With as much as we talk about MSP brand strategy, the question usually comes up:
What should an MSP brand look like?
It’s very easy for us to point out the lack of a brand strategy — you can spot that in an instant — but is it just as easy to explain a great brand?
Not quite. Effective branding is unique to each business, so it’s impossible to simply point to someone’s brand strategy and say, “just do it like this”.
But we can give you some examples of different concepts within brand strategy to illustrate the ideas. First, let’s hit the basics.
What is an MSP Brand Strategy?
Branding is a complex concept. Ask ten people what “brand strategy” means, and you’ll probably get ten different answers.
As a branding strategist, it falls upon me to give you the answer that most effectively solves your problems. I can study theory all day long (I sometimes do) but you want results. That’s why I’ve spent the last couple of years working with the rest of the team to develop an approach to brand strategy that works as simply and effectively as possible for MSPs.
In this dynamic machine we’ve created, we define “brand” as follows:
The intersection between unique value and compelling communication.
You might also think of it as:
Differentiation + Messaging = Brand
And in doing so, you can probably see where MSPs are falling short. Firstly, very few MSPs have differentiated within their market. Secondly, 90% of MSPs are using the same messaging — and taglines like “trusted IT provider” or “no geek speak” are not compelling.
To simplify this down even more, we define brand strategy (including its role as a driving force behind all marketing) as the answer to this question:
What do you offer that: a) your audience needs; and b) that they can only get from you?
Your brand is not your reputation. It’s not logos and colors. It’s not cute puns. Brand strategy facilitates the rapid communication of value. If you approach branding any other way, you’re losing opportunities.
By extension, your promotional marketing should communicate some kind of unique value to the market every single time. (Otherwise it’s just noise.)
And if you haven’t defined a unique value that you bring to the market, you need to take a few steps back and work on that concept. Your promotional marketing will plateau well below its potential without it. This is common sense and logic here, folks; If your business can be replaced by dozens of other identical businesses, it’s not going to be very competitive. Five people running the exact same speed don’t win the race; the runner who gets out ahead of them wins.
And while many people think that the way you get out ahead of the other companies is to do more promotional marketing, they’re starting to learn how wrong that is. The consumer is the ultimate decider of who wins this race, and they don’t respond to how much marketing you’re doing. They respond to your brand. They respond to finding out what unique value you’re going to bring into their lives.
“What Is Your Brand?”
If I were to ask you right now, “what is your brand?”, would you have an answer?
I’ve asked a lot of MSPs, and I can’t think of a single one that didn’t stammer through trying to pull something out of thin air. That’s normal, though. They’re IT professionals, so brand strategy isn’t something they’ve had drilled into them for decades.
One of the biggest growth hurdles in the channel right now is that many MSPs feel like they are supposed to know branding. You’re not. It’s taken me almost 20 years in marketing to develop my current understanding of brand strategy. You are not going to learn it in a couple of days, and the new-marketer-on-the-block did not learn it sometime in the last few months. It takes years in the field and relies very heavily on your skill in ancillary creative disciplines.
Because branding is so complex and misunderstood, even the question “what is your brand?” can be confusing. The answers are typically layered, like an onion.
Remember that one of the key roles of a brand is to quickly communicate value (to the audience) and create some kind of emotional, memorable response. So the most concise answer to “what is your brand?” would be something like:
Other IT providers ask you to blindly trust them. We prove beyond a doubt that we’re the best choice. (value: you know that you’re getting the best because we can prove that we’re the best.)
This is the foundation of a brand strategy that we created for a client that now has the proof to back it up. Over several months, we helped them assemble the tools and documentation they needed to prove, without a doubt, that they offered superior service, tighter cybersecurity, more uptime, and more diverse technology problem-solving expertise than their competitors. This is all about unique value — and this value can be proven at any moment.
This idea of “proof” might seem small, but evidence and confidence are antagonists of something that shows up a lot during the sales process: doubt. You can build an entire identity around “we’re great and we can prove it”; not so much with “we’re an IT company”.
Our brand at Your Sales Energy also serves as an example:
We leverage the entire marketing mix, not just promotion, to improve MSPs’ marketing results and build lasting equity in their businesses. Our expertise in brand strategy sets us apart from pure digital marketing agencies, and our unique approach to our own business demonstrates our commitment to growth through disruption.
We support this by bringing unique expertise to our audience — no one else is tackling the immense challenge of MSP branding at the level we are. We also created a truly unique entry point by developing the MSP Growth Club free platform, and we changed our business model to suit our strengths and fill huge gaps in what’s currently available to MSPs who are looking to improve their marketing.
That is also positioning.
I should clarify at this point that these examples above are not taglines. They are guidelines. After clarifying your unique value, the messaging that supports it is developed during the “brand identity” and “brand building” stages. Ideally, you want to communicate this brand position in ways that are unique, memorable, and compelling.
For instance, right at the top of our homepage is a reminder that the IT space is very competitive right now:
Remember, branding is not about being cute. It’s about delivering a complex idea in an immediately relatable way.
You’re probably starting to see how a logo can’t possibly do all of the things that we need a brand to do. It goes far, far deeper than that.
Specialization is a wonderful thing if you use it to your advantage. We lean into it by saying that we will knock your brand strategy out of the park because we’re the best at it. We understand it. We’re creative enough to help you leverage it.
And you need that advantage as we go into 2021. The IT channel is competitive and it’s eat or be eaten.