5 marketing lessons from the Harley Davidson Museum

Jul 05, 2018 • Aaron Goldman

Last week I attended a Forrester Leadership Board Meeting at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. It was a great opportunity to connect with peers and discuss marketing transformation in a setting rife with innovation.

It was certainly an interesting week to be at Harley HQ with the company in the midst of a Twitter attack by President Trump and the Donald himself appearing just down the road to break ground on a new Foxconn plant. If nothing else, the timing served as a reminder for brands to have a social media response plan including how to address tweets with fake CEO quotes.

Here are 5 other takeaways for modern marketers maneuvering in a makeshift media macrocosm:

1.  Sometimes you just need a faster horse.

Harley Davidson Museum: First MotorcycleWe’ve all heard the Henry Ford quote that if he’d asked people what they wanted before inventing the automobile they would’ve said a faster horse. In the case of Harley, the first motorcycle it created in 1903 (pictured here) was literally just a bicycle with a small motor on it to make it go faster. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with incremental innovation. Not everything needs to be an Elon Musk-eqsue boil-the-ocean type of product. Sometimes small changes can make massive improvements. Of course, over time, Harley bikes evolved to more complex machines that look nothing like the original using a combination of forward-thinking vision and customer feedback.

2.  Test, Refine, Test, Refine.

Harley Davidson Museum: Test, Refine, Test, Refine

When Harley creates new models, it does vigorous testing across myriad variables to let data dictate if further modifications are needed. There’s no better methodology for marketing than this.

Harley Davidson Museum: different motorcycle designs
3.  Personalization is key to success.

One of the amazing things about Harleys is how each bike looks different. This is not because the company creates thousands of different styles but rather they are engineered for customization. As a marketer, the imperative is to think about how you can engineer your product or your brand to be “putty in the hands” of your customers and let them project their own passions into it.

Harley Davidson Museum: Beanie Cap4.  Equip your brand advocates.

 The best brands don’t just have customers, they have fans. Harley added an entire revenue  stream to its company through sales of brand merchandise. This beanie cap didn’t age particularly well but think about the iconic leather jacket that goes hand-in-hand with owning a Harley. What can you do to enable your brand advocates to carry your message and spirit?

5.  Find ways to attract new audiences.

At some point, even the most timeless brands need a refresh or at least a rethink to find ways to connect with new audiences. Harley is working to cultivate a younger demographic that represents its next crop of bike owners and lifetime loyalists. Things like the museum itself and arcade games featuring brand heroes are examples of such efforts. No matter how great your brand is doing at the present it’s always a good strategy to think about where your next set of customers are coming from.

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