Podcast  |  Sales,

1.12: Is It Time to Upgrade Your MSP Branding?

msp branding - new coat of paint going on the wall

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“I pay attention to experiences”

What’s in a name? For 20-year-old Mad Data, a new name brought happier clients, easier marketing, and better employee recruiting. CEO Mary Hamilton shares the story of her MSP’s brand evolution including:

  • What drove the decision to change the company name
  • The massive payoffs they’ve seen from investing in a new name and brand
  • The importance of brand emotion in driving your company to growth
  • How to build a consistent experience around your MSP’s name

Who’s on this episode

Host: Jennifer Tribe
Guest: Mary Hamilton, Mad Data

Mary Hamilton is the CEO of Mad Data. For the last 12 years, she’s been in the IT industry focusing on cybersecurity. Not being a “tech” has given her a different perspective on how businesses relate to technology and especially cybersecurity. That perspective has led to her speaking on stages, podcasts, and news stories, as well as leading a group for women in technology across the country to talk about business, strategy, and vision for the industry. When not leading a company, Mary is with her five children cooking, working out, playing and overall, just loving her life with them.

Episode transcript

Jennifer: I’m Jennifer Tribe and this is Workflow, the podcast about growing a happier, healthier MSP. More profit, less stress.

What’s in a name? Your company name, specifically. Also your logo. Your color palette. Your visual brand as a whole. Your brand experience. They’re all tied together and all have a big effect on your MSP and can influence everything from who you land as clients and how much you can charge to how much you need to spend on marketing and the type of employees you attract.

That’s the conversation we’re digging into today with Mary Hamilton, the CEO of a Virginia-based MSP called Mad Data. Mary’s company wasn’t always called Mad Data. In fact, in almost 25 years in business they’ve been through a few names.

We’re going to hear the story of those name changes, why the changes were necessary and how the new Mad Data brand has been totally worth the effort and expense it took to bring it to life.

For Mary, the name is just the start of what really matters—which is the customer experience.

“What could we do if we created a brand?”

Mary: I pay attention to experiences that I have. When you go stay at a Holiday Inn, you go, you get your key, you go to the room. It’s a decent place to sleep, right? When we eventually started making money, my husband took me to Paris, which I’d always dreamt of, like, my entire life. And we went to the Hotel Shangri-La. Now, that experience, from the moment you walk in, you’ve got somebody giving you a bottle of water. You go to the reception, they check you in, they give you a basket and you get to the room. They’ll escort you there. They’ve got the valet every little thing is thought about. The sheets are soft, the whole experience you’re like, Man, I am so glad I paid for this.

So I think for me, if I like this, how can we bring that to technology? How can I bring that into my company? I don’t need to be a luxury based company to give people a five- star experience. I really want to attract people who appreciate those little things that are done along the way. If you just want someone to fix your computer and throw cheap AV on there, then go find the Chuck in the truck. Go find the Walmart version of a managed service provider.

If you want a partner, if you want somebody that’s going to respect you and listen to you and treat you like a queen or a king or whatever, that’s what I want to provide for you. If you think of techs and how they generally think they’re there to only solve a problem and that is their value. They don’t care about an experience, a feel, etc. To me it’s a prime opportunity because my industry does not value it. I’m like, What could we do if we created a brand and if people could connect to it? What if, right?

I want us to have the brand recognition of Apple with the customer service of Chick-Fil-A. Those are core components for me. I want to do things differently and I want the whole experience for people when it comes to technology to be like when you get that Apple box and you open it. When we send computers out, I want it branded for them. I want them to feel and be like, this is so simple. Oh my God, I haven’t had to struggle. I don’t have the problems that I used to have. It’s possible.

I’m not dependent on people needing to have things broken so that we can provide value. There’s so many other areas where a company like us can provide value to people aside from just constantly resetting the password and fixing the broken stuff. I want that experience to transcend past the broken stuff and into really caring for a company and taking their vision for and making it simple and easy.

“Phone book marketing was the way to go then”

Jennifer: So that is the vision today. Using the brand and the brand experience to stand out in a sea of same-same MSP providers. Now take us back to how you got there.

Mary: So my husband started the company back in 2004 as a side hustle because he just wanted to make some extra money, just fixing some computers for regular home users. And so he needed a name. And there’s a friend of his that was in the church and he had a large law firm and he still is the largest law firm in southwest Virginia because of his marketing. So he told Brian whatever you do, be first in the phone book. So that’s how old the concept is, right? Phone book marketing was the way to go then. And so he picked Agabus.

