Stand Out From the MSP Crowd by Building a Brand


There are well over 40,000 MSPs in North America, and thousands of VARS every year are moving to service fattening those numbers further.

In some geographies, MSPs are stepping on each other’s toes. Branding for MSPs has always been important, but there wasn’t always great different ion between providers. Now, however, providers are evolving to adapt to an MSP 2.0 environment and looking to attain Trusted Advisor status. If you play these two cards right, there is plenty of differentiation to crow about.

When managed services were more a commodity, many deals were won by price alone. You could get away without a strong distinctive brand. At the same time, players with known names got more sales meetings and came away with more deals.

Today, however, brand is more critical for MSPs than ever. And with the market advancing so rapidly, creating the right identity can help set the pace for the future. In fact, without a strong brand, any marketing effort an MSP does is far less effective.

What’s Your Story?

A brand is more than a name, logo, and company description – it should be who you are. It tells your story. Many of the great brands have equally great stories – which you may not be able to match.  Think Jobs and Wozniak at Apple, Gates and Allen at Microsoft, and Zuckerberg at Facebook.

Your company does have a story, a history, and a personality. The better you can articulate this – clarify the kernel of your brand – the better customers truly connect with your company.

Some questions to ask:

  • Do you have a leader with a distinct personality?
  • Do you have a unique technology hook?
  • Do you have a unique business/knowledge hook?
  • Are you 100% dedicated to the local community?
  • Is there a strong focus on one vertical (or several, related verticals)?
  • What words would you use to describe you organization?
  • Are there particular values your company is proud of?

Brand Assessment

If you are an MSP owner, you probably have a sense of how your brand is working. But it never hurts to put your brand to test. Perhaps you can survey your customers, or sales folks can customers how they would describe your MSP operation.

The most important part of this process is to compare the outside feedback to how you and your employees perceive your company.  If there’s little overlap, then you have to start at the beginning to understand where the disconnect is coming from.  And, of course, it’s coming from somewhere inside your business.

Even if there is a lot of agreement, it can be useful to study any places where there are wildly diverging views.  These are the places to dig into your company culture, work processes, and customer engagement practices to make sure that all aspects of your company is speaking with one voice to support your established brand.

Should You Change Your Name?

It could be argued that if you don’t have a name that sets you apart, you should think about changing it so it can carry your forward.  It worked for Anderson Consulting which that moniker for Accenture and shed the old name which made it sound like nothing more than an accounting firm.

If you want a new name, it can be quite a process, and there are even consultants that can help. One stumbling point – many of the best names are long taken. That’s why some high-tech firms have names that don’t really mean anything and aren’t even words.   Like Flickr and Hulu.

If you can’t find a name with meaning, you can work to make it mean something the way Google is now synonymous with search.

Beyond the name, having a tagline or phrase that further describes your company is well worth considering.

Perhaps the biggest reason to pause before renaming is the how much name recognition you already have, and may lose, if you ditch the current name for a brand new one.

Extolling the Brand

Once you have a core brand established, it’s time for some spit and polish. And here professional help is of the essence. Logos should be clean and compelling and used throughout you signage, Web site, social media, email signatures, and all company materials.  Consistency is key to make sure that your prospects and clients create strong associations between these elements and your brand’s story.

Beyond that, you can consider having all, or portion of your work clothes emblazoned with your emblem.  For example, what ‘uniform’ should technicians wear when they go out for any onsite support.

If you have company vehicles for tech or sales visits, these could be uniform and represent the company not just with the logo and color scheme, but descriptors as well.

An MSP Brand Facelift

If your company name and brand is strong and current, you can still give it a facelift. If you are generally happy, you can still create a new tagline or slogan, and spiff up your logo. At the same you can reevaluate your messaging. Perhaps you have pivoted to new services, a new vertical that is now your focus, or can now act as a vCIO.

While you shouldn’t change your brand every year, it is worthwhile to revisit your brand every year to make sure that the visible parts of your brand – the taglines, color palette, collateral, website, business cards, etc. – match the intangible aspects of your brand – corporate values, service quality promises, personality, etc.

Look Toward the Future

There are two types of MSPs – those that want their business to run forever and perhaps even do acquisitions to strengthen the business, and those looking to eventually cash out with a sweet company sale. It is obvious why the first group should care a brand that fits the MSP’s plans.

However, MSPs looking for an exit strategy need to care as well. The value of their company may depend upon on how strongly their brand supports the true value of their business.

Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.

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