The way people engage with brands has shifted monumentally in the last decade, even more so in the last 24-months. We engage with things on the internet, period. Further, we all buy from people we know, like, and trust. In the MSP space, the fastest way to foster trust is by building thought leadership and we do this through content.
Thought Leadership Establishes Trust
Imagine I’m one of your customers. This massive issue is breaking out, we’ll keep picking on Log4j. I can hear about it in one of three ways:
- A sensationalized report from a media organization who has no idea what they’re talking about.
- From your competitor, who put it out all over social media, and perhaps is reaching out to me as a marketing lead asking how you’re addressing it
- From you, my trusted go to when it comes to things I need to be aware of in tech
Which one of those scenarios is the best? Which is the worst? I’d reckon the worst scenario is your competitor educating your client more effectively than you are. Obviously, you want to establish yourself as the one who will keep them up to date on these matters.
That doesn’t just go for Cybersecurity. A Denver MSP, machineLOGIC, released a blog and video publicly that clearly explains Microsoft NCE and how it impacts their customers. This builds thought leadership amongst their customer base, and their prospect base in one swoop. All of that thought leadership fosters trust amongst both customers and non-customers.
MSP Content is Broken
Before you read on, please recall that my main blog page is titled “raw thoughts.” These are raw thoughts. Content, and marketing in the MSP space in general, is totally broken. There are so many “website as a service” type websites out there taking RSS copies of feeds with %COMPANYNAME% and reposting it. Don’t believe me? Go to an MSP’s website, copy a blog title, and Google it. You’ll get like five hundred identical articles.
And, if I’m being blunt, they aren’t great. It’s along the lines of “this one weird trick” clickbait. I mean seriously, do corporate workers call the IT team to ask about the new Android features? NO! And don’t get me started on the four hundredth cybersecurity article with the bad guy in a hacker hoodie photo!
And then there’s the “piece de resistance” of the bunch. The preachy, incredibly generic, “here’s how managed services can help you.” None of this content tells YOUR story. None of that tells me how YOUR COMPANY provides value, differently from how every other MSP on the block provides value. If you want to differentiate in this market, you need to up your game!
Here’s how you can fix it!
It took me far too long to realize this but making good thought leadership content just isn’t hard. It’s especially easy in our industry, because there’s a huge knowledge gap between us and our constituents. All you really need to do is come out of your shell and educate (and maybe brag a little). So with that, my first piece of advice is to stop it with the syndicated feeds. I’m not saying don’t use any of the content, I’m saying be picky about what you use. Use content that’s valuable to your audience.
The most effective thing you can do to enhance the value of your brand’s content is to produce it yourself. Don’t worry. It isn’t difficult, doesn’t take a ton of time, and costs little to no extra money. Assuming your site is built on a CMS with templates such as WordPress, pulling off blog content will be easy. If your mobile device has a camera, you can shoot video. You don’t need a fancy studio or a team of copywriters. Let’s talk through some simple strategies you can use.
First Thing’s First: Time Investment
Remember how I said this won’t take a lot of time? I meant it! Putting out one simple blog post a week (more on what to write in a second) will build a great library of content over time. Block off 30 minutes a week to commit to writing. As you hear of relevant news or info, jot it down somewhere (I use Notion for my content personally).
But what do I talk about?
This part is easier than you think. Remember, there’s a knowledge gap between you and your customer. The most powerful way to build thought leadership is to educate and inform your audience. By educating, I mean teaching them something relevant to them that they don’t know. For example, I use Teams every single day. I also implement and advise on the product, so I take for granted a lot of things I do daily that many don’t even know about. Voila, let me tell you about live components. Find yourself moving a customer from G Suite to Microsoft 365? BAM! Write some tips that could help someone that’s moving from Gmail to Outlook.
Other things you should be educating your audience about include cybersecurity. In fact, cybersecurity should probably be at the top of your list. Talk about the benefits of multifactor authentication. Pull data from reports like Microsoft’s Cyber Signals. Highlight cyber news in industries that you serve, etc.