It was biblical. It was more spiritual for him, and that’s what he wanted to name it. So Agabus worked. Curiosity factor, too. Everybody was like, What the heck is Agabus? And we were like, Well, let me tell you about it. So it was always a good conversation piece for us, talking about the business to people. So that’s where we started. And we had that name for, gosh, probably almost ten years. And then in 2009, I started in the company helping him. We still were Agabus at that point. And then we were at the point where we had outgrown our house. And so when we made that switch to getting it out of our home into a brick and mortar, we were like, We need to change the name.

Jennifer: Why did you feel you needed to change the name?

Mary: We were growing into businesses and we didn’t feel like Agabus represented who we were anymore. It was too small to represent who we are and who we wanted to be. So our vision had changed because originally it was only going to be a side hustle and then it grew. By like 2009 we had gone out on our own and this was becoming a full company. I mean, it was still a glorified side hustle, right?

But we were growing and so our market had changed and we were taking care of more businesses now versus home users. Our identity was shifting and we needed to feel a little bit more professional to represent who we were. The next iteration was Mid-Atlantic Data and Communications and that name represented we were going to be taking care of the mid-Atlantic region, and that’s what we wanted because we had started growing and getting some companies, not just in Little Rocky Mount Virginia, which is population of like 50 or something. Not really, but it’s pretty small. So that was why we felt like we needed to shift because our identity was shifting, so then our brand needed to expand with it.

“I honestly got mad”

Jennifer: Despite Mid-Atlantic Data and Communications sounding bigger and more business-focused as they wanted, Mary was never really sold on the feeling it.

Mary: I remember trying to create the logo for it and they still never nailed it. I hated it. I hated the colors. The more we were using it, it was like blahblah and it wasn’t simple. And then I took over the business officially and started running it, and I was like, I don’t like Mid Atlantic Data and I don’t like the colors and I don’t like the feel of it. It just didn’t feel good. It was very sterile. It blended in with everybody. Like most IT companies, it’s like John’s Technology Solutions or IT 911 or whatever and that’s fine.

I needed, if I was going to run this company, this was going to be my face, my name, my personality, it needed to feel like me. And then I was like MAD data. It started with internally we would joke about mad M-A-D mid-Atlantic data, and so that was an acronym we started using internally. I was like, hell yeah, Mad Data. And then as I started becoming educated in cybersecurity, in technology and understanding what it is we actually do because I was in the background for so long, then I honestly got mad because I’m going to conferences and meeting people and the amount of arrogance that I felt or and still feel that most technology providers hold is that they know so much, but then they don’t really educate their clients. Backup was a perfect thing. Every client that we came into they’re like I have backup, I was like, Do you understand what type of backup you have? They’re like, No, there’s different types? I was like, absolutely. Let me tell you what it is. So breaking down for them, there’s a file folder and there’s a virtualization model that you can go with.

So the more I got involved and I’m doing this, then I honestly got pissed because I’m like, These people are doing a disservice to the population. They’re not educating them. So then Mad Data just stuck. Then we did go to a branding company and when I saw the little angry face, I was like, that’s it. That’s what I want. You can see the mad and the M and I eventually want to have an app with all of our stuff and I was like, that’s like the easiest app. You click on it and it’s identifiable, so that was the journey for us coming to Mad Data.

“Dang, this is awesome”

Jennifer: As you can imagine, a brand makeover, including an entirely new name, is not inexpensive for an established company. Logo swaps on digital documents might be easy enough but of course if you need a whole new website design, new car wraps, new shirts that’s going to add up. Mary estimates they spent $50,000 to $75,000 on changing their name over the course of about 18 months. Was it worth it? She says heck yeah. Existing clients loved it, Mary found it easier to land and close new clients that hit her target profile, and it’s even been easier to hire.

Mary: Our clients when we shifted, it was a very warm reception. They were like, Oh my God, that’s so much easier. Even the feel of it because we rebranded and resent all of our clients gifts Hey, welcome to Mad Data. And they loved it. There was an instant connection. And we went through a little bit of the story with them so that they got it. And honestly, for them it was just more simple and they liked a simple approach to it. And I was like, good.

Now when it comes to marketing for us, everywhere we go, they’re like, Oh my God, that’s such a different name. That’s what I wanted. It’s still a curiosity piece because people are like, What does Mad Data do? What do we stand for? What are we providing, etc.. And as we brand for our clients how we do anything, it’s how we do everything. If you’re going to do it some of the time, you’re going to do it all of the time. So from the minute that somebody is looking at our website to job postings that we do to a discovery, to the marketing, to every bit, when you’re our client, that brand is felt all the way through.

