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If only you could truly erase the past…

I was flipping channels during the Thanksgiving holiday when an ad with Marlo Thomas as the spokesperson for St. Jude Children’s Hospital blasted the airwaves.

It’s a good cause, but I was struck by the fact that despite having lots of money and access to the best medical professionals, celebrities like Cher, Joan Rivers, Kenny Rodgers and especially Marlo Thomas had tighter skin… and they looked…different.  Almost unrecognizable.  I’m not sure where this obsession for lifting, tucking, smoothing, sucking out or puffing up with plastic surgery began.

And according to this report December is the busiest plastic surgery month.

I’m not sure what happened with the folks above because all the latest studies say older people are happier. They understand the game. They’re not happy their lives are going to end, but they know what to fret over and what not too.  And despite all the collectables or financial investments, one of the amazing things about aging is you truly realize you can’t take it with you. That those items you cherish so much will probably be tossed by your heirs. That all you have is your relationships and your experiences. What’s in your head as opposed to what’s in your driveway.

And speaking of the driveway… I wonder about a similar obsession to extract the best ride and performance out of our Harley-Davidson motorcycles through continuous transformations and enhancements.  Is the perpetual winter project any different from the obsessive plastic surgery?  Once a motorcycle leaves the motor company are any changes really needed?  Yet,  as December arrives in a few days don’t we look to upgrade the exhaust, change the colors, add pin stripes, change the suspension, upgrade the wheels, change the floorboards, ratchet up the engine performance, add chrome or replace components with blacked-out billet versions?

If we are being intellectually honest isn’t this similar to the recycling “hips to the lips” crowd… who at some point declared non-moving foreheads as attractive?  I’m not saying that a beautiful custom built motorcycle doesn’t have an advantage, but if you’ve ever been around someone that has a trophy-looking motorcycle you know it comes with a cost.

Why can’t we just be satisfied that it’s… stock.  Uniquely showroom stock!

If our only problem is the bike is getting older, isn’t it best to just embrace and own it.  Is life truly about changing out or trading up as opposed to being satisfied with what you’ve already got?  It’s the road stories and depth that counts.  The history. And like plastic surgery, no matter what we do to the exterior, it will still be that age on the inside, with creaky springs and the inability to perform at the same athletic high-level as brand new.

Chasing an ideal that can never be finished – why?  The truth is that despite what Harley-Davidson youth marketing is trying to make us feel, most of us are not buying in to it.

I’m not lobbying for a lack of motorcycle grooming, but have we lost the plot?

Full Disclosure:  I’m guilty of motorcycle windshield lifts, billet augmentation, altered metal, chiseled wheels, sculpted fuel-tanks, and whittled lights along with determinedly un-wrinkled fenders.  Yes, I’m seeking help and plan to go on TV to deny having performed any “surgery” on the ‘Glide’.

Photos take by author.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog
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Another year of cupcakes and candles is an acute reminder that I’m just an aging blogger.

And, there are some readers out there who actually believe I fly on the Harley-Davidson corporate jet, that Mark-Hans Richer (CMO) writes me a personal check every month for the magical posts I throw down about the motor company and that the kind words about Keith Wandell (CEO) were because he sent me a case of chrome Road Glide parts to fence on the black market.

I am in the middle of a blacked-out billet phase on the Road Glide with no chrome parts for sale, but the point is about aging and obsolescence.

For example, I was watching the Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)) documentary on Palladia a couple weeks back.  I’d like to recommend that you watch it, but it’s just not that good so don’t waste your time.  But if you were under the age of twenty and watched this documentary you’d think Jeff Lynne was the most skilled rock star of the seventies.  It’s just not true. But there was a moment early on, when they played Jeff’s first single with the Idle Race… when they dropped the needle on the 45 and…

You’ve got to know, turntables did not become the rage until the very late sixties, in some cases the seventies. Audiophiles might have had an AR or a Thorens, or if you really had some money you’d purchase a Duals, but before that… there were only record players.  The tone-arms were about as sleek as a Ford F-350 truck. Heavy, and they were rarely automatic.  In fact, you’d often need to tape a dime on top to ensure they did not skip.

