Harley-Davidson is famed the world over for its brand loyalty. Perhaps Coca-Cola has greater global brand recognition, but certainly no other motorcycle manufacturer can compete with Harley’s fanatical loyalists. After all, how many people have Honda’s winged logo tattooed on their shoulder, breast or heinie?
One of the most important reasons for this loyalty is Harley-Davidson’s singular connection with its customers. Indeed, when asked by a Ford marketing type – who was in Milwaukee pitching what would later become the Harley-Davidson F-150 – how they managed to connect so deeply with customers, Willie G Davidson, grandson of one of the company’s founders, famously replied, “well, we do know them all by name”. No meaningless focus groups for Harley; when they want to know something about their customers, they just head out to Daytona or Sturgis for a week of Harley Owners Group revelry.
So it’s no surprise that the company has 3.3 million Facebook friends. That Harley-Davidson is perhaps the best motorcycle manufacturer at Facebooking should also be no surprise. What is changing is who those 3.3 million buddies are. Oh sure, we all know that Harley has long ago transcended the old “one-percenters” badass stereotype, rendered inconsequential as they were, not by police investigation or judicial writ, but by the sheer overwhelming wealth of the Boomer generation.
The fortysomething white male lawyer/broker/insert-your-most-despised-yupster-here traded on that outlaw image to attract their twentysomething trophy wives, but the seeming malevolence of all those bearded bikers was the ultimate facade. Come Monday, their “colours” were traded for pinstripes and their facial hair was suddenly more adroitly coiffed.
Bursting even more stereotypes – at least for me – is that all these newbies aren’t buying the cheap-and-cheerful Sportsers I envisaged. Like most journalists covering the industry, I assumed that the myriad variations of the iconoclastic Sportster were Harley’s draw to this one fringe group. Instead, the most popular single model for 18- to 34-year-old Millenials, women, Hispanics and African-Americans is the full-zoot Street Glide (basically a stripped-down version of the classic Electra Glide), a top-line model far removed from the bargain basement Sportster.
If nothing else, it shows that Harley-Davidson is serious about broadening its reach. As I have often lamented, if the motorcycle industry is to be reborn – and just the quickest perusal of sales statistics is enough to know a rebirth is necessary – it will come from expansion into long-ignored niches – again, youth, women and minorities.
We Boomers are well into our doddering years and will soon be trading in our Hawgs for walking sticks.