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I’d like you to imagine a medical conference where thousands of healthcare professionals are in attendance. Row after row of seats line the auditorium where a sea of doctors, nurses, surgeons, researchers, and paramedics eagerly await a presenter to appear before them on stage.
At the back of the dias, a huge screen displays the presentation’s topic: “Advances in Oncology: Saving the Lives of Cancer Patients”. In short order, a man steps on stage to the sound of modest applause tempered by the air of professionalism in the room.
The man adjusts his microphone, smiles, and says, “We’re here to talk about the cutting-edge methods being used in the field of oncology that, on average, result in 40% lower mortality rates in cancer patients.”
The anticipation is palpable in a room full of people who have dedicated themselves to saving lives.
“But, first,” he continues, “I want to let you know. I’m not an oncologist or a researcher. I’m actually in hospital administration and I specialize in insurance billing. I manage Medicare systems for about 100 medical centers on the west coast.”
What do you think the audience’s response would be to this revelation? What is your response? Do you feel like the right person was chosen to speak on that particular topic?
Of course not. Even though this seems to be a qualified professional, they’re not an expert in the subject matter that’s on the table.
The purpose of this anecdote is to illustrate the way the IT channel continually approaches the subject of marketing. It’s an approach that’s frustrating to marketers, but more importantly, it keeps the IT space’s collective understanding of the subject mired in old ideas and false promises.
In the past few months, I’ve watched or participated in dozens of webinars and live events related to MSP marketing. I honestly find it unsettling how often someone who is not trained in marketing, and who doesn’t even serve in a marketing capacity in their business, is brought in to talk about marketing.
There is no shortage of smart, capable, trained, and experienced marketing professionals who would love to share what they know, so it boggles the mind that I’ve seen engineers asked to talk about website design, software developers asked to talk about lead generation, and cybersecurity experts asked to talk about branding.
Why? Seriously — why is this happening so often?
Think about it another way. If you, the MSP, signed up for a webinar about earning a CMMC certification, and I walked out on stage and said, “Hi, I’m J.P. Roe. I’m not in cybersecurity, I’ve been in marketing for the last 20 years. But, hey, I work with tons of cybersecurity companies, so I’m going to tell you about CMMC,” wouldn’t you think something was seriously wrong?
You would. Because the IT channel takes cybersecurity seriously, but it does not take marketing seriously. And it really, really needs to.
Which leads me to my second analysis of a video from Datto’s MSP Marketing & Sales Day, Elevating Your MSP Brand Story.
I’m going to jump right into this with two spoilers.
First, at no point during this video did the presenters talk about “brand story”. I don’t actually care, because it just adds to my case that many people use the term because they think it’s the modern vernacular for “brand strategy”.
Secondly, the guest speaker, Matt Lee, is not a marketing professional. He’s the Director of Technology & Security for Iconic IT, something that he clarified early in his appearance. That being said, of all the non-marketing people I’ve had to hear, and many times endure, talking about my profession and my passion over the years, Matt did the most exceptional job of it.
His delivery was perfect, his information was on point, and barring the usual missteps where IT professionals confuse certain marketing concepts for others, I wasn’t sent running to the medicine chest for migraine pills.
(It probably helps that they didn’t let the conversation slip into that “brand story” territory, because that’s where everyone seems to spiral into a hellscape of poor understanding and misinformation.)
I have to call one thing out though, even if it’s just for chuckles. In the video, Matt’s talking about being genuine and posting content that you’re passionate about, at which point he actually says, “I think people might find it weird if I constantly posted about marketing. That’s not my primary passion.”
If that’s the case, then why are you talking about marketing during a marketing event, when there are so many people who are passionate about marketing, and who have access to depths of expertise that dabblers can’t even fathom? Marketing is not a soft skill, it’s something people like me spend their entire lives perfecting.
Sorry, the decision-making behind this sort of thing just blows my mind.
Anyway, let’s get cracking on the talking points.