But what brought me back in time was that little arm, the little piece of plastic on the side… It was the lever you used to flip the needle from 33 to 45. And when you thought the music was getting a bit distorted, a bit scratchy, you’d go to your local electronics shop, which was just like an auto parts store, but with more dust, and you’d hold the needle in front of the guy behind the counter and he’d go back and retrieve a new one.  It came encased in a tiny plastic jewel box, sitting on a piece of foam rubber.  You’d go back home, pop it in, and listen once again through that all-in-one unit with the single speaker.

This was the way it was done. It was a routine and as familiar as dialing a rotary phone. But, it’s been lost to the sands of time.  It’s one thing to look at pictures on the internet of stuff that happened long before you were born. It’s quite another to be jolted into a past that you were extremely familiar with which has completely disappeared.

Things change and technology accelerates the pace.

We heard for a decade that digital photography was going to kill film and that Kodak wasn’t prepared.  Yet it seemed to never happen, then almost overnight everyone had a digital camera and Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Just because the future isn’t here yet it doesn’t mean it’s not coming.

Is Harley-Davidson the Kodak of the future?  They believe they’re in the memories and shared experience business when they really produce motorcycles!

Tell me which H-D touring model has a highly advanced semi-active suspension system which is capable of automatically adapting calibration to the type of path, asphalt and riding style the rider adopted?  Do any H-D cruisers have a multi-map ride-by-wire accelerator, traction control adjustable to multiple levels with multi-channel ABS (which can both be disengaged)?  What key features were developed from all the years of racing experience and applied to the product?  Are touring V-twin engines a jewel of technology and capable of producing power and torque above the closest competition?

It’s like they’re standing on ceremony, waiting for the past to return when nothing of the sort is ever going to happen.

It’s my viewpoint that the motor company needs to better COMMUNICATE the changes being considered for future products.  A product roadmap if you will.  We hear a lot about manufacturing optimization process changes, but when you put the bottom line first, you head straight towards obsolescence.

Harley-Davidson needs to get in the river and swim alongside its audience.  For example; I know a half dozen riders who have purchased 2-3 H-D motorcycles each over the past 10 years.  Not once has the motor company contacted these riders requesting feedback or soliciting ideas for product improvements.  Why?  If you want to be relevant in the future, you’ve got to innovate and lead.  When you get the motorcycle public embracing your plans, people will do your marketing if they believe in your product.

Here are a few ideas that H-D should consider:

  1. Provide more access to H-D experts/employees along with technical information via social media.
  2. Provide more do-it-yourself customization and/or how-to maintenance info; webcasts H-D TV or on a H-D Education Channel.
  3. Sponsor an educational program such as a “Tech Tuesday” video chat with experts to help consumers get more familiar with the technology and motorcycle culture.
  4. Invite independent bloggers to cover pre-launch and launch activity.  Provide bloggers similar access granted to the trade magazines to the factory. We understand press embargoes and know the drill.
  5. Provide bloggers limited access to your corporate sponsored dealer events.

You stay relevant by continuing to play. By taking chances. Innovating. Once you rely on your greatest hits, you’re toast.

Photo courtesy of H-D and Adalgisa Lira Santos

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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2012 Interbrand Top 100 — Harley-Davidson #96

Maybe it was the Willie G. retirement?   Or it could have been a result of Mark Hans Richer (H-D CMO) flexing marketing muscles on the urban scene.

It might be that after nearly three years of downsizing, plant closures and restructuring its business, Harley-Davidson is firing on both cylinders and there is a lot less heat buildup due to the “synthetic lube” of Keith Wandell’s (H-D CEO) new break-in procedure?  Whatever the case, it has emerged with an improvement in brand value.

