When speaking to groups, I often ask any motorcycle riders in the room to raise their hands. Then I ask them to keep their hands raised if they ride Harley-Davidson bikes. Then I ask the Harley riders if they would ever consider riding another kind of motorcycle. The answer is always an emphatic, almost indignant, “No way!” Back in the eighties, Harley-Davidson was struggling. They had made some bad decisions and were being hammered by faster, cheaper Japanese bikes. They decided not to compete against the Japanese but, rather, to leverage their company’s own checkered past to build a new kind of bond with their customer. The result was one of the all-time, classic branding turnarounds, one that has gained them a fiercely devoted customer base. It’s a story that should serve as a model to all brands.
What Harley did, back in the eighties, was give their customer a reason to choose them over the Japanese bikes. Sure, the Yamahas and Kawasakis were faster and cheaper. They even looked super fast, with a design that compelled the rider to lean forward over the gas tank. But Harley repositioned their bikes as the rebel’s choice. Outlaw motorcycle “clubs” had adopted Harleys as their preferred ride, in part, because of the brand’s heavy, aggressive look and the dangerous sound of its engine’s patented, throaty growl. Harley-Davidson decided to own that reputation and extend it to all riders. They encouraged their customers to adopt a tough, bad-boy image – at least, on the weekends. And it turned out everybody wanted to be in that club. Today, thousands of doctors, bankers and lawyers don their leather jackets, boots and bandanas and join fellow Harley enthusiasts for an after-church Sunday spin. And, just like the Hell’s Angels, they define themselves by what they ride.
Harley-Davidson gave its customers a community of like-minded individuals. It gave them a sense of belonging. And, in return, they gained a degree of brand loyalty that is unsurpassed. Others have come close. Market leaders in every category find some way of connecting with their customers beyond price and service. Look at Apple users, Courvoisier drinkers and Target shoppers. All feel in the know, as if they’ve joined an exclusive society. But they’re not secretive about it. They want more people to join up and they actively recruit.
What would it take to give your customers a sense of belonging? What would make them evangelize on your behalf and recruit others to join your “club”? This I know: it’s not a lower price and it’s not faster delivery. It may not even be higher quality.
Take an honest look at your own company. What do your customers experience as they deal with you? How do they feel about that experience? What can you do to improve their experience? What can you do to encourage cross-connection and regular communication between them? How can you grow a community? Harley-Davidson answered all these questions and, not only did they turn their company around, they grew a legendary, profitable brand.
Your perfect customers are out there somewhere, looking for you. They want to find you and pay you money. They want to bond with you and help you build your business. You just need to help them find you, then give them an experience that matches up with what they want to feel.
Best Branding Reads – Week of April 25, 2016
Brandspeak: With ‘Lemonade,’ Beyonce Proves She’s the Queen of Branding
Forget Donald and Hilary. Beyoncé for President!
Linking Brand Essence And Growth
I call it Brand Truth but Brand Essence will do. Either way, it’s indispensable.
Why B2B CMOs Should Drive Business Strategy
It’s simple. The CMO is talking to the customer.
One Brand, One Disc, One Look: Coca-Cola Unveils Global Packaging
A massive attempt at creating a truly global brand. Good luck!
Parents are paying “experts” a lot of money to name their babies
A Brandtalk reader sent this in. Now sharing with y’all.
Tokyo 2020, Another Take
Tokyo Olympics – The latest chapter in the story of "The Logo That Would Not Be Designed".
Releasing The Opportunity In Brand Fields
Brand Fields – A tough definition to comprehend but worth the effort.