One of the biggest threats to brands today is consumer indifference. With so much noise and clutter in the marketplace, how do you get your customer to pay attention? What creates brand loyalty strong enough to last for decades or perhaps even a lifetime?
For consumers who own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the answer to enthusiastic brand loyalty is simple, but it can hardly be defined in a single word or phrase. The experience of controlling 700 pounds of steel and chrome creates a primal connection between Harley riders and their motorcycles. For over 110 years Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been a coveted ticket for men and women to experience “life as a journey, not a destination.” It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, a CEO, or a soccer mom; when you are on a Harley, you are a “rebel.”
According to Mark-Hans Richer, CMO of Harley-Davidson, the meaning of his brand is “rebel – the verb, not the noun. It’s about personal identity, being your truest self and having the courage to be that.” Harley customers desire to escape the routine. If you ask a Harley owner what they like most about their bike they will not give you a list of features. They will use emotional phrases such as “I love the freedom” or “I like the pride of owning a legend.”
As part of an initiative to build lifelong relationships between the company and its customers, Harley-Davidson created the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in 1983. HOG provides an opportunity for Harley owners to participate in a variety of Harley-sponsored rides and events, as well as other membership benefits. Harley prioritizes knowing their target customers—their hard-core, loyal following. HOG also fosters camaraderie among its members. Harley owners are not only loyal to the company, but also to each other. Owning a Harley is the only requirement to join a family of millions.
Harley-Davidson maintains their customer’s attention after the sale by offering the “Harley lifestyle.” Purchasing the motorcycle is just the first step in the customer experience. Harley owners spend thousands of dollars individualizing their bikes with aftermarket products. Harley-Davidson has over 1,300 dealerships in over 60 countries, and each location is more than just a place to buy a motorcycle. Motorcycle enthusiasts can purchase a huge range of products from t-shirts to tailor made rain gear tailor with heat-resistant shields on the inner legs and helmet-friendly hoods. Most dealerships also host events such as “garage night” for women to learn about the mechanics of how their bikes work and poker runs that benefit local charities.
Harley-Davidson has set the gold standard for brand loyalty. Every employee understands the deep emotional connection that is created through their products, services, and experiences. In turn, every Harley customer knows that their unwavering loyalty to the Harley brand will be rewarded with a premium product and a supportive community that will last a lifetime.
Overcoming customer indifference is critical in today’s highly connected world. As Harley-Davidson has proven, one way to overcome this challenge is to build a lifelong relationship supported by unique customer touch points that breathe life into a brand. We urge all companies to consider how they market to their customer holistically throughout their lifecycle—not just through acquisition. By supporting the entire customer lifecycle, you can create a more comprehensive brand environment that embeds your differentiation and enables growth.
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