This according to Interbrand who recently released the 2012 Best Global Brands.  In 2010, the H-D brand was 100 on the top 100 list.  In 2011 it improved to 98th and for this year it again improved its ranking to 96th.

How does Interbrand choose which brands it considers best?

The research firm uses three factors: 1) the financial performance of the branded product or service; 2) the role the brand plays in influencing consumers; and 3) the strength of the brand in asking a premium price for its products or bringing in earnings for the company.

“Stereo Typical” Harley Ad

The restructure strategies seems to be paying off with signs of solid performance and consistent growth. Sure there are significant “head winds”…  meaning challenging economic times and the motor company knows that it cannot solely rely on baby boomers, and needs to appeal to women, minorities, Gen Y, and Millennials.

HERE is an example of that new outreach (#stereotypicalharley).  Or the remix version HERE.

The management at Harley-Davidson want customers to “feel a certain way” when using their products, visiting a dealer, or surfing on the H-D Web site.  They know that a brand connects a business with the hearts and minds of consumers.

Photo courtesy of Interbrands and H-D.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Emon Beach Lifeguard Stand - Kwajalein Marshall Islands - Kwajalein Missile Range

Today is Veterans Day and it will come and go, like the winds of yesterday.

Many won’t even give it a second thought which is most unfortunate as I think Veterans day should be each and every day.  Without the men and women who have fought for this country, we would not have the freedoms that we all enjoy.

I come from a military family, have friends in the service and have lost relatives (more info HERE) so, I can speak with some credibility as to the hardships that veterans and their families endure.  It’s not easy and many could use our help, both financially and mental support.

But, when it comes to Iraq/Afghanistan – all in all, considering the costs to the U.S. versus the benefits I have to be intellectually honest in that I’m re-thinking my position and whether the war was worth fighting, or not.  I was for it before I was against it and decided last year it’s time for an immediate withdrawal.  The sectarian violence continues, our presence seems to fuel ever increasing religious extremism and clearly we can no longer afford to fight the fight given the state of the U.S. economy and budget deficit.  But I’ve digressed.

The cool air of November is about the memories for some, or nightmares, for others and the combat soldier who has another day of remembering the greatness of their comrade’s as they fought beside each other.   Be it in the jungles of Nam or the sands of Iraq or the Mountains of Afghanistan or even the icy terrain of Korea or the beaches of Europe.  They all share a memory of where they fought with their comrades.

Veterans Day to me is a day for everyone to appreciate what our military has done for us. And how they put their lives at risk. It is a day to just honor what the military men and women have done.  It’s also is a chance to remind myself, and others around me, of all the wonderful things that we as Americans have and can do, that we would not have if Veterans had not fought for it.

Thank you all!

Photo taken at Emon Beach – Kwajalein Marshall Islands (Based there circa; 1972)

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Watch For Motorcycles!

Many of you already know that May is motorcycle awareness month.

The self-appointed “wise men” and policy elites down in Salem, OR declared it (.PDF) – so it must be true!  They’ve also piled on and proclaimed it to be Transportation Safety Month, further relegating the motorcycle to the “end of the line” as they blah, blah, blah, espouse the virtues of raising awareness on motorcycle safety.  Why not pile on with farm tractor safety month and stop texting month too?!  Why limit the pile on?

The real story is that with warmer weather approaching motorcyclists are hungry to get out on the roads and this is a good opportunity to remind riders to realize that our fellow ‘cagers’ might have forgot over the long and wet winter that they share the roads with motorcycles and to ride defensively.

Speaking of riding defensively, did you know that Oregon back in 2005 was named by the NHTSA as having the top motorcycle safety program in the nation?  Either did I, yet it’s true.