MSPs and Personal Branding
Matt slides off into discussion about personal branding several times in the video. While his comments on personal branding are all quite good, I would like to call attention to the fact that personal branding and enterprise branding are two very different things. Many in the IT channel forget that, and they end up using the wrong tactics for what they’re actually trying to accomplish.
I just posted an article about this specific topic, so if you want to learn more about the differences, I recommend giving it a read (or listen): Why Putting Your Photo on Everything is BAD for Marketing
Takeaway for this talking point:
Don’t convolute personal brand strategy with enterprise-level brand strategy.
“Branding” is Not Brand Strategy
I felt like the discussion was skewing dangerously toward brand collateral, not brand building or brand strategy. This is, again, a very common mistake that we run into when we’re talking to people who aren’t marketing professionals.
Before someone can leverage brand strategy to its fullest, they must understand the vastness of what it entails. As a brand strategist, I have to tackle brand identity, brand image, narrative, messaging, value perception, audience research, and at least a dozen other subsets of “brand” that are all integral to making it work.
Brand collateral (the stuff with your logo on it) and the design that goes into it — the combination of which many people refer to as branding — makes up only a tiny bit of that big picture.
In short, if someone believes that their logo is their brand, or that the shirts their engineers wear is their brand, they are totally missing the mark. Not saying anyone in the video went that far with it, but some people do.
The takeaway here is a big one:
Brand is about a lot more than logos, colors, and embroidered polo shirts.
MSP Brand Building from the Inside Out
About halfway through the video, Eric Torres, Director of Channel Development at Datto, is talking about company culture and brand collateral. He then says: “After your people are bought in, that’s when you start looking at the outside. What are you branding so your customers see that?”
I just can’t agree with this line of thinking. I wrote about this heavily in the last analysis video, so I’m not going to go into depth here, but you must deliberately craft your brand for your audience. The idea that you can build internal culture (especially when the emphasis of that concept is decorating your office and handing out tee shirts) and then allow that internal culture to somehow drive your brand identity is absolutely bizarre to me as a marketing professional. It’s too important to relegate it to some kind of closed social experiment.
Your brand drives the survival and growth of your business. It’s how you’re positioning yourself in the market, how you’re managing value perceptions, and how you’re going up against your growing list of competitors. It’s not about motivating your team and hoping that somehow manifests into a consumer-facing brand identity. That’s just entrepreneurial fantasy thinking, in part because a bunch of employees are never going to care about the big picture the way a CEO (and a brand strategist) need to.
In the Marines, we had a chain of command that issued orders from the top down. They didn’t train us to be infantry grunts, get us all to “buy in” on the idea of going to war, and then hope that we organically coalesced into some kind of effective combat entity. The people in charge of the big picture made strategic decisions based on a desire for big-picture victory, and we followed orders. (And that’s not because we were all mindless drones, it’s because people will find their own personal motivators to contribute to the big-picture goal.)
Let me remind you that I’m not just making this stuff up. In marketing, we actually have rules for how these things are done.
For example, there’s something called an internal brand launch that’s a very important part of brand strategy. This is where, after the experts craft your brand, it is introduced to your staff. Your people are then held to that standard when they represent the company. It does not work the other way around, because a cluster of individual employees is never going to magically assemble all of the aforementioned elements that truly make up a fully realized brand any more than a bunch of infantry Marines is going to win a war by figuring things out as they go.
You absolutely should not let your internal culture be the sole driving force behind your company’s brand. Yes, it’s part of the overall big picture, but it is not sufficient for crafting a robust brand strategy.
Go Check It Out
There are more talking points to this video, but since Matt’s delivery is noteworthy and his information worth hearing, I think you should just go watch it.
Go watch the video here: Datto’s Site
Also, the overarching takeaway for everyone in the channel is just a logical suggestion: when you’re looking for marketing advice, please don’t hesitate to ask a marketer. 😉