Harley-Davidson: Dominating Motorcycling Pop Culture

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As brand marketers we are all seeking an engaged consumer base which is loyal to our products, but it can be argued that no matter how successful we may be at this task we can never reach the zenith of consumer engagement demonstrated by the venerable American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson. Harley enthusiasts are maniacally loyal to the brand to the point that the logos and symbols associated with the motorcycle are among the most popular tattoos in the world! When your customers love your brand to the point that they permanently ink your logo on their bodies you can then consider yourself a master marketer!

Total brand domination from a less than 1% world market share

Harley-Davidson is a literally mythical brand in popular culture. While most people immediately associate the brand with the legendary biker movie Easy Rider, the fact that the brand is the single most featured motorcycle across the breadth of popular movies, television programs, and just about every other medium betrays the fact that less than one out of every one hundred motorcycles registered in the world is a Harley-Davidson.

$70 million a year just in proprietary branded clothing

While Harley-Davidson’s core business is motorcycles, they also manage to sell over $70 million a year just in their MotorClothes apparel and accessory lines. This amount does not include the massive royalties earned from licensing the brand logo to a variety of third party clothing companies which have made the black Harley T-shirt a staple visible in just about every bar on the continent and beyond. One of the most interesting statistics about Harley logos on clothing is that the vast majority of people who buy and wear these items not only do not own a Harley, but don’t own a motorcycle at all! Now that is true branding supremacy!

Harley has linked itself with the spirit of rebellious liberty

Harley-Davidson marketers were involved in associating their brand with popular culture over a century ago, when the practice literally was unheard of. They have managed over the decades to indelibly link the Harley brand with freedom, individualism, self-reliance, and the romance of the open road. Yes, you can travel from point A to point B in any manner of motorized vehicle from a Prius to an Escalade to a diesel pusher motor home to a 50cc scooter, but none of those means evoke the spirit of rebellious liberty which is part of the DNA of every Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Most brands shun the demographic of the average gray-haired Harley owner

What makes the Harley branding even more remarkable is that the core of its customer base is in a demographic sector which is generally shunned by most “hip” brands. The average age of a Harley owner is now 50, which to most marketers translates into a demo which is primarily interested in term life insurance, retirement plans and Viagra. The fact that Harley has prospered while marketing to this age group is proof positive that there is lots of life in the gray-haired market and that if you can maneuver your branding into the forefront of this demographic’s popular consciousness, you can sell billions of dollars of product.

The Street 750 & 500 models are racking up impressive sales among younger riders

Of course, Harley-Davidson is not sitting on its laurels as it waits for the Baby Boomer lump to pass through the American demographic snake. The company has just broken with its longstanding tradition of only catering to enthusiasts of large displacement road machines by introducing its Street series which features two motorcycles of hitherto unthinkable engine sizes: 750cc and an almost unbelievably-small 500cc. While Harley officially claims that these models are primarily intended for emerging markets such as India, early sales figures show that the Street series is racking up some extremely impressive North American sales among a much younger demographic than the one which rides their 883cc and up up up models.

Associating itself with the American value of individualistic freedom has made Harley the most recognized motorcycle brand in the world and a primary element of popular culture … while making the brand billions of dollars.

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