And since I’m talking about defensive riding you might be interested to know what a couple of our poster child riders are up to – which serve to reinforce the public’s viewpoint of motorcyclists.  Let’s highlight Mr. Richard Boedigheimer (33) who showcases “driving safe” during motorcycle awareness month: He was pulled over on Oregon 22 west of Mill City after being clocked at 140 MPH.  He told the Marion County deputy that he was “just having fun” with his new girlfriend of one week who was a passenger at the time.  No word on the girlfriend status after the arrest.  Need more examples?  How about Mr. Nicholas Houck (20), who attempted to elude state police on a H-D motorcycle without a helmet at speeds exceeding 100 MPH.  First you draw attention to yourself for not wearing a helmet, in a state that requires it, then more troubling decide to elude. Mr. Houck also had a suspended license…

Notwithstanding the above poor judgment… the good news is the number of motorcycle crash fatalities in Oregon have dropped to their lowest level since 2004; the bad news is that 38 people lost their lives in motorcycle crashes in 2010 according to preliminary data from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

report released (.PDF) this week by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that nationwide motorcycle fatalities declined in 2010 by at least 2 percent. Based upon preliminary data, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities declined from 4,465 in 2009 to 4,376 or less in 2010. The projection is based upon data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The decline comes on the heels of a dramatic 16 percent drop in 2009, which followed 11 straight years of steady increases in motorcycle deaths.

The new report—the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities in 2010—was completed by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. GHSA is projecting declines in approximately half of the states and for Oregon they are projected to be down 27 percent.  The Oregon GHSA Vice Chairman Troy Costales credits the state’s progress to a strong training program and a new law strengthening penalties for riders who do not have a motorcycle-specific license as well as working with motorcycle clubs, who are advocates for riding safe and sober.

The disturbing news which comes with deeper analysis of the data reveals that there are some areas for concern. First, 2010’s decrease of at least 2 percent is far less than 2009’s dramatic 16 percent decrease. Second, the 2010 decrease was concentrated in the early months of the year, with fatalities actually increasing by about 3 percent in the third quarter compared with the same quarter in 2009. Additionally, with the improving economy and surging gas prices, motorcycle travel is expected to increase, thus increasing exposure to risk. Finally, motorcycle helmet use dropped from 67 percent in 2009 to 54 percent in 2010.  In addition, motorcycle registrations continue to rise as the baby boom generation rediscovers riding a motorcycle.

In Oregon, the laws focus on safety and training.  The 2009 Oregon Legislature passed several motorcycle safety related laws in an effort to improve safety. In 2010, the penalty for riding without a motorcycle endorsement changed from a Class B (minimum $360) to a Class A (minimum $720) violation. Changes were also made to Oregon’s motorcycle training requirements, requiring new motorcycle riders to complete an ODOT-approved training course. The law has a five year phase-in period based on the age of the rider. As of January 2011, new riders age 30 and under must complete a basic or intermediate rider training course. Additional age groups will be phased-in each year until 2015 when all new riders must take training.

Oregon has made significant progress in motorcycle safety, but I’d argue that an awareness campaign once a year is not nearly enough.  Remember the rants and blog posts about those ODOT message boards?  No, I’m not bitter…

Photo courtesy of NHTSA.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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In the early 70’s a laborer on a construction site could afford a house, a new pickup, used motorcycle and his wife could stay home with the kids if she so desired.  Now a laborer lives in an apartment with a bunch of other laborers and they don’t have a chance.  The truth is the dollar isn’t worth much anymore.  You want to know what is?

Time.

Previous generations winded down as they reached their 50s, but this generation has really embraced the “live life now to the fullest” attitude to and beyond that mark. Seriously, age is one of those things that has become a sore point for many. It is like we need cerebral botox to prove we are young enough to be involved in motorcycles or the digital world. Generalizations can cause some serious alienation.   For example, in the movie Gran Torino, there is a powerful scene where Clint Eastwood’s character, Walt, receives a telephone “for old people” from his son and daughter-in-law with giant buttons and numbers on it. He angrily kicks them out of the house. The generation that sang along to Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” and popularized innovations like the personal computer are becoming senior citizens — but they don’t want to be called “old.”

