Whose Brand Are You Building?

Are you repeating the same business branding mistakes you made in the 1990s? Here's why I ask: When we launched our company (Nine Lives Media Inc.) we made a couple of branding mistakes without realizing it. But we took corrective action quickly.

Are managed service providers making the same branding mistakes we made initially? In some cases, yes. Here's a closer look at the situation.

First, here are the branding mistakes we made. Second, I will describe some mistakes I see MSPs making.

Our Mistakes

When we launched Nine Lives Media Inc., we had a classic challenge: We needed to get known fast, but didn't have $10 million to spend on marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

So what did we do? I started blogging for third-party sites such as Network World and SeekingAlpha, commenting about key issues of the day while also including my bio and background at Nine Lives Media Inc., and linking back to our sites. I also moderated executive level events for some other media companies. These approaches allowed us to generate some revenue, get the word out about our company, and drive some traffic to our own sites.

But whose brand were we building? Our own? Or were we helping to strengthen somebody else's brand at the expense of our own time and efforts?

Roughly three months after launching Nine Lives Media Inc., we had reached a tipping point. People were now starting to link directly to our own media sites (The VAR Guy, Works With U and MSPmentor). Traffic was building nicely on own sites and writing for other sites had become a bit of a distraction. It was time to cut way back on our third-party efforts.

By focusing all of our content efforts on our own sites -- instead of writing for other sites -- we vastly improved our search engine optimization. The result: MSPmentor and The VAR Guy are now ranked among the top 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively, of all blogs on the web, according to Technorati.

Branding for MSPs

How is our branding experience related to the MSP market? The parallels are pretty clear. We spend a few months emphasizing third-party brands rather than our own. In some cases, VARs and MSPs have spent more than a decade making that same mistake.

One prime example: When someone visits your web site, does it emphasize third-party certifications and third-party technology vendors -- or does it emphasize your own unique selling proposition?

For better or for worse, many channel companies spend considerable time describing whose products they resell and which certifications hang on their walls.

Yes, you should tell site visitors about your vendor affiliations. But don't lead with that messaging. Make it secondary. Build your brand. Not somebody else's.
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