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Angus University

Angus University

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Distinguish Yourself Among The Competition

Harley-Davidson marketing expert gives tips to create excited customers.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Nov. 4, 2015) — Like the Angus breed, Harley-Davidson Motor Co. has Scottish roots. Both entities have gone through some rough patches before enjoying their current success. Ken Schmidt, former director of communications for the company, shared how the motorcycle brand turned itself around to kick off Angus University at the Angus Means Business National Convention & Trade Show Nov. 3-5, 2015, in Overland Park, Kan.

Consumers expect quality, so a quality product alone will not create a following, keynote speaker Ken Schmidt warned Angus University participants.

When he joined Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company had the worst reputation, Schmidt said. The public thought only criminals, drug runners, ruffians, etc., rode Harleys. The media and Hollywood helped to perpetuate the stereotype. Schmidt granted that people have had Harley-Davidson tattooed on their bodies since World War II, so people knew about the brand, but they didn’t like the image.

He asked three main questions to evaluate a brand’s relevance:

He added that Harley-Davidson — and any company or organization that is downtrodden by false perceptions — couldn’t wait around for someone else to fix the problem. Harley-Davidson went about changing these negative perceptions by changing the dealership environment. Instead of simply pushing sales, they changed dealerships into positive-experience creators.

Word of mouth is the most important form of advertising, Schmidt said. By creating positive experiences, people told stories about Harley-Davidson.

“No story told means no new demand built,” he emphasized. “No human ever told somebody a story about your product if their expectations are simply met.”

Consumers expect quality, so a quality product alone will not create a following, he said, warning Angus breeders that televisions may be a “coal-mine canary.” When a customer walks into an electronics department, they are bombarded with a wall of TVs that are the same size displaying the same things, he explained. Nothing seems to distinguish one TV from another besides brand name and a price that may vary $5. At that point, consumers default to the lowest price.

“The value of the product comes from what they’ve heard or have experienced. The product doesn’t stand on its own,” he warned.

Harley-Davidson built a narrative that no matter how perfect it is from the factory, it’s not perfect enough for you, so customization is a big profit driver. He said by playing to basic human behavior, people are willing to spend more on chrome and customization because they play to the human ego.

“If we make people feel good about themselves, they are loyal,” Schmidt said.

Harley-Davidson is about being the most passionate in the industry, which they demonstrate at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D. Schmidt said when he encounters someone new at Sturgis, he uses three words when talking about Harley-Davidson — disciples (not customers), lifestyle and passion.

Humans are attracted to passion, and visible passion gets mimicked, Schmidt said. When employees and Harley owners are passionate, that attracts new customers.
Differentiation also contributes to success. He concluded, “[If you] tell people what they expect to hear, they don’t repeat it.”

Angus University was sponsored by Merck Animal Health.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, which maintains the copyright. To request permission to reprint, please contact Shauna Hermel at 816-383-5270.