BrandingAs we put the finishing touches on the MSPmentor 100 research report, we noticed several clear business and technology trends. One of them involves marketing and branding. The most successful managed service providers, in fact, leverage successful marketing and branding strategies to build their businesses. Here are five examples of MSP branding and marketing done right.

MasterIT1. Develop Your Look and Feel: Check out masterIT's logo. Clean, compelling and engaging. And the company's well-organized Web site instantly communicates that "masterIT is your IT department if you don't have one, and more horsepower if you do." Short and sweet and on message. The company was Number 6 on our MSPmentor 100.

2. Push Beyond Traditional PR: Find public relations help that does more than write press releases. Your PR support needs to understand Web 2.0 social media.

A prime example: DirectPointe, Number 1 on our MSPmentor 100, would not have qualified for our list without savvy PR support. The company's PR representatives, SnappConner PR, spotted our MSPmentor 100 survey by watching social media networks closely. Then, the PR team worked overtime to make sure DirectPointe filled out our survey. By the time we saw DirectPointe's data, we knew they were a major force in the managed services market. Now, SnappConner is promoting DirectPointe's position on the MSPmentor 100 through company blogs and other sites.

3. Cross Link Like Crazy: Share your expertise through guest columns and guest blogs. Don't pitch your company. Instead, pitch your expertise. A prime example: Phil Hill, co-founder and president of Vocalcity, wrote this TMCnet guest column showing readers how to pick a hosted VoIP provider. Sure, Hill's company is a VoIP provider. But his column is informative -- rather than a sales pitch.

Now, for the real magic: The only reason I spotted Hill's column is because a popular blog (Smith on VoIP) linked to it. In other words, writing and publishing your message is only part of the effort. Network aggressively with bloggers, and you'll find them linking to your messages -- as long as the messages deliver true value rather than empty sales pitches.

4. Put Your Company First: During the Channel 1.0 days, VARs aggressively promoted their vendor relationships. They filled their web sites with dozens of logos stating which hardware and software they resold. It's fine to promote your partners, but don't do so on your home page. Move everything onto a single secondary page.

Now, use your website to brand your company -- not your technology suppliers. Start by branding your specific managed services -- rather than a third-party service. For instance, ThinkSmart Inc. (No. 31 on the MSPmentor 100) brands its services as SmartWatch, SmartSecure and SmartControl. Simple and effective branding.

5. Go Multimedia (If You Can): This is a tricky move that you have to consider carefully. At first glance, managed services executives should be guest speakers at conferences, and on podcasts and Webinars. But be careful. Leave your ego at home and work hard to find the person within your company who can truly engage audiences.

For instance, steal a page from MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group. He participates in Web seminars and is a frequent guest speaker at CompTIA events. Shoer comes across as a down-to-earth entrepreneur who cares about his customers and partners.

You can repeat Shoer's success by volunteering to speak at conferences hosted by your vendor partners. Just be sure to put your own brand -- and expertise -- front-and-center.

Those are five solid first steps. You can find more guidance from channel marketing experts like Larry Kesslin of 4 Profit, a consulting firm that works closely with solutions providers. I met Kesslin during a Cisco marketing summit in Miami, and came away impressed.