Advertising your MSP: how to differentiate from your competitors

Paul GreenUncategorized

This MSP marketing guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to get your branding right to attract the best clients.

I’ll preface this article by telling you that this isn’t the most important article to read if you’re looking to grow your business and bring in new clients.

Don’t get me wrong, setting your business apart from its competitors is important. As is your brand. But if you only have a limited amount of time to spend on your marketing every week or month, there are other, far more powerful things you should be focusing on first. Things like direct response marketing, which will help you create a constant flow of leads going into the top of your funnel and keep them moving towards a sale.

However, if you do have a little more time to spend on things, or perhaps you have the help of others to really give your marketing a kickstart, then looking at your brand is something you’ll want to do at some point.

What is a brand?

One of the mistakes that many MSPs make (actually, one of the mistakes that many businesses make the world over) is thinking that their brand is their logo, or the way their website looks.

While these things make up a small part of your brand, your brand is much more than that. Your brand is about your marketing, your people, your interaction with prospects and customers, all the way down to the way you answer your phones. These things all come together to create a feeling in people. And that feeling is what really makes your brand.

Now, before you write that off as airy-fairy stuff, let me explain why this is critical for your business.

Most business owners and decision-makers don’t know much about IT. They certainly don’t understand it at the level that you and your technicians do. They don’t possess the right knowledge to allow them to make a cognitive buying decision. They cannot distinguish a good MSP from a bad one. This leaves them relying on emotional guidance. In fact, it’s estimated that 95% of buying decisions are subconscious. People will make their buying decision based on how the MSP makes them feel.

Think about a big company you love. For me that’s easy, it’s Tesla.

I know, I know, the cars could be built a little better. But I truly love everything about the company. But when I think about them, it’s not the logo or the actual cars I’m thinking about. It’s the way Tesla makes me feel. I think fast, sexy, electric cars.

And then there's Elon Musk. He’s a risk-taker and a genuinely once-in-lifetime entrepreneur. He’s a man on a mission. He will save mankind with his rockets and plans for backing up humanity on Mars.

I also think of the charging network. The fact that I can charge my Tesla at a unique charging point while all the other electric car owners have to share (for now, anyway). I think about the showroom, which is around 15 minutes away from my home in Milton Keynes. The enticing, minimalist space that I sometimes like to visit and give the cars a good stroke (it used to be a lick, but I’ve adapted for the times we’re living in).

All of this combined in my heart is Tesla’s brand, to me.

And I say ‘to me’ because a brand is not a universal experience. It’s a very individual thing.

Let’s look at Apple. As MSP owners, I know your opinions on Apple will differ. Many of you snigger when I take out my beloved MacBook Air and give it a cuddle each morning. But to me, Apple represents something exciting. It’s cutting-edge. It’s premium.

But I’m just an average consumer when it comes to this. I’m not a technical person like you.

To me, Microsoft is clunky and difficult and problematic. Oh, and expensive. I know they fixed the expensive part with Office 365 subscriptions, but I still feel annoyed when I have to interact with Microsoft’s auto-updater. Even signing into my daughter’s Minecraft account makes me see red.

But your feeling about Microsoft is probably quite the opposite. It will likely be a very positive feeling, because for you it’s a revenue stream. Microsoft goes some way towards keeping your business afloat, it affords you your home or car or holiday. It helps you to do some of the things you enjoy most in life.

And that’s exactly my point; opinions on brand are based - rather dramatically - on feelings.

Changing the way people feel about you

The good news is, you can change the way people feel about you.

It might be a challenge, but it’s within your power. It simply means becoming consistent with everything you do. Yes, an element of this is in your visual branding. You need to make sure everything from your website to your logo - and your other branding like letterheads and vehicles - are all uniform. But it’s more than that.

Everything, from the voice of your marketing communications to the words people use when they reply to emails and tickets, must reflect the image you want to portray.

I once called an MSP with a very impressive website. I imagined that the whole operation would be very smooth, based on how good the website looked. So when a bored, monotone tech answered the phone, it threw me. It gave me a really bad impression, so imagine the feeling a prospect would’ve taken away from that interaction. It may be that everyone was busy and the person who answered the phone doesn’t usually do so, but if someone is going to step in and take a call, they must do it in the same way that everyone else does. They must still be able to portray the image that your business wants to give.

So, where do you start?

You’re obviously close to your business. It’s possible that you can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to this kind of thing. So ask your customers! They can give you the most objective opinion because they’ve experienced everything from being a lead, to prospect, to a client. They’ve been on the whole journey.

Create a survey using Survey Monkey, or Crowd Signal (who used to be PollDaddy). Ask your clients what it is they like about your business. What makes them feel happy. How they feel when they have to call you.

Next, look at the interactions on your website and social media. Look at your emails and tickets. How can you make that consistent? Is there a way you can ensure that you’re using the same ‘voice’ across all communications?

