Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

Editor’s Note: This is
Part One in a series.

VARs need to spend more on marketing.

It must be true. You can’t go to a trade show, pick up a technology magazine
or look at a channel Web site without hearing about how you need to be pumping
at least 10 percent of your budget into marketing.

Should you be suspicious that a lot of that noise is coming from consultants
and distributors and even media companies that are, of late, in the business of
selling you marketing services? Probably. But their self-interest doesn’t
necessarily make them wrong. It does, however, make them irresponsible when they
suggest pumping money into marketing without explaining much in the way of how
and why.

The channel suffers as much from bad marketing as it does from a dearth of
marketing. The consultants and the agencies rarely mention that. The experts
also gloss over some of the best things VARs can do to sell themselves; things
that are inexpensive and, with some planning and focus, relatively easy to pull
off. In the next few weeks, we’ll go over some ways to bolster your marketing
efforts with as little expense and wheel-spinning as possible.

One way to get your message out to users and prospects is with a regular
newsletter. The good news is that most VARs I’ve talked to in the past year are
producing a newsletter.

That’s also the bad news.

If you rounded up random samples of newsletters put out by 100 solution
providers, you’d find a spectrum of marketing prose running from banal to
brilliant. Most land with a thud someplace in the middle: tepid, inoffensive
and largely ineffective.

What kills most VAR newsletters is a lack
of focus and the absence of any real call to action. At a small and midsize
business VAR conference recently, I met
representatives from one Northeast solution provider that had two marketing
professionals among a staff of 30. These folks put out a regular newsletter to
customers. A noble effort, except that nobody was sure why, and none of them
seemed clear on what they expected users to do once they read the thing.
Building goodwill and strengthening the brand is fine, but for all that expense
and hard work, a newsletter needs to produce action and leads to be considered
a success.

The best way to jazz up your newsletters is to steal a page from those of us
in the publishing business. Come up with an editorial calendar for the year and
stick to it. It’s the only way to make sure you’re hitting relevant subjects at
opportune times. Live and work along the Gulf
Coast? Your June newsletter should
be about storm preparations and disaster recovery. Serving northern New
England in October? Perfect timing for a story telling hospitality
customers about how tourists expect secure, reliable Wi-Fi at even the
quaintest of lodgings. Summer spike in gas prices? Telepresence story. You see
where I’m going here.

The trick is to stay ahead of the news you know your customers will see.
Everyone will be drowning in gadget greatness during coverage of the Consumer
Electronics Show in January, so make your December newsletter a feast of mobile
devices and groovy gear. Your customers will remember where they heard it

No matter how brilliant your content, keep in mind that this isn’t idle
chatter. The job of newsletters may start with the conversation, but it ends
with the conversion. Talk about backup and recovery, then offer an on-site
assessment; brag about your smart-phone chops, then ask to schedule a demo.
Always make sure your newsletter content leads the readers straight back into
contact with you.

And a final bit of newsletter advice: Seek help. Late last month, I was
asked by the president of a very successful Midwestern VAR
if I could teach him the finer points of interviewing sources so he could craft
better case studies for his newsletters and marketing collateral. Maybe it’s
because I have dozens of writer friends trying to keep themselves fed selling
Amway soap and Cutco steak knives, but I feel strongly that any VAR
trying to do this kind of work itself is nuts.

Consider this: When IBM or Hewlett-Packard
or Sun Microsystems wants to produce any sort of written material, it hires
freelance editors as a matter of course. Even the engineers most intimately
familiar with their subjects aren’t allowed to craft their own papers and
presentations. They get word people to handle words. So should you.

Poke around or and pay someone $1 a word
to make you and your business sound brilliant.

Next week, we’ll talk about the easiest—and scariest—guerrilla marketing you
can do. And it’s absolutely free!

Channel Insider Editor-in-Chief Chris Gonsalves wants
to know how you’re marketing your business. Let him know at