Why building a brand is far tougher than building a business

Every business owner or industry leader I’ve met agrees…. It’s far tougher to build a brand than a business. Perhaps this explains why most working people dedicate their lives to building a business, rather than to create an enduring brand.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down and interviewing a two guys who have created one of the most respected names in the gun industry. Mark Stone and Mickey Shields created far more than custom 1911 pistols; these two guys built one of the most respected names in the gun industry. 

Here are a couple of things that I was reminded of in my recent podcast interview with the leaders of Nighthawk Custom guns. 

Pursuing purpose over pay

This principle separates the pros from the amateurs.  Every business requires revenue. You must make money to stay in business. However, for business leaders pursuing a passion about their industry, money is necessary for the operation of the company, but largely irrelevant in the most important decisions.

If you want to create an enduring brand, don’t make the mistake of pursuing a course of action simply because it has the biggest impact on your bottom line. The bottom line doesn’t always make the best business decision.

Business leaders set the bar far too low when making a decision simply by the impact on the bottom line or the shareholders’ stock values. Some of the most important business decisions lost money early in the venture.  But over time, those same decisions built a name that became a respected brand.  Over time, the loyalty associated with that brand became priceless to those businesses. 

Keeping promises no matter the price

Early in the history of the Lexus car brand, there was a problem with the cars that required a major mechanical fix. Lexus had a choice to make at this point. They could ask customers to return their cars to the dealership for a factory recall, or they could take an extraordinary step and go to the customer to fix the problem.

Lexus had a tough decision to make.  

They describe themselves as a company that puts service first. However, sending technicians to the car owners would cost the company outrageous amounts of money. Lexus decided early on to send the technicians to the cars rather than ask the car owners to bring their vehicles to the dealerships. This decision, although it cost Lexus insane amounts of money, caused Lexus car owners to understand that the company really did back their promise to take service as seriously as car sales.[1]

Businesses are about the bottom line. Brands are about building a name. Often these two things are in competition with one another. Sometimes keeping your word to customers and venders can be very costly.  Don’t let the corporate lawyers talk you out of building a brand just because there’s a legal loophole that might save you a few dollars.

Leaving a lasting impact on the industry

If you need a little motivation to make the hard, right decision to build a brand for your company over the easy, wrong decision to just make a bigger business, I hope this one will settle it for you.

Every company has a life expectancy. Sears, Roebuck, and Co. was one of the greatest and biggest names in business for almost 100 years, and that company has virtually ceased to exist today.  If the Sears company has a life expectancy, then so does your business. 

Money can’t leave a lasting impact on industry. Like pulling your hand out of a bucket of water, as soon as the hand leaves the bucket, the water collapses back in on itself. Similarly, the industry you’re in will continue long after your business ceases to exist. 

The most important questions are, what do I want the world to think about my company after we cease to exist? What do I want the company brand to be known for? Let the answer to these questions drive every business decision you make. I’m convinced that if you will put the brand name above business decisions, one day your company will become as respected as Nighthawk Custom.

Listen to my whole interview with the founders of Nighthawk Custom HERE.


[1] Littman, Jonathan, and Kelley, Tom. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. United States, Crown, 2006. p. 98.



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