I wrote a bit about the importance of brand awareness campaigns in a recent article, but it’s such an important topic that I wanted to dedicate an entire piece to it. MSPs are understandably more reliant on direct response marketing now than ever before. Campaigns like Google Search Ads and gated content forms provide quick, measurable results, but many MSPs make the mistake of relying too heavily on these kinds of campaigns. Why is that a problem? Because an MSP that’s overly reliant on direct response marketing misses out on a significant amount of potential business. Here are even more reasons why your MSP should be running brand awareness campaigns in 2021.

What is Brand Awareness? 

Let’s start by discussing what exactly a brand awareness campaign is. A brand awareness campaign is a marketing campaign that is launched with the primary goal of getting your brand’s name out there. In other words, you may not be attempting to drive any sort of action at all. Many of the billboards and TV ads you see daily could be categorized as brand awareness campaigns. This is because the businesses running these ads are not necessarily expecting you to jump up and purchase their product or service as an immediate result of seeing the ad. They’re simply trying to make you aware (or remind you) that they exist. 

Here in Chicago, I see a lot of TV ads and billboards for companies that help you clean up water damage in the unfortunate event that your home floods. What are the odds that you’ll see one of these ads right as your basement is actively flooding? Slim to none, but the advertiser knows this. They hope that by seeing their ads enough, they’ll be the first and only business you think to call if your basement does flood sometime in the future. If their ads are good and you see them enough times, there’s a high chance that they’ll get their wish.

Think about it: if you woke up one morning to discover that your basement flooded, would you want to spend hours sitting at your computer researching a bunch of different companies to call? Of course not. Ideally, you already have a business in mind that you can call and begin receiving assistance from as soon as possible. 

This same methodology goes for organizations that work with MSPs. Do you think an Admin wants to spend hours per day researching all the MSPs in their area? I can assure you they do not. When it comes time for them to establish contact with an MSP and begin the sales process, their lives will be much easier if they already have a shortlist of MSPs they are interested in working with. That’s where brand awareness campaigns come in. 

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Timing is Everything

You may think that direct response campaigns are a great way to expedite the marketing funnel and get right to the qualified prospects that are actively interested in your service right now, and there is some truth to that. A Legal Admin Googling “managed service providers near me” is likely to be a hot lead that you want to have a conversation with. That said, not every potential customer is at that stage of the sales process yet. In fact, most of them aren’t.

As you likely know, many existing MSP customers are locked into one, two, even three-year contracts with their current provider. If they’re unhappy with that provider and are considering a switch once the contract is up, they may begin thinking about that switch six to twelve months before their term ends. But because they are still quite a bit out from the end of their contract, they may not be at the stage yet where they’re conducting Google searches and submitting lead forms. They certainly aren’t ready to speak to a salesperson yet. Although they aren’t looking to engage right now, they should still be considered a marketing qualified lead (MQL) for your MSP. In other words, you should still be marketing to them with the knowledge that they will be ready to engage down the road.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example. John Doe is the Legal Admin for a big law firm in your city. They are two years into a three-year contract with their current MSP and are very unhappy with the level of service they’ve been receiving lately. Many of the partners have been complaining and John knows that when their term ends, he will be switching to a new MSP. John is still a year out from the end of the term though, so he’s not ready to speak with a salesperson just yet. 

As an MSP that would like to earn his business in a year, you have a couple of ways you can approach this situation. On the one hand, you can continue to run direct response campaigns (like Google Search Ads) and hope that your ad is the one that gets served and catches John’s eye when he starts actively researching in about nine months. You may get lucky and get his click, or you may be the victim of a highly competitive channel and John never discovers you at all. 

On the other hand, you can start advertising to John today in a way that just gets your name, logo, and value proposition out there. While these ads may not get John to fill out a lead form or give you a call, that’s not the point. The goal here is simply to solidify yourself as the MSP that is front of mind when John is ready to actively research down the road. If John sees your name, logo, and value proposition enough over the next nine months, he may not need to do much research at all. You’ll be the MSP that’s top of mind, so he’ll reach out to you directly when he’s ready. 

New Business is a Numbers Game

Another reason to focus on brand awareness campaigns as a part of your marketing strategy is simply to play the odds. There are a finite number of businesses in your ICP looking for the services that you offer on any given day, and it’s very unlikely that you know who they all are (or that they all know who you are). Because of this, casting a wide net is often the best way to get a foot in the door with them. 

Imagine you’re a fisherman that’s trying to catch a very specific species of crab. Would you head out to sea with nothing but a spear in hopes that a few of the crabs happen upon your boat, or would you cast a wide net in hopes that each haul brings in one or two of the crab that you’re looking for? There are pros and cons to each strategy, but I can confidently say that the wide net would yield better results almost every time. This methodology goes for leads as well. 

If we think of brand awareness campaigns like TV ads or billboards as the equivalent of casting a wide net, we can start to see why this would be such a lucrative aspect of a scalable marketing strategy. A billboard on a busy highway, for example, could be seen by hundreds of thousands of people in any given month. If even .1% of the individuals that see this billboard have a positive response to it, you now have at least 100 more people aware of your MSP and the services you offer than you did before. Are all these people ready to contact you and buy your services right now? Certainly not. But there’s a good chance they’ll remember your name if and when that time does come. For comparison, you would likely need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to achieve similar results from a direct response campaign like Google Search. 

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Gas on the Fire

One final point in favor of brand awareness campaigns (and possibly the most important one) is the positive impact they have on all the other campaigns you’re running. Even a direct response campaign like Google Search or gated content can benefit greatly from a brand awareness campaign higher in your funnel. Let’s go back to our example of John Doe (the Legal Admin) from earlier. 

John is still about a year out from being able to make the switch from his current MSP, but he has been seeing some TV ads for your MSP that are airing during his favorite show. While he isn’t ready to take any action right now as a result of these ads, he is still tucking the name of your MSP away in his mind whether he intends to or not. 

Now let’s jump forward nine months. John is just three months out from the end of his current engagement, so he’s actively researching MSPs in his area to establish contact and get a new engagement signed. His primary goal is finding a reliable MSP and avoiding a gap in coverage at the end of his current engagement. He does a Google search for “managed service providers near me”, then sees a Google Ad for your MSP. Even though your ad isn’t in the top position, he immediately recognizes the name from the commercials he saw several months ago. And whether he realizes it or not, he automatically finds you to be more legitimate and credible than the other MSPs whose names he’s seeing for the first time right now. Because of this, he’s far more likely to click on your ad and submit your lead form. 

Scenarios like this are incredibly common in marketing, and it’s a big reason why brand awareness campaigns are so valuable; especially to a service-based organization. While brand awareness campaigns may not drive a ton of new business for your organization directly, they will provide an indirect boost to the performance of other campaigns you’re running, bringing down the blended cost per acquisition (CPA) across your entire marketing strategy. In other words, you’ll get leads for less money. While this benefit can sometimes be difficult to measure, you can trust that it exists. 

So there you have it! Brand awareness campaigns, while not an effective marketing strategy on their own, have a very legitimate place in a well-rounded, scalable marketing plan. Don’t expect to see direct, measurable results from your brand awareness campaigns, though. Instead, keep a close eye on the overall CPA of your marketing strategy. When done right, I can guarantee you will see your blended CPA go down after your brand awareness campaigns have had time to reach your audience.
What do you think? Do brand awareness campaigns still hold a place in a solid marketing strategy in 2021, or has their effectiveness been watered down by today’s digital climate? Let me know on LinkedIn! I’d love to hear your thoughts.