Harley Davidson’s Community Teaches Big Lessons

  • By: OnBoard Meetings
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I live in Milwaukee the home of Harley Davidson. Every summer I get a reminder on how Harley Davidson has built one of the most loved brands and a passionate client group in the business world. So in learning about customer loyalty and world class brands, I recently invited Sara Hanaway from Harley Davidson to West Lafayette for a lecture at Purdue University. She was a real treat for the class and her lecture is the inspiration behind these observations:

1. Harley Davidson (HD) has always tried to make “dreams” come true. The HD team is always focused on: Fulfilling dreams, riding, and having fun and enhancing the ownership experience.

  • This is just brilliant; how they have taken a product and equated it to a lifelong dream for their customers. Far too many other companies miss out on this idea of creating a longing for their product, going far beyond creating a demand.

2. It’s no secret that the magic lies in the community HD has created around their products. They call them Harley Owners Groups (HOG) and there are no less than 1400 chapters worldwide. These have over 1 million members, all paying annual dues to support these HOGs.

  • Notice how they are not called User Groups, they are called Owners Group, empowering their customers. Every software company could do the same, call their user groups -“___ owners groups”
  • This is a paid group and is certainly not a cost center for Harley Davidson.

3. There is an online presence to these HOGs but the offline meetings are truly the secret sauce and allow them to stay in touch with their customers regularly.

  • HD has planned this to perfection. They don’t have to run these HOGs, they just participate in them, as their staff owns the bikes and ride as often as they can as fellow HOG members. Of course an excited and knowledgeable staff creates great products.
  • Also, imagine having multiple client conferences everyday somewhere in the world and your staff always being there…PowWOW everyday of the year!
  • In fact, they once got the prince of Jordan to attend their HOG meeting. Imagine attracting royalty as a colleague in your user groups.

4. HD does not own these HOGs. This allows HD to focus on just having fun at these meetings and not make them into a forum to get feedback on their products. They have other ways to support their products and these meetings are strictly about fulfilling dreams, riding, and having fun. The goal is to always enhance the ownership experience.

  • So your online community has to be separated quite well from your client care department or else the community with be just another channel for supporting your products.
  • The element of fun has to be present for these communities to produce evangelists that stay giddy about your products long after they first used them. Just give such clients an audience (i.e. community portal) and watch them go from there.
  • HD organizes events such as the “Riding Route 66” event which was sold out in 45 minutes and got riders from across the world.

5. HD has a lot of customization options for their bikes. This open system they created, which is rather unusual for his industry which is clamoring for standardization, is one of the main points of pride and discussions in these HOGs as no two bikes would be alike.

  • If your offering can be customized, then the customers will have a greater sense of ownership about it due to their choices and customizable options.

Harley Davidson has achieved their status not just because of their great products. They have also thought through providing an on-line and off-line experience that makes their customers share their excitement with each other. There are several lessons here for every one of us to learn and apply to our client care, yet the biggest one is planning and nurturing a vibrant client community!

About The Author

OnBoard Meetings
OnBoard Meetings
At OnBoard, we believe board meetings should be informed, effective, and uncomplicated. That’s why we give boards and leadership teams an elegant solution that simplifies governance. With customers in higher education, nonprofit, health care systems, government, and corporate enterprise business, OnBoard is the leading board management provider.