5 Lessons From Harley-Davidson Brand Tactics to Revolutionize Your Customer Experience


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Harley-Davidson is a quintessential American company. The brand itself is over 113 years old, founded in Milwaukee in 1903 when two friends built a small power-cycle in the back of a third friend’s machine shop. Today, nearly every American recognizes the distinctive roar, the classic chopper style, and the orange-and-black logo of a Harley. H-D was one of just two motorcycle companies to survive the Great Depression – but such economic success wasn’t destined to last.

For the decade between 1973 and 1983, H-D’s market share shrank more than 50 percent. High-quality, low-price Japanese bikes flooded the American market, driving out demand for Harley-Davidson’s American craftsmanship. Yet, since then, H-D has clawed its way back into Americans’ hearts – thanks to the power of branding.

Branding isn’t just a clever marketing trick; it’s a way for companies to connect with customers on an emotional level – and no brand proves that better than Harley-Davidson. Here are five methods Harley-Davidson has used to master the customer experience to retake their market share.

The Cultivation of a Core Audience

When most people imagine the rider of a Harley-Davidson, they think of an older, successful, white male – and they aren’t wrong. While some might view such a specific customer profile as disadvantageous, the truth is much of H-D’s success is due to their respect and understanding of their restricted core audience. H-D has worked hard to understand precisely who values the brand and how to cater to their unique audience’s needs. Plus, it isn’t a coincidence that white men over 50 tend to have plenty of money to spend; H-D has positioned itself so that its customers are wealthy and eager for a certain type of brand message. By limiting itself to a certain audience, H-D can be more certain in the effectiveness of its marketing strategies and provide a more targeted customer experience for those most willing to buy.

Image by Pixabay
Image by Pixabay

The Real-Time Market Research

The primary way H-D collects customer data is through sponsored events and organized conventions, which are filled with Harley fanatics. For example, Daytona Bike Week is an annual gathering of H-D riders and lovers, and thousands of H-D data-gatherers join in the festivities to directly interact with customers, old and new. A former CEO, Rich Teerlink, calls this “real-time market research,” as it allows H-D unique insight into customer behavior and opinion. Armed with such information, H-D can improve on various aspects of their business, from the bikes’ performance to their selling strategies, to improve their customers’ experience.

The Relationship-Building Strategies

Once a customer purchases a Harley, that customer is a member of the Harley family for life. For more than 15 years, Harley-Davidson has organized an initiative called Harley Owners Group, or HOG, that aims to connect H-D owners with one another and the company. HOG helps members with all sorts of bike-related issues, from seminars on maintenance to assistance in building a local motorcycle club. By far, HOG is the world’s largest factory-sponsored bike club, claiming 325,000 members and 940 chapters. By encouraging customers to remain active in the H-D community, the company provides them with an outstanding experience and nearly guarantees their loyalty to the brand.

The Powerful Emotional Appeal

Though H-D products might look automotive, the brand is not focused on selling motorcycles. Harley-Davidson simply cannot compete with the quality of other bikes on the market – especially those coming from Japan and Korea, which tend to be less expensive and sometimes have more advanced mechanics. Therefore, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, then-Director of Communications Ken Schmidt decided to transform Harley-Davidson into an emotional brand.

Image by Shutterstock
Image by Shutterstock

To most buyers, a Harley-Davidson is more than a bike; it is freedom, passion, individualism, power, and mystery – and it roars satisfyingly as it helps customers come alive. Additionally, customers are not just customers; they are members of the family, ambassadors for the brand, and heirs of the traditional American spirit. Unlike other motorcycle manufacturers, H-D sells the emotions associated with the bike rather than the bike itself, which helps customers stay connected and continue investing in the brand.

The Unimportance of Price

For dozens of reasons, H-D isn’t concerned with the price of its bikes. As previously mentioned, the American brand is easily out-matched in cost by cheaper foreign brands, and its primary customer base has enough money to pay high stickers. However, Harley has also been smart in restricting the supply of their products, drumming up demand and increasing the prices of stock that is more than a year old. Thus, the only people who own H-D motorcycles are those truly devoted to the brand; those who will love their bikes regardless of when they get them or how much they cost. Harley-Davidson customers are addicted to the experience the brand provides, which makes H-D brand tactics the best in the business.


  1. Customer experience??? I have been on the phone twice today to Harley Davidson. I am trying to find out why a service advisor at Palm Beach Harley banned me from bringing my bike in. The service manager told me they were picking up my bike this morning. Never happened and they sisnt have the guts to say they were not going to work on it. HD corporate had to call them to see what is going on.

  2. What passes as customer service today is rediculous. I am a true Bike fanatic, however the wife limits me to ten bikes. I did have three HD’s a Road king, A Superglide and a Sportster. Without any doubt the Sportster was the most reliable HD I ever owned. I never took it to the dealer for anything. Simple service was completed by me. Why? Because I cringed walking into a HD dealership. I fully expected to be screwed by any department from sales, parts and service. Have been in the past. I now do not own a HD bike. Way too expensive and HD feedback is not existant. HD does not want to hear from actual customers. Plus, they now do not build anything I actually want to ride. How about a 1200 FI sportster engine/six speed in a superglide /Dyna chassis. Now that is something I would want, reliability and handling.
    Want customer service? Try a Honda dealer. When preparing for a long trip I was prepping my Honda 1100 ACE tourer when I noticed the fuel petcock was wet with fuel, obvious leak. I went to my Honda MC dealer parts department and was ordering a new fuel valve, The parts person called Honda corp and they had me bring my bike in and replaced the petcock even though the bike was out of warranty. The service manager told me that this was a serious safety issue and they contacted Honda corp who authorized parts and repair at no cost. They wanted the customer to be safe and have confidence in the customer service experience. WOW, I was blown away, what a concept, having happy customers. I guess that is why I now own three newer Honda motorcycles. None have had any issues.
    No one at Harley- Davidson really cares about the customer, Case in point, go to the website. There is no place for customer feedback or idea. They do have the Harley owners group, But what is a concern is trust. Who knows who they are selling your info to. It is clear HD does not care about you, just your dollars. Just my opinion based on experience.
    I did like my Harley-Davidsons but walking into a dealership was about as inviting as scheduling a colonoscopy.


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