Moving on to informing. This goes back to the Log4Shell and NCE examples. As their business advisor, it’s part of your duty to keep them up to date on these matters. Generating informative content again establishes you as a thought leader and builds trust that you’re staying on top of these things for them. The proactivity and taking the time to thoughtfully explain these things can make difficult conversations (like new Microsoft contracts) much easier to navigate too! Informing is simple:
- News breaks
- Analyze it, formulate your response, highlight any actions you or your clients need to take
- Write about it and publish it on your site
- Email blast it to customers
Another good thing to inform people about is product updates. Check out bvoip’s blog, they churn out post after post covering product updates posted in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center.
As you get into a groove of generating this content, it will get easier and easier! And, again, you can do this with about 30 minutes committed to it per week.
Marketing Your Company Through Content
I wanted to make sure to touch on this particular topic in its own blurb. This goes back to the “ten ways managed services help” article problem. Yes, it’s okay to write a little sales gospel here and there. However, your priority needs to be educating and informing. Save the ten ways for your sales page. And while you’re at it, please be unique about it. Write about ten ways your service offering in particular drives results for your customers! For cornerstone content like this, you can head over to Fiverr and hire people to help you proofread and optimize your copy.
That said, DO NOT use your blog or other media outlets to post a whole bunch of “use us cause we are the best” crap. Seriously, don’t.
Another amazing way to drive brand recognition is through success stories. Did you just solve a problem for a customer, maybe improving their business in some way? BRAG ABOUT IT! Get a quote from your customer and talk through, from a business perspective, how you helped them improve something.
Don’t Gate Your Content!
I made this mistake for awhile. At my MSP, we had a knowledgebase of common problems & tips that was customer facing. Basics like how to clear the print queue, how to use self-service password reset, how to use Microsoft Teams, etc. At one point, I had gated this behind customer credentials (I wrote a whole WordPress plugin to make it happen). I was chatting with a buddy in marketing who informed me just how dumb I was being.
I mean, how many people are Googling around for the best ways to use Teams? According to Google themselves (at the time of writing), thousands of people in the last 30-days were Googling it! All of that technical knowledge, again, positions your brand as a resource for technology help. Once we made the KB public, and did a little keyword work on it, it was getting thousands of hits per month, and driving hundreds of people per month to our main site. Our KB had a banner ad for our IT services that showed up for visitors in our geographic market. I was, quite literally, getting free advertising.
Expand Your Formats
Most people I’ve worked with on content (including myself) are most comfortable starting out writing. In the last year or so, I’ve really branched out and started making more video content. Your first video is going to be bad; it just is. Your next ten are likely to be rough as well. That’s okay. Just get started and make progress. Over time, you’ll find yourself being more comfortable in front of your camera. Posting videos to YouTube and LinkedIn (especially LinkedIn) will help you get a lot of engagement with your brand.
As you branch into video, don’t overthink it. You can shoot a selfie video with your iPhone and so long as it’s informative and to the point, it will contribute to your thought leadership status. As you grow in comfortability, you’ll find yourself geeking out on microphones and cameras. But, for now, start with the KISS method.
Parting Thoughts and Tips
If you take control over the way your brand speaks, you will do a much better job establishing thought leadership and brand credibility than the other folks who let the clickbait continue! My challenge to you is to start writing your own content, right now. With that in mind, here’s a few final tips to consider:
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
If you aren’t the perfect writer, you don’t need to sweat it. I know I’m not. Anytime I write for Pax8, the content team makes so many markups i feel like a first grader again. However, my site still has thousands of readers who can forgive a little grammatical creativity or the occasional typo. That said, for key sales content, I would recommend engaging a copywriter and proofreader. As I alluded to before, these are available in gig format until you have revenue to spare to take a more formal approach.
- Spice up articles with images.
My friend. It’s 2022. Memes are an acceptable form of business communication in a lot of scenarios. I’ve no qualms about opening up a conversation with a CXO with a GIF. Have fun, use images to fill space and draw attention. Unsplash and Pexels are two great spots to get free stock photos!
- Collaborate with others.
Content can totally be a team sport. Work with other peer group members, friends in the channel, or that buddy of yours that was always a prolific writer. Collaborate and share your content for the benefit of all.
- Be human!
Nobody wants to read a lecture. And, it’s the internet, so they simply won’t. Make sure your content gets to the point, and have some fun with it.
Best of luck on your journey in taking control of your brand’s communication!