Harley-Davidson Looks to Customers of the Future: Women, Blacks, Hispanics

Discussion
Mar 20, 2006
George Anderson

By Monique Madara, Project Director, New American Dimensions (www.newamericandimensions.com)


Marketers across the country have felt the unprecedented effect of the maturing Boomer generation, for better and for worse. One such company is Harley-Davidson. While Boomers single-handedly transformed Harley’s rumbling, lumbering bikes from countercultural totems into American icons, we have to ask: how much longer can Harley rely on a customer base that is rapidly approaching 60?



Changing demographics are forcing the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company to
seek new customers among women, blacks and Hispanics. Joanne Bischmann, vice
president of marketing at Harley, admits, “The demographics are changing” though
she insists the change isn’t as dramatic as some have suggested. “But that doesn’t
mean there aren’t other populations we don’t want to tap into.”



To reach out to the black community, Harley has begun sponsoring Tom Joyner,
an African American radio host whose program is heard by as many as 8 million
U.S. listeners. Harley is also advertising during this year’s March Madness
and is sponsoring the Roundup, an African American version of the annual gathering
of bikers in Sturgis, South Dakota.



To reach younger Hispanic men, the company is participating in low-rider shows and advertising in Hombre and Fuego — two Latino men’s magazines. To reach women, it’s putting a four-page insert into Jane, Allure, Glamour and two other Conde Nast magazines, featuring what Bischmann says are “real women riders.” It’s also hosting garage parties for women – much like the get-togethers that Tupperware, Avon, Mary Kay and other U.S. direct marketers have used to target women successfully for decades.


Moderator’s Comment: How are brands, which are inextricably linked to specific markets (ethnicities, generations) transformed to appeal to non-traditional
audiences without alienating existing customers and destroying the brand? Frankly, is this ‘cast the fishing net’ strategy appropriate or should marketers first target,
then market? If so, how do Harley and other marketers facing the retirement of the Boomer generation identify and reach out to their next wave of loyalists?

George Anderson – Moderator

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12 Comments on "Harley-Davidson Looks to Customers of the Future: Women, Blacks, Hispanics"


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Jerry Tutunjian
Guest
Jerry Tutunjian
14 years 11 months ago

Keeping pace with an ageing clientele is an eventual dead end.

You maintain the product with constant modifications to meet the needs/demands of the market, The ageing clientele (boomers, in this case) were at their peak demand period. Take a look at any successful magazine: While teenage girls become women and begin to read Cosmopolitan magazine, the teenage magazine which once appealed to them continues to cater to the new teenagers entering the market. Forty years ago Playboy was a “must-read” to many male boomers. Now the same boomers might be reading House & Garden, but Playboy continues to appeal to the same demographics Boomers represented 40 years ago.

The Harley-Davidson people should determine who currently and most closely fits the demographics of the people who were once enamored with its products.

By the way, the highly publicized turnaround of Harley-Davidson rings a bit hollow: the company used the patriotic card — against the Japanese — and also received U.S. government assistance for its much-vaunted turnaround.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

If Harley-Davidson really wants to sell more bikes, they should offer some motorcycle riders ed courses. Schools that do offer these are backlogged for months with an endless waiting list. After each well publicized motorcycle rally, the list just gets longer.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

Harley-Davidson’s mythology appeals to a state of mind, not a demographic. Maybe it took a conscious decision for the brand to stop overlooking certain ethnic or lifestyle groups. In the end, these motorcycles are toys for weekend rebels with enough disposable income. Straight, gay, liberal, conservative, black, brown or white shouldn’t really matter. H-D has done a decent job of widening its tent so far. I expect the brand will continue to appeal to the trailing-edge baby boomers and those who follow.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 11 months ago

Though I’m skeptical about the benefit of Harley-Davidson ad dollars spent on trying to reach “Allure” readers, I have to admit that after visiting the sections of their web site dedicated to new and female riders, I found their messages, which promote excitement, fun and adventure with strong emphasis on membership in an exclusive community, well-done and appealing. I could see this type of promotion bringing in incremental business with groups that may have not previously considered themselves Harley candidates.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
14 years 11 months ago
The allure of Harley is astounding. I used to ride a kind of Harley knock-off — a Honda Shadow special edition that looked just like a 1950’s Harley. It was amazing how many people would compliment my bike, and then say, “Oh, that’s not a Harley.” Harley has done an amazing job with certain sub-groups, particularly the GLBT community. Anyone who has ever attended a gay pride parade will tell you that the high point is always the “Dykes on Bikes,” nearly all of whom are on Harley’s. Not to mention the leather crowd, something we don’t talk about too much in marketing circles. Still, I think the Harley mystique can be intimidating to people. There’s also a certain arrogance endemic to the Harley community, which it sounds like Carol Spieckerman got a dose of. There’s a lot that Harley Davidson could do to send out a message of inclusiveness to any group that is not White and male. The message doesn’t need to detract from the All-American equity the brand already owns. It’s just… Read more »
Phillip T. Straniero
Guest
Phillip T. Straniero
14 years 11 months ago

I’m not much of a motorcycle enthusiast but it seems to me as a consumer that the appeal of a Harley for a lot of folks is about “heritage” and “a return to my youth.”

