During the past few years, it has become fashionable for marketing experts to highlight how the legendary psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead can teach many lessons about effective branding and loyalty-building. And yes, the Dead also has a few learnings to offer MSPs. In honor of Grateful Dead spinoff band Furthur (featuring surviving members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh) launching its fall 2011 tour, I would like to present three important lessons the Dead can share with MSPs.
Tip One: Don't be afraid to specialize.
Simply put, The Grateful Dead do not offer a sound that pleases everyone's taste. That is the secret of their appeal. Mixing psychedelia, blues, folk, country and western and a half-dozen other genres, the Dead created a singular style of music which has been often imitated but never quite duplicated. Those who do like the Dead tend to really like them, as evidenced by the people who saw them hundreds or even thousands of time in concert. The Dead were not afraid to create music that served the needs of their audience, and by staying genuine saw that audience grow substantially over the years.
Likewise, MSPs should not be afraid to meet the needs of technology user niches such as cloud or mobile, or offer services aimed at specific business areas like HR. Sometimes a deep user base is better than a broad one, and consider how much the potential business of an MSP who started specializing in cloud technology a few years ago has grown since.
Tip 2: Stay True To Your RootsWhen the hippie scene which spawned the Dead fell into disfavor in the early 1970s, the band did not attempt to recreate itself in the image of one of the new popular music styles, like glam. Rather the Dead continued to produce music that would satisfy their core fans who had discovered the band in the late 1960s. By remaining true to their roots, the Dead essentially became timeless, and therefore weathered numerous variations in popular musical taste before 1960s-era "classic rock" inevitably become hip with the masses again the late 1980s.
MSPs should also stay true to their roots and core customers. While obviously anyone offering managed technology services needs to stay current with the latest technological developments, MSPs still need to remember where they came from and what built their reputation. Even as the cloud gathers steam, mainframe computing is still alive and well, and an MSP with an established mainframe practice should not be too anxious to run from it.
Tip 3: Don't Let Your Roots Strangle YouAt first glance this may seem a contradictory piece of advice to the preceding one, but really it is complementary. Staying true to your roots does not mean never changing with the market, it means taking your core identity and making it palatable to current tastes. The Dead never tried to become a disco band (unlike many other rock bands I won't name), but they did weave some disco elements into their classic 1978 album "Shakedown Street" while maintaining their easily identifiable sound.
Likewise, as mentioned above, MSPs need to stay current with the market while avoiding getting swept up in it. To continue the mainframe example, an MSP with a strong IT server practice can strengthen it with the addition of mobile technology, and also offer cloud as an alternative or hybid service model. Remember, you want to wind up like the Dead (to a point), not Quicksilver Messenger Service.