John McClane, CEO: How to Make Your Brand as Successful as the Die Hard Franchise

Ben Franklin said that death and taxes were the only certain things in this world, but Die Hard didn’t come out for almost 200 years after he bit it, so we can forgive his oversight.

While A Good Day to Die Hard is only rated 15% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing (which is nonsense because Paranormal Activity 4 has a 25% rating, and I have had more impressive bowel movements.), it is 100% fresh in my heart. More importantly to the studios, the franchise has made more money than Hans tried to steal in the original film.

So what’s are the success secrets of this incredible franchise that’s spanned over 15 years with the same leading man and consistently takes opening weekend by a wide margin? And how can you justify reading the rest of this article while you’re at work?

Read on to find out!

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Awesome Characters

John McClane is the Everyman, the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s a hero by virtue of being a police officer, but he wasn’t a top lieutenant or captain out of the gate. He does the right thing (trying to take down the baddies) even when the wrong thing (escaping and sharing a Twinkie with Sergeant Powell) is much easier.

Although your managers are supposed to be the most highly qualified in their departments and get rewarded for their ability to coordinate the activities of their subordinates, that doesn’t mean you ignore the folks working beneath these leaders. When the managers are unavailable, the everypeople* need to be able to hold their own and make tough decisions. Look closely at character and potential even when hiring entry-level employees; you never know when they’re going to need to deal with the fly in the ointment.

Hans Gruber made American Film Institute’s list of the top 50 movie villains. Not bad for the film debut of a little-known actor named Alan Rickman, eh? The best part about him is that he’s the smartest guy in the room, and your staff should try to be more like him.

Make sure key staff members are Hans Gruber-types. Sure, you might want to avoid that little family history of psychosis, but making sure your staff is the smartest in its industry is critical to success. Smart isn’t just about having memorized knowledge: your salespeople and content creators need to be informed, but more importantly, they need to be the most adept at accessing resources and the best-prepared for monkeys in the wrench. Han’s ability to improvise was able to keep his plan in motion despite interruptions. And the reason he didn’t end up sitting a beach earning twenty percent? Mrs. McClane had a shitty watch.


*Political correctness equals grammatical clunkiness. Sorry.

Dependable Formula (With a Side of Surprise)

The Die Hard plots have a dependable bait-and-switch formula: John McClane gets mixed up (or, in the case of DH 3, cordially invited) in a criminal operation that turns out to be a distraction from the true crime. Although you can argue a twist isn’t effective if you expect it, moviegoers are guaranteed to enjoy a layered plot and are more actively engaged in the film than if it were it was just a series of straight forward shoot-‘em-up chase scenes.

Your company can benefit from the same type of standard formula with some flexibility. Whether it’s a unified layout for its different social media sites or a weekly newsletter, consistency in a company’s public presence is key in its perception as dependable by its customers.

In this case, consistency means "look concerned about something just offscreen."

In this case, consistency means “look concerned about something just offscreen.”

On the other hand, rigidity is a turn-off; it shows customers that you have a difficult time adapting to new situations and may become monotonous background noise in their RSS feed. A second weekly newsletter for an exciting new product development (that can’t wait until next week!) will draw plenty of attention because of its break in the routine.

Look at what your company does well consistently. There’s your cornerstone. Build from there: you can release bonus content when sales are slower, or breaking news is relevant to your industry.

Key Points

  • Make sure you take care in the hiring and treatment of the entry-level employees. Managers are important, but you need to know that the foundation of your company is strong, and anyone can step up to the plate in case of an emergency.
  • Your employees need to be the smartest in the industry: that means the most well-informed, the most adept at locating and accessing resources, and the best-suited to improvise when things don’t go according to plan.
  • Establish your company’s dependability with consistency for your customers (e.g., weekly newsletter, monthly best-of blog).
  • Break the routine only to distribute more value-added content to your customers; the change will draw extra attention to the importance of the content.

What other lessons can we take from the Die Hard franchise and apply to our companies? How important is consistency in your field? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Expand Your Brand!


Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

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