On the other hand, I think a motorcycle is a thrill ride and a form of independence that people want as they grow older…I bought a Corvette at age 50 and it was (and still is) a great escape from the pressures and trials of the day!!! There’s nothing like a winding road and third gear…

I believe that Harley, Corvette, Mustang, and other adult toys will continue to cross the line and pick up other than Caucasian consumers because the fun and thrill are there no matter what your ethnic (or other) background might be. I would not change a thing about the brand because it’s just a matter of time and money.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

Harley may actually be poised for a Renaissance, if it thinks it through. They’ve glutted the market with Boomer bikes and one of these days those Boomers are going to have to hang up their spurs. There will be a ton (well, actually several tons) of over-dressed bikes out there which will be suddenly very affordable. If I were sitting in Milwaukee, I’d start gearing up for aftermarket customization in a few years. The Harley halo began when people bought old and surplus bikes in the 1950s and 60s; chopped them and created the first wave of “Harley cool.” Pretty soon, every CPA and dentist had one. The question is, can Harley ride a second “outlaw” wave — this time directing it instead of trying to play catch-up?

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 11 months ago
In terms of the “how” piece of identifying and reaching out to new demos, motorcycle companies, and Harley in particular, have a better opportunity than most via hundreds of exhibitions, events, and industry trade shows. Based on my experience, some of that opportunity is being squandered. I took up riding last year at age 40 and found that other motorcycle companies were much more receptive to women riders (particularly Victory – another American-made company that I predict will give Harley a run for their money, but I digress). At the Harley booths, I’ve been looked up and down, spoken to people’s backs, and asked rude questions (“You a cop or somethin?”). At other booths, from Honda to Yamaha (and can I mention Victory again?), salespeople greeted me with open arms, already knew which bikes were best suited to women, and never condescended. Harley corporate may have the right idea, however, they need to make sure that their message is carried down the line and that anyone associated with the brand gathers and reports market intelligence… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

It sounds to me as if Harley-Davidson is already reaching out to nontraditional demographics for its products. Budweiser, American Airlines, Ameriprise Financial, Subaru, and other major brands use gay and lesbian media to market themselves without changing their mainstream market positioning. Ford tried the same tactic but got “outed” by a Christian fundamentalist group that publicized Ford’s gay and lesbian outreach. It doesn’t seem as if the denunciation of Ford had any significant impact on its sales. So it seems like a brand can reach out to nontraditional demographics without blurring its appeal to its usual markets.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

I don’t think Harley has to reach out to any specific ethnic groups. It seems some people just have the Harley gene in their blood and it easily crosses race, age and gender lines. Harley does not have to sell ice to Eskimos. I don’t think anyone has ever thought of Harley Davidson’s products as gender or ethnic specific. However we do know that owning a Harley is not a cheap hobby. As the affluent population continues to grow among all groups, Harley has many opportunities to grow as well.

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

Very coincidentally, I recently learned from a casual conversation with someone at Harley that they think the gay and lesbian demographic are ideal for Harley-Davidson in that they tend to have disposable income, have an “outsider’s” mentality to society’s mores and values and acceptance…are more likely to enjoy outdoor activities, but that the “core” rider that has been nurtured and established was likely to leave the brand if it was associated with the “gay” customer base. The thinking is that it would mean a total revision of what the company stood for and that it was a decision that was being heavily weighed and considered, but that no action has really been taken in a uniform way (preferring to let the Dealers and Retailers market to that demographic, but not the company itself).

I found it enlightening in that the company recognized the opportunity, but was unsure of whether it was appropriate to pursue it because of the brand loyal customer’s likely dislike of being associated with the new demographic.

Santiago Vega
Guest
Santiago Vega
14 years 11 months ago

The next best wave of Harley Davidson loyalists aren’t necessarily African Americans and Hispanics, but rather baby boomers’ children. They have grown up seeing their parents revere and pamper their Harleys like another child.

Harley Davidson should not underestimate the power of a legacy passed down from father to son.

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