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Building Brand Community Essay

1.HOG has been phenomenally successful at attracting members and chapters. From nothing in 1983 it has grown to half a million members in 1,160 chapters. This is the core of Harley-Davidson’s market and it is easily reachable through Hog Tales magazine. This is particularly important for Harley given that its customers are so varied making it hard to reach them through traditional marketing methods. HOG overcomes the wide differences in its membership by focusing on their common passion, motorcycle riding. While members get to meet fellow enthusiasts, Harley gets to keep their attention on Harley. As it cannot compete with Japanese imports on price, and perhaps quality, Harley has to focus on its brand.

HOG builds brand community and dispels the old image of Harley owners as Hell’s Angels gangs. In fact, Harley has been so successful in building its brand that BusinessWeek ranks it as the 44th most valuable in the world. Retaining Harley owners is clearly lucrative; Harley estimates that active HOG members spend an extra $850 a year with the company. This translated into over $140 million, money that can easily be spent elsewhere by less loyal customers.

2.Given that HOG serves to retain and reach customers by building a brand community, the Posse Rides serve to create a brand within the brand. Lisa Laundry describes Harley as “a mystique, a lifestyle as opposed to a brand.” This kind of awe is mixed with a cultist sense of community, a dollop of patriotism and Americana, and commitment to riding to create your average Harley rally pilgrim. The Posse Rides focus on the latter part of that physiological make-up, on the hard-core riders. It allows these people to differentiate themselves from the larger group of Harley owners. The first Posse Ride was a big success, giving participants bragging rights that they promptly exercised on return to their HOG chapters. This word of mouth raised expectations for the sequel which, like many sequels, it failed to live up to.

Participants expected their T-shirts stop after stop, and they expected to mingle with management to share their views. The results of the pre and post-ride surveys (see Exhibit 1) show high satisfaction with their bikes and the ride itself, but much lower satisfaction with HOG and Harley as a company, particularly afterwards. This is dangerous as it undermines brands loyalty. Barbara Hammet is right when she says “Harley certainly has enough money that if they have to eat a shirt or two, it shouldn’t matter.” Given the importance of T-shirts as souvenirs, or markers, to participants there is no excuse for not having enough on hand. If management had been paying attention on the 1st Posse they should know this.

One has to ask why the mangers ride together at all? They can meet at the office, or have their own intra-office Posse. They should be seen to be part of the larger group. 400 people over ten days is not many people to ‘meet and greet’ for say, four managers. Mike Keefe defends management by saying “What they don’t see is the research that occurs unobtrusively…” The end of his sentence is unimportant because if they do not see it, or more importantly feel it, it is worthless. The old axiom, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right’, applies here. Harley should spend more time and resources doing so.

3.That the Posse Rides are worth doing should not be doubted. They are part of the brand image; a two-mile long rolling billboard for Harley. Seeing old and young, male and female Posse Riders traveling together projects an open, inclusive image for Harley. The Posses are advertising for Harley and its dealers and Harley should exploit this more. It should encourage, even subsidize, dealers to build on the Posse Rides in ways such as the dealer in Duluth did on the 1st Posse. Coordination with local TV and radio should be used to raise awareness and crowds. The dealer network should also be used by the Posse Rides to solve logistical problems such as the T-shirts fiasco. Given that Posse Rides have different routes, most dealers will be able to participate over time.

4. While the visual promotional effect of the Posse Rides should be exploited as much as possible, commercializing them should be avoided. Participants are Harley’s best customers and it should take the opportunity to reward them, not exploit them. These people are not stupid and will soon notice if Harley tries to squeeze out every last cent from them. The indirect benefits, such as building brand awareness and loyalty, are much more important than short-term sales. If participants want to shop at every dealer, great, but their direct costs should be kept as low as possible. Given their wide differences in income, raising prices will simply drive off working class participants that blow their annual wad on one rally. This would change the nature of the Posse from an open, inclusive group to a rich, closed one. Over time, as Posse Rides become a feature of Harley’s brand, it would depreciate the brand.

Posse Rides will also have to maintain their exclusivity if they are to be continually successful. If everyone can get a Posse T-shirt because of merchandizing they will not be worth having to real Posse Riders. Keeping the number of participants small also adds to the feeling of exclusivity, as does not running the Posse Rides more than biannually. This should also help to maintain a feeling of spontaneity that is missing from regularly scheduled, annual events.

Exhibit 1

1.I will definitely sign up for another long distance HOG rally

2. If I were to replace my motorcycle I would buy another Harley

3. I would recommend this ride to a friend

4. I feel a sense of kinship with other Harley owners

5. I have made lifelong friends because of my Harley

6. My Harley says a lot about the kind of person I am

7. I really understand what Harley is all about

8. No one but Harley-Davidson could put on an event like this

9. Harley-Davidson really understands what riding a bike is all about

10. I am satisfied with HOG

11. Harley-Davidson really cares about me as a customer

12. Harley really understands my needs

13. My Harley is an integral part of my daily life


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