And that’s what I want people to be able to connect with. Because if I’m going to send you cheap stuff then I’m going to be cheap, right? I’m going to be providing cheap products, I’m going to be providing cheap service. That’s how I see things. If you’ve ever been in a thrift store and spent years, I would always finger through and I could touch the fabric and know what was better and what wasn’t. And that’s what I wanted for our company. Just by feeling our stuff, by touching it, I want people to be like, Wow, if they put that much into a tumbler or a book or a card into a box, how much more are they going to put into us?

Because technology is so ethereal and it’s so cold by nature, because it’s hardware and it’s unseen. I want this to be tangible for people to latch on to like, this is a feeling I get when I have to deal with cybersecurity, when my computer is having a problem. One of our core values we’re anything that you touch, you leave it better than you found it. So when somebody calls in, I want them to leave in a better mood than when they came to us. Even in our cheesy marketing campaigns that we send out, most of the time it makes somebody laugh. That’s what I want. I want every interaction for it to leave that person in a better state than when it found them.

I want long term relationships. I don’t want transactions. I want to build a relationship with these people and any relationship you have to invest quality in, whether it’s time, money is always involved, attention, being intentional with them. We’re learning what we attract and what we don’t based on our brand. And when people read our stories and I will say even as we look for employees, they pay attention to our website, to our branding and where they’re seeing us and how we’re coming across. And that has made a difference in the quality of people that we’re attracting that want to come work with us.

I’ve just been going through some major hiring right now. And because of the way we worded the job description, and then I had people emailing me directly saying the way you worded this and came across it seemed so real and not to misuse a word or overuse it, but authentic. And it was like a real person talking to me. And then I went to your website and it was like a real person was talking to me there. And I would really just like a chance for an interview so that I could work with you guys. And I was like, Oh my God, that’s never happened to us before.

That is something that gives me a lot of pride. It’s consistent. What you see on that website transfers through all the way through so that my employees are like, Yeah, this is how they really are. This is how they talk, this is how they feel, like this is what they care about. And so having that continuity all the way through, I’m like, Dang, this is awesome. It really does act as a filter because people who are cheap, they will shy away from us. And I’m like, That’s good. I want there to be a repellent. I want you to know like, no, I don’t want to spend that money because they feel like too nice for me. I don’t knock it but there’s a place for everything. I want the partnership.

“You might have to grieve in a weird way”

Jennifer: There were a lot of upsides to the change obviously but Mary says she underestimated how difficult the transition would be emotionally. But maybe you and your company are ready for something new now.

Mary: I think we get afraid because we’re so attached to this and subconsciously, there’s this story running. Like, this is all I’ve known. This is what’s safe, this is what’s going to help me survive. But if you really pause and look at it, you have to kind of step back and look at your life. And if it’s not creating the experience that you want, I mean, at the end of the day when I look at my stuff, I want to be excited that I’m seeing it right.

My husband, he had a very hard time because he was deeply attached to the Agabus Solutions and Mid-Atlantic Data and Communications and what it meant. Most of us are attached. That’s what we have built our value on and we identify as it. So that change was I underestimated it. So I think if you’re going to do it you’ve got to emotionally, too you have to really look at yourself and be like, What do I stand for? What do I want? And that’s hard for a lot of people to do because it’s so easy to just pop off something.

Some people just get a name like that and then they’re like, Oh, I’m good. But to create a brand, for me, anyway, there was a lot of self inspection and reflection and a lot of inward stuff that I had to look and be like, Is this how I feel? Is this what I want? How do I want this to come across? What is the feel? We’re really good to talk about the tactics and the benefits of it, but I think the emotional side to anything is being aware that it’s there. And you might have to grieve in a weird way of letting go of something to birth something new, and then to take that new persona on.

“Never be afraid to change”

Jennifer: So could a brand refresh be the next step in your MSP’s growth journey? Mary has some advice.

Mary: If you’re just worried about being like a status quo, don’t invest in that. Right? But if you want to grow, you have to build a brand because people have to connect with you and know you. I look at even the younger generation and how they’re able to communicate and push their personal brands on social media. We need to take advantage of that stuff. Not be afraid of going out there and putting yourself out there if that’s what you want.

If you have a brand that you’re excited about. Love it. Stay with it. But never be afraid to change because if you can get past the fear and the ego and all of that and then really commit to it and be excited about it. If you’re not excited about it, that’s a good thermometer. If you look at your stuff and you’re like eh you need to change and do something that ignites passion in you that you’re like damn that looks good. I feel good about that.

Jennifer: That was Mary Hamilton, CEO of Mad Data. Does today’s show have you thinking about a rebrand? Or have you just been through one? Let us know by leaving a comment on the show notes.

Until next time, this is Jennifer Tribe. Thanks for listening.

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Jennifer Tribe

Jennifer Tribe

Syncro’s director of content. Espresso-fueled Canadian nerding out over plain language, productivity, and podcasts.

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