In my business, my solution is that I do all of the communication myself. I write the marketing emails, the website content, social media posts and I create the videos. That’s my superpower though. I genuinely enjoy creating content and I can create a lot of it relatively quickly.

The price I pay for that is my team or outsourced help has to take over other things, like admin and invoicing. But that suits me fine because it means I get to concentrate on the thing I enjoy the most and am best at.

If you don’t enjoy this aspect of business, this is the thing that you would outsource or hire someone else to do. And that might mean finding your own power team and sticking with them long-term.

The easiest way to find new and great suppliers is to take one job and give to 3 different people (Fiverr is a good place to find freelancers for this kind of thing). You just need to see which finished product you like the most, and you can then ask that person to do more for you.

Becoming Marmite

My advice would be to make your brand Marmite. People will either love you or they’ll hate you.

Yes, you really do want to divide opinion. You want (some) people to hate you. Bear with me here, but when your business has critics, it means you also have fans. Critics are a symptom of fans. It’s very, very rare that a business or person is universally liked. Unless we’re talking about Tom Hanks. And I would guess even he has someone who doesn’t like him for the silliest of reasons.

Half the battle of attracting new clients is getting people to notice you in the first place. Remember, people choose their IT support on an emotive level. To them, all MSP websites look the same. The MSPs are offering the same solutions. So that leaves them making a decision based on how the MSP makes them feel.

Ask yourself: what makes my MSP better than the MSP over the road, or the one on the other side of town?

It’s a provocative question, but I can guarantee your prospects are asking it, if not directly to you, they’re definitely asking themselves. And that means it’s a question you need to consider the answer to yourself.

Your uneducated buyers only care about one thing: the outcome you give them. You need to look at your business in the same way your prospects would. Compare your business to your competitors.

Look at your website and see how it compares. Hint: there are lots of things that don’t make your website better than your rivals…

  • Awards
  • Experience
  • Size (with a caveat)
  • Pictures of tech
  • Logos of your partners

Yes, these are nice things. They demonstrate that you know a thing or two about what you do. But they’re not things that make your uneducated buyers choose you. The things that will make you stand out to them are…

  • Your people
  • Text that tells a story
  • Benefits of your service rather than features
  • Real pictures of you and your team
  • Engaging videos

Make sure that you add your back story to your website. Everyone loves a good back story. And the great thing is, even if your business is brand new, you’ve still got a great story as to how it came about. Tell people! A powerful, well thought out back story will trigger an emotional response in the reader. It’s a really good way to demonstrate your passion for what you do, and exactly why you can be trusted to do an exceptional job.

Let’s take Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s story as a great example. You know Stelios, right? The EasyJet founder. His story paints a picture in the reader’s mind that makes them trust his business. In the early 90s his father gave him £30 million to set up a shipping business (Stelmar Shipping) which he later sold for approximately £1 billion. Nice work if you can get it.

The reason Stelios launched EasyJet was based on his experiences of flying around the world. He travelled a lot and had to use the old big airlines.

Every time he was on a plane, Stelios would sit there and think, “This is just crazy, I’m being served up food that I don’t want and have had to pay for. I’ve paid £400 for this trip – there should be an airline where the earlier you book, the less you pay”.

As a result, Stelios went on to create not just EasyJet, but the entire modern budget airline industry itself.

You see, even though Stelios was already very wealthy before he created EasyJet, what’s relevant is his frustration of sitting on a plane thinking, ‘I could do this better’.

Your back story should be as powerful as this. Talk about how you’ve loved IT since you were a child. Your first computer. How you naturally followed this path with your education. Any funny stories you may have relating to tech, or your interest in it, or creating your business. Talk about that defining moment that made you realise that you could do things better.

You need to really set your business apart from all those others around you. And yes, that will turn a few people off, but that’s ok. What it will do is give your business the brand that you want to show to the world. It will give prospective clients that feeling about you, and, as we’ve already discussed, that’s what will eventually make them decide to buy from you.

More than a feeling

Ok, so I’ve spent a lot of time explaining how your brand is essentially the feeling that you give people. And how people who are uneducated on a subject (like IT, for example) make decisions based on emotions rather than making cognitive, informed decisions.

But even when we’re making emotive decisions, our brains still have to give that decision the rubber stamp. They need to justify the decision that we’re making because of how we feel about something.

I’ve used this example before, but if we all made decisions based on logic, we’d all be driving the same reliable, low cost car. It’s the sensible thing to do. But we’re not all driving around in the same car. Some of us have Audis, or Teslas, or Jaguars. We’re spending £40/50/60,000 on cars because want them. They make us feel good. Our hearts make these decisions, and our brains approve them because we tell ourselves these cars are safer, or more reliable, or more comfortable.

So now that you’ve spent your time creating this warm, fuzzy feeling towards you from your prospects, you need to back up the feeling with some cold hard facts that differentiate you from your competitors.

