Brand Retention, A Study In Perfection: Harley-Davidson

Rarely does one construct a brand that has equal amounts of cultural significance and product association.  Recently I have had the opportunity to work with Orlando Harley- Davidson, consulting them through Big Block Studios on their social media, content marketing and interactive integration. You would think that a rough-and-tumble brand like Harley-Davidson would just give the finger to the world and not give a shit about aggressive optimization.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Among the countless brands that I worked on over the years, Harley-Davidson from top to bottom permeates every aspect of the product, culture and market position. Every staff member in every store feels a sense of pride behind the brand, as well as a sense of inherent dedication.

But even more fascinating is that Harley-Davidson does not sell motorcycles.  Harley-Davidson offers you the keys that open the door to becoming an untethered badass. They sell self-empowerment by conditioning the 'sheeple' to move out of the way. They are non-conformist with their own rules. They are the hand that gives but does not want credit for it. They are bikers.  Nothing does a better summary of a brand than a awareness short called, "The Creed."

Now that you've built this giant monster of a counterculture brand,  how do you keep it safe and make it live forever? It's a continuous process.

Brand retention is an afterthought for a lot of agencies. They are paid to increase brand impressions and launch new products, but rarely to support and nurture the pre-existing audience. As much as we want new customers, however, remember that when it's all said and done, you're nothing without the people who made you what you are.

This often contradicts the perceived ROI of social media. Clients see new followers and subscribers as the key to success. What we as marketing professionals need to instill in them is that the pre-existing base is ten times more important.

Here's my checklist: 

  • Mean what you say, and say what you mean – even if that pisses off your current competitors, or is diametrically opposed to the current trends or positions.
  • Reinforce your history. If you don't have history, talk about the history you intend to create. 
  • In every step of your evolution, create a disaster scenario that you can counteract should it manifest.
  • While you must listen respectfully to popular opinion respectfully to ensure a proper evolution, avoid making quick reactions that ultimately will be hard to correct. 
  • Listen closely to your believers and back their opinion like you paid for it. 
  • Be fearless. Be first.  Hit hard. Fail fast. Hit last, and be humble. 

Lastly,  create an enemy.

This may sound odd, and you might perceive that I'm talking about your competitors. No - your competition is not the enemy. Your brand exists to fight a much larger enemy. Identifying that enemy is a matter of your perception. In Harley-Davidson's case, the enemy is "the man." And by that definition, it is conformity, normality and control.

Fight the man. 

Posted on November 8, 2013 and filed under Advertising, Brand, Business.