
A large number of marketing professionals — and even agencies — ignore branding because they don’t know how to use it. Good branding strategies require creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and a bit of courage. Sadly, there are a lot of marketers in the world who are short on these things.
Such people learned their “marketing skills” from YouTube, paperback books, and weekend seminars — none of which can endow a person with creativity. For marketers like this, branding is scary. It makes no sense to them because all they know and understand is the rote techniques that they learned from someone else.
Because they don’t understand branding, they scoff at it. I don’t blame them for trying to change the subject — it’s a self-preservation move. If they don’t understand branding, they have no business being in marketing, and they don’t want you to find that out!
Brandin’ Ain’t Easy
When we take on a new MSP marketing client, a good deal of our initial strategic planning time goes into creating and refining a brand strategy.
This is something that takes a bit of time, collaboration, and discussion, which is why we typically don’t work with MSPs that are desperate for something to happen overnight. Our clients are typically larger companies that want to move into the big leagues and get out of the doldrums of templated content, blog feeds, and me-too marketing.
You should expect to take a few weeks — or even a couple of months — working on a branding strategy. Keep in mind that a real branding play is going to change a lot of things, and that takes time to execute. You will need to clarify the unique value you bring to the market — and if you don’t have that kind of offering, it will need to be created and defined. Imagery and messaging that aligns with your new brand must be created and tested. Your entire website will need to be updated to reflect these new concepts and value statements, and your printed materials will probably need to be redesigned.
All of this work pays dividends that can’t be obtained any other way. There is absolutely no substitute for a solid branding strategy.
It is the foundation upon which every aspect of your marketing is built, from social media, to email, to in-person events.
How do I brand my MSP?
I’m all for DIY projects, but branding is something that should be left to experts. Unless you have a recent and diverse background in marketing AND experience in creative fields, I don’t recommend taking this on yourself.
Remember, there’s a reason they don’t teach branding to mass-produced marketers. It’s hard.
And if you’re a purely technical person who feels uncomfortable about the idea of branding — as MSP owners often are — do not try to do it yourself! Branding is more about feelings and intuition than it is about stats and numbers. If you don’t have an innate mindset for this sort of thing, the results could be… messy.
And the only thing worse than not having a branding strategy is having a really, really bad one.
What About Something Like “StoryBrand”?
We’ve worked with numerous MSPs and vendors who’ve gone down the StoryBrand road. We’ve even worked directly with trained StoryBrand reps.
I can’t recommend it for MSPs. The StoryBrand process has too many flaws to work effectively in this space — and we’ve encountered them all first-hand.
First and foremost, StoryBrand doesn’t address the issue of differentiation at all. It doesn’t help you present yourself as a unique solution amidst a sea of identical competitors. Instead it just paints a narrative over an MSP’s lack of unique value propositions. That’s not a brand.
Secondly, the StoryBrand system is based on a formula that outputs “brand archetypes”. Most MSPs and vendors end up in the same archetype, because that’s how formulas work. This just means more MSPs are going around the same things in a different way. Again, not a brand.
StoryBrand is a good DIY solution for small businesses that can’t afford any marketing help at all. It can help a mom-and-pop operation bring their marketing messaging up from the level of “terrible” to “acceptable”. In a competitive space, it’s a poor substitute for an actual brand strategy.
Ask an MSP Branding Specialist
We’re here for a reason. The experienced marketing experts at YSE are here to fill in those gaps in your knowledge and skill set.
The same way you bring IT knowledge and experience to your clients, we bring sales and marketing experience to ours.
If you’d like to discuss your branding or any other aspect of your managed services marketing, please schedule a call with our leadership team. There’s no obligation and nothing to lose.