And I’m not talking about quality, service, price… these are things that anyone can copy. They’re not unique to your business and if they are, they’re not strong enough to truly differentiate your business from X, Y, Z IT down the road.

Before we really get into it, you need to remind yourself that the average business owner or manager doesn’t know anywhere near as much as you know when it comes to tech. They’re also very busy and will make judgements on which suppliers to pick very quickly. You need to make it easy for them to see why you’re the right company to choose to help them with their IT support.

7 factors that help differentiate you from your competitors

  1. Convenience
    People are naturally lazy and want things to be easy for them. Longer opening hours or your own field technician could be a great selling point for you. Our entire world is becoming more convenient. I can order something on my phone and have it delivered the same day. I can have someone else do my supermarket shop and deliver it to my home. I can pick up a coffee at 3am. Your business needs to keep up, because if it doesn’t, you can be certain your competitors will.

2. The competition
You need to be better than your competition at marketing… but not all of them.

Imagine hiking in the woods with a group of friends, when a hungry bear starts to chase you. You don’t need to outrun everyone. Just one person! The same goes for your marketing; just make sure your business isn’t at the bottom of the food chain in your locality.

3. Killer deals
We all love an offer, and we all like to think we got good value for money on something. The trick is to create an offer that doesn’t make your business look cheap.

Your business should aim to position itself at the top of the local market (more on that in a moment), and that means using the right language. Think ‘complimentary’ rather than ‘free’. Add value rather than giving a discount.

Create a bundle of services where you can demonstrate the value, and it becomes difficult for people to say no. This is the same psychology that drives people to add a drink and packet of crisps to their sandwich to create a meal deal. They spend an extra 50p and feel like they’re getting a bargain.

4. People
It's true that people buy from people, so show your prospects who they’ll be trusting to look after their IT. And don’t just show them, tell them a little bit about your people. Our brains are hardwired to respond to stories rather than dry facts. Make bios entertaining and creative. Your aim is for prospects to call the office and feel like they’ve met you before.

5. Relationship
The point of your marketing is to try and build relationships with your prospects. The more your prospects feel like they know you, the more likely they are to choose you. That’s because we trust what we think we know.

Tell stories on your website and social media platforms. Create short videos of your team. Build an active Facebook page and involve people where you can.

6. Desired outcomes
Remember to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. What’s the purpose of your website? To generate new clients. Attract attention. Warm them up. Convince them to choose you.

So ensure that every part of your website focuses on your desired outcome. A focused website feels like a focused business.

7. Conscience
Increasingly, people are looking to work with ethical businesses they can trust. We think that big, faceless companies are out to con us. Look at how banks market themselves, for example. They position themselves as down to earth and there for the little guy. But in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Your business has a conscience, so use it in your marketing! It can be something as simple as getting behind a local charity and actively supporting them. This is called cause-related marketing. The most active local charities tend to influence thousands of local people, so companies that support them can really benefit too (as well as doing some actual good).

Your pricing is your brand, too

Another aspect of your business that really needs to align with your branding is actually your pricing.

Your pricing goal? You need to be the most expensive MSP in your area.

Yes, you read that right. Your MSP should be the most expensive in your area. Why? Because a premium price suggests a premium service. And a premium service attracts premium people. The kind of premium people you want as clients, in fact.

The kinds of clients you want are looking for a service that is independent and bespoke. So you need to position your business that way.

The best clients expect to pay more for quality products and services, so being more expensive can actually win clients over. More people will want to use your service and stay with you for a long time.

Dentists are great at this one. They charge a premium and have HUGE waiting lists and extremely loyal clients. They offer longer appointments, high end products, the highest quality service. And because of the prices they charge, they don’t get those low value, hassle clients. Nobody wants those clients. They pay you the least and expect the most. If you have these clients now (and they’ll spring to mind instantly), make it your mission to make changes to your business that will scare them off.

Another great upside to charging higher prices is that your gross profit margins become higher. This gives you an opportunity to make a better net profit.

You’re welcome.

However, you need to take a look at what your competitors are doing before you add a zero to all of your prices. If they’re already charging premium prices, you may struggle to do the same thing.

Have a friend call around and find out exactly what people in your area are offering and charging.

Of course price isn’t everything when it comes to positioning, but it’s a good indicator of where a business is pitching itself. And if you find that the top end of the market is all sewn up, it could be more profitable to focus on the middle of the market, short-term, and wait for one of the big players to change. Changes in ownership usually present a good opportunity for you to swoop in and win over clients.

The key takeaway here is that you need to take a long term view to your pricing. Prepare for a change and it will always come along.

Remember, building a brand is a long-term thing. It’s also not the most important thing that you should be doing when it comes to growing your business. A great brand is absolutely no use to you if your order book is empty and you have no leads coming in.

If you have limited time available to you, prioritise accordingly. Invest your time in activities that generate new clients, get clients to buy from you again, and increase clients’ average spend.

Get your reputation right, and you should make the decision-making process a lot easier for your prospects.