MARKETING EXCELLENCE Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson, a U.S. brand synonymous with beauti­ful motorbikes, inspires many to own its customized bike with iconic engine. Today the brand is sought after not only in the United States but globally too. What explains its wide global acceptance, and the strong sense of brand loyalty among Harley-Davidson motorbike owners?

Harley-Davidson dealers, ranging from the CEO to the sales staff, maintain personalized relationships with customers through face-to-face and social media con­tact. Knowing customers as individuals and conducting ongoing research to keep up with the changing expecta­tions and experiences helps Harley-Davidson to define its customers’ needs better.

Current customers have told Harley-Davidson’s man­agement to keep the identity, look, and sound of the motorcycles because they are unique. Globally, custom­ers accept the U.S. brand image as it stands. When customers’ views are heard and accepted by manage­ment, customers develop greater brand loyalty, creating an extraordinary customer experience that is unique and valuable. Buying a Harley allows owners to express their individualism and freedom, connect with friends, and share a sense of comradeship through the activities of H.O.G., the company-sponsored Harley Owners Group and riding club. Owners of new Harley-Davidson motorbikes enjoy free H.O.G. membership in the first year. If renewed, mem­bers can enjoy various discounts and benefits.

Examples of events and activities that are sponsored by independent dealerships, such as Harley-Davidson of Singapore, can range from short rides and major destina­tion rides, to local charity events. H.O.G. members are also invited to events, such as new model launches, and riders’ appreciation nights. Dealers in each country sup­port H.O.G. members and foster positive bonding rela­tionships among members and other dealers.

In Singapore, for instance, a community of friends rides Harley-Davidson motorcycles with a passion. “We ride ’em, and we have lots of fun! And we’ve been do­ing it since 1996 in Singapore.” “To Ride and Have Fun” is a motto that all H.O.G. chapters around the world follow. Riders associate riding with other owners as a time of bonding that conveys the image of freedom and adventure.

Membership in H.O.G. has increased. Now not only men but women, children, and families are a part of H.O.G.’s many and varied group outings and activities. Harley-Davidson has developed a strong brand image and consumers appreciate it even more by experiencing it firsthand. The desire to be associated with the Harley- Davidson brand is strong because it is linked to an aspi- rational lifestyle.

There are more than 2,000 H.O.G. members in Malaysia alone, with around 500 active riders. The Southeast Asia Harley Owners Group (SEA HOG) orga­nizes rallies and rides as well as charity events. In late 2013, a two-day event followed by a five-day riding tour attracted 800 owners to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the brand.

Some H.O.G. members around the world ride in ral­lies every Sunday, rain or shine, displaying a strong sense of loyalty to the Harley-Davidson brand. In Hong Kong, H.O.G. members include professionals, like doctors, law­yers, accountants, pilots, engineers, movie stars, and business executives. Their participation shows the strong brand loyalty among Harley-Davidson owners and the strong desire to be engaged in H.O.G. members’ activities.

Proactive in people development, Harley-Davidson shares company values, philosophy, and brand experi­ence with its staff and provides effective communication to its independent dealers. Professional training by members of the Harley-Davidson University in the U.S. encour­ages consistent service at every dealership. Thus, Harley- Davidson’s employees around the world can be confident about providing the genuine Harley-Davidson experience. Satisfied employees deliver outstanding services that gen­erates sustainable customer and brand loyalty, positive word of mouth, and ultimately higher company sales.

To remain competitive, Milwaukee-based Harley- Davidson has started to enlarge its customer base and successfully connect with new, younger riders by way of social media applications, such as Facebook and Twitter. Engaging relationships have been established with young adults who form a large part of its global followership. Important feedback that Harley-Davidson’s strong brand name remains appealing to the younger audience is encouraging.

Harley-Davidson also makes in-person connec­tions with potential riders at music festivals by using dynamometers to create an interactive experience called Jump Start, which allows novice or non-riders an oppor­tunity to feel what it’s like to ride a Harley-Davidson.

In 2008, it became the leading manufacturer of motorcycles to sell to customers younger than 34 years without changing the products too drastically or lowering its prices. Harley-Davidson merely modified some design elements for its Dark Custom series of motorcycles, which consists largely of existing Harley-Davidson motor­cycles but with flat black paint, much less chrome, and toned-down styling. It portrayed its heritage message of freedom, uniqueness, individual expression, and shared experience as recognized by older customers.

Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.

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