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How We Built a Brand Customers Actually Like

5 stages and a lot of lessons.

Hey folks đź‘‹, I'm Kenneth Burke. #BurkeBits is where I share stories, data, and frameworks to help you become a better marketer. Subscribe for free to level-up.

I’m not typically a beacon of branding—I normally stick to demand generation and operations—but we’ve built something pretty great at Text Request that customers and employees both love.

There’s a lot in our story that I think other marketers will relate to and can learn from. So here it goes—how we built a brand customers actually like.

Our Brand Evolution


Before the company launched, our “brand” was just an overpriced brand kit. A logo, some fonts and colors, and directions on how to bring them to life. But all the stuff that really creates a brand (details below) was missing.


After we launched, our brand quickly became what we could do. Our emails, website copy, elevator pitches were all “We can add texting to your office phone number. Here’s why you should buy it.” Slap a logo on it, call it done.

And you know what? That actually worked to get us through our first $1million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) and beyond. We could have done better, but we also felt pretty good about it.

$1 Million+

Our brand started to take on a new arm, focused on what we’d done. It was a PR push, telling our story as a fast-growing bootstrapped startup proudly based outside of Silicon Valley (in Chattanooga, TN).

This was particularly helpful for hiring, and became a story we could tell on repeat for years.

Getting Intentional

Somewhere between $2m and $5m ARR, we began building our brand on purpose (and had an internal champion pushing that forward).

We worked with brand coaches. We cultivated unique messaging, company values, product pillars and differentiators. We taught our employees all about it, and refreshed our visual look and feel (our brand kit).

This was great! It actually pushed revenue forward. We were able to create better marketing, connect with customers, and look like a more trustworthy option.

$5 Million+

We started investing more in how we’re different from competitors—why you should choose us specifically.

It’s been really interesting—since then, we don’t compete with other players as much. There are still competitors everywhere, of course, but we’ve gotten so much more targeted that we’re the clear choice for our ideal customer.

That’s pretty cool.

Brands naturally evolve over time, and ours certainly has, but since that $5m mark, we’ve been putting all of the above into practice daily. It’s become a sort of brand flywheel that keeps reinforcing itself and getting stronger.

5 Lessons We’ve Learned Building a Brand

1. Brands exist no matter what.

There are only two things you create in a software company without ever writing a line of code: culture, and brand. You’d better be intentional to shape them how you want them. Otherwise something or someone else will shape them for you.

2. Brand is what people think about you.

It’s your reputation. Logos, fonts, messages, personality, employees, values, products, colors, and everything you do all feed directly into the reputation you want to build.

3. A good brand is not a good business.

There are multi-billion-dollar businesses everywhere that you’ve never heard of whose websites look just like everyone else’s. There are also tons of flashy brands who have no underlying value and quickly go out of business.

I’d recommend intentionally building your brand, but it’s not everything, and you can get away without it.

4. It won’t matter for years, but then everything gets easier.

Customers don’t really care who you say you are. But once you’ve taken the time to put all the pieces together, and customers have had the chance to experience it multiple times, then marketing, sales, even product development and hiring get way easier. You know who you are, and so does everyone else.

5. Good brands are idealized.

Your target customers need to see something of what they feel and aspire to be in you. You need to embody an idealized version of what they wish they could be.

That might be empathy for customers, sticking it to the man, a cool factor, or anything else your customers value. We all know people and companies aren’t perfect, but if you embody your customers’ favorite traits, they’ll love you.

5 Brand Pillars You’ve Got to Get Right

There’s not much to elaborate on here, but we’ve seen that the more specific and thorough we are in defining each of these, the stronger we are. These are quite literally the pillars holding up everything else.

  1. Core Solution — What we offer

  2. Core Audience — Who we serve

  3. Core Mission — Why we do this

  4. Core Message — Why you need it

  5. Core Distribution — When, where, and how we’ll get this in front our core audience

5 Common Ways to Undermine Your Brand

1. Change your messaging.

I’m all for testing and trying new things, but change things too often and all you’ll end up with is confused customers. Confused customers won’t pay you.

Evolve over time, try new things within a lane, but do a lot of good work on the front end so you can be more consistent throughout.

2. Prioritize style over substance.

What you look like matters. We’ve seen ads with stronger “creative” lead to 20% to 50% more engagement. That’s huge! But you’ve got to have a great message, needed product, and the right audience, or none of the rest matters.

3. Be inauthentic.

I’m not a fan of the advice to “be authentic” — read more here — but customers can tell immediately if you’re just saying something because it sounds good. If you can’t embody something day-after-day, don’t say it’s important.

4. Try to appeal to everyone.

If you try to be something to everyone, you’ll be nothing to everyone. Focus on doing one thing for one type of buyer, and you’ll build a much clearer reputation. Over time you can expand, but don’t swing for the fences from the beginning.

5. Don’t measure brand and impact.

How do you measure your reputation? There are many formal and informal ways, but a few of my favorites are:

  • Customer sentiment: What are you hearing?

  • Brand search volume: E.g. Google searches for “Text Request”

  • Online reviews and referrals

  • Customer surveys, like Net Promoter Score (how likely are you to recommend?)

If you’ve got the budget for a fancy software to monitor and measure these things, it’s probably worth the money (though not necessary). You do want to understand how many customers are choosing you—or aren’t—because of your reputation.

5 Final Tips to Build a Brand Customers Actually Like

1. Have a dang personality!

Emotions, color, laughter, pet peeves are all okay. In fact, they help! People want to work with people, not bots. The more your company mimics a reputable team of people, the better.

2. Stand for something.

Set your values and back them up.

3. Stand against something.

A character trait, an outdated way of doing things, a competitor. If you stand for something and against something else, then you’ve got what you need to rally customers around your brand.

4. Be consistent and patient.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your brand. You have to keep repeating a message, keep proving your value, keep creating great customer experiences. It may even feel defeating for awhile. But it pays out.

5. Stay customer- and mission-focused.

If you start to get away from your reason for existing and who you’re supposed to serve, everything starts to fall apart. You’ll begin—however subtly—to prioritize the company or other values at customers’ expense. They’ll pick up on it and move away. BUT. If you stick to them, they’ll stay with you forever.

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Have questions about this topic or something you’re working on? Ask away! I’m an open book and happy to help.