The Doyle Report: Branding the MSP Organization

Does your brand match your latest marketing efforts? Insights from Ulistic, Colorado Computer Support, PlanetOne Communications and more.

MSPs and other technology consultants are making huge gains by leveraging the marketing support offered by third parties. This includes industry marketing consultants, distributors and vendors, too.

But as MSPs and other channel companies fill their pipelines with sales leads, many have begun to wonder if their brand identities reflect their enhanced marketing capabilities. Is there a risk if they don’t? I wonder.

For insights, I turned to Ulistic CEO and MSPmentor Xpert contributor Stuart Crawford. Crawford’s company offers MSPs a complete set of tools for marketing their companies. His advice for creating a distinct brand? Stand out.

“Marketing is an absolute must, but you still have to do more than merely attract people to your company; you also have to create an identity for it,” Crawford says.

Like many, Crawford (pictured at left) believes this can be done in various ways. You can specialize around a particular piece of technology, he says, or develop expertise in a specific vertical market. (I’ve written that there are additional ways to differentiate your company including developing demonstrable and repeatable skills around a business function, geography, customer segment, price point, service level and more.)

Even when armed with advice, branding isn’t so easy. Take two of Crawford’s clients, Intivix and Colorado Computer Support (CCS). Each has its own distinct branding challenge.

Intivix, for example, is a 21-year old San Francisco company with deep ties to the local business community and advanced skills in cloud services, application development and IT support. Of late, the company has develop advanced capabilities around cloud computing and marketing services.

With a name like “Intivix,” the company can pivot in almost any direction it wants, Crawford notes. That’s a lot more flexible than what Intivix used to go by, LanXpert Corp. Now contrast Intivix to CCS.

Like Intivix, CCS dates back to another time, 2001—the heyday of client-server and Internet computing. If he were to brand his Colorado Springs, Colo., company anew, CEO and co-founder Blake Schwank probably would not use the word “computer” in the name. But changing its identity now isn’t so simple: Colorado Computer Support, which provides everything from security to backup to hosted phone service to cloud to networking support to customers throughout Colorado, Oregon, Florida and Georgia, has significant brand equity.

“I’m not sure I can easily separate our brand from our marketing,” says Schwank, who often wonders about the best way to distinguish his company from other MSPs that offer similar services and leverage similar tools to run their businesses.

“We all have an RMM, a PSA and offer backup, etc.,” says Schwank (pictured at right). “How do we brand that from ‘the other guys’ in town? I think the answer is our professionalism and reputation.”

Those, of course, are tied up in the name, “Colorado Computer Support,” which has been around for 16 years.

That said, Schwank does think about the future. One reason: in his home market of Colorado Springs alone there are five companies that go by the name “CCS.”

Which brings me to you: does your marketing match your identity? Intivix and Colorado Computer Support demonstrate that you can successfully go to market with a generic or engineered name, or instead something more specific such as “Just Call the IT Guy?” You just have to own it.

I mention Just Call the IT Guy on purpose because it tripled its growth in the last two years thanks, in part, by teaming up with Intermedia, a leading cloud business applications provider to SMBs and channel partners. Recently, Intermedia unveiled two new automated marketing campaigns to help channel companies capitalize on customer interest in ransomware and Microsoft Office 365.

Programs like these and those offered by Technology Marketing Toolkit are helping partners fill their sales pipelines. But as they fill them, partners need to ensure that their identities fit their marketing.

Speaking of identity, let me ask you a question: If you had to liken your company to a car—or better yet a shoe, which brand would it be?

Your Brand Identity as a Vehicle, Reimagined
The preceding is one that many marketers ponder when trying to build distinction for their brands. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise that can help a company tease out the gap between what it thinks it is and what it actually is.

Think of your own company and its position in the market. Are you the Mercedes-Benz S-Class of your territory? Or are you the Honda Accord of your segment or vertical? Perhaps you’re the Ford F-150 or Hyundai Santa Fe? If not, what exactly are you and what do you need to do to adjust your services delivery, customer experiences and personnel to drive your company to where you’d rather it be?

Recently I had a chance to sit with Jonathan Hartman of PlanetOne Communications, one of the bigger telecom services brokers in the market. Hartman is the vice president of sales at the 25-year old company. During our conversation, I learned that PlanetOne is killing it with brands like Masergy (it is one of Masergy’s fastest-growing partners), Rackspace (again a top partner), Mitel and MegaPath. PlanetOne offers solutions from more than 250 vendors and service providers to more than 16,000 cloud, telecom and MSP partners. Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., it is particularly strong in the Southwest and Los Angeles metro regions.

One of the things that I wanted to better understand from Hartman (pictured left) is how PlanetOne differs from some of its competitors, including Telarus, Intelisys and Avant. To help me, I asked that he play “the car game” with me, albeit with a twist. Instead of cars, I asked him to substitute shoe brands since footwear had previously popped up in our conversation.

After some thinking, he likened PlanetOne to the  shoe company “Cole-Haan.” “It’s an American Classic, reimagined,” he says, referring to the brand’s timeless style, innovative nature and proven reliability. In case you’re not familiar, Cole-Haan was founded in 1928. For decades it made American classics including loafers, wingtips and more. Then in 1988, the brand was purchased by Nike, which infused Cole-Haan’s products with comfort technology developed by Nike’s sports shoe department and designs inspired by its corporate design team. The result? Updated American classics featuring a multitude of styles, colors and materials designed for any occasion. (Nike later sold Cole-Haan in 2012 to a private investment group for $570 million.)

As for PlanetOne’s rivals? Hartman thought about the question for a moment. Then he good naturedly took a stab at defining their brands from his point of view, but those friendly barbs are something you’ll have to revisit with him over a drink or two when we all head to Austin in September for Channel Partners Evolution.

 

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