I’m just back from Laughlin, NV and the “River Run” and couldn’t believe the number of ‘trikes’ buzzing around the event.  They weren’t being driving by 30-somethings!

You are likely thinking, hold on there, Mac… boomers are not going to do well with your association with the elderly. 50? Really? C’mon kids, 50 is the new 40 is the new 30 is the new 20… hell 10 is the new fetus for goodness sake.

It turns out that organizations ranging from retailers to motorcycle manufactures to consumer electronics makers going into those motorcycles are being forced to rethink how they market and make products for older people. As Harley-Davidson looks to the future, they must start to realize that things are going to be different and they need to pay attention and listen.  Speaking of paying attention, where was H-D this year at Laughlin?  Polaris and Yamaha were there in a big way with lots of demo rides and chatting up the attendees about what they liked or didn’t.

H-D hasn’t ask for my advice, but here are some takeaways for them to consider:

  1. A growing number of older adults are taking advantage of social media now. Don’t ignore or alienate them.
  2. As our society and the web mature, H-D needs to make sure they are building it to empower everyone, not just the young and overtly tech-savvy.
  3. As H-D rolls out new technologies and web services they will need to be intuitive and easy to use but not insulting to the older generation.
  4. Accessibility has to be built into the planning processes for new projects from the beginning, including consideration of design, text size and physical usability.
  5. Once new products and/or services are ready for public consumption, education is key to make sure older adults don’t fall behind and become a victim of some “creative divide.”

I’m curious if H-D has nothing but young creative’s trying to relate to older adults in a stereotypical way—do they think the older demographic will remain brand loyal no matter what they design?  Unlikely, especially if another company fulfills or empowers older adults that they can better relate too.  How dedicated is H-D to immerse the designers in all sorts of research to studying the habits and needs of the Baby Boomer generation?  With numerous condescending reports of motorcycle ageism (some of which I’ve written!) and H-D’s desire to focus on the youth demographic, won’t they need to redefine what it means to “get old” and own a H-D?  How does the Harley-Davidson and H.O.G. world change when seniors get engaged with design?

Now, don’t get me wrong, anyone who has made it through the first week of Econ 101 knows that the scarcity of a commodity drives its value. To this end, if H-D doesn’t put money into listening they can’t learn and they have to keep learning from customers… even if it doesn’t deliver on retention and acquisition.

Photo courtesy of internet.

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H-D Sprint Model on Varese, Italy Assembly Line

Congrats Ken!  You follow in the famous celebrity footsteps of Eddie Murphy, George Clooney, Meg Ryan, Woody Harrelson and Michael J. Fox who also turn 50 years old this year.

Factually speaking,  Ken was born March 11, 1961.  The year marks the “swingin’ sixties,” being a member of the baby boomer generation when John F. Kennedy was president, when race riots occurred throughout cities in the U.S., when the Peace Corps was established and the president advises American families to build bomb shelters as the cold war worsens when U.S.S.R. detonates a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb in the largest man-made explosion in history.  Then the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, twenty-eight men died on Texas Tower No. 4 in the North Atlantic and by year’s end there were more than 2,000 U.S. military “advisors” in South Vietnam.

In popular culture, 1961 brought the last episode of “I Love Lucy” to air, FCC Chairman (Newton Minow) claims that television is a “vast wasteland” (déjà vu all over again!), Johnson & Johnson introduced Tylenol, Harley-Davidson introduced the Italian assembled Sprint model, FM stereo is introduced and Ken got a hawt girlfriend, Barbie.  Yeah that Ken & Barbie – Ken Carson.

H-D Barbie Collectible Ken Doll #2

It was 50 years ago when Mattel introduced Ken with his trim crew cut, stiff carriage, and vacant eyes ready to do Barbie’s bidding.  That aging Ken now has a scruffy beard, shoulder-length hair and a patch of old-growth chest hair that might make Tom Selleck proud.  It certainly looks a lot like the core targeted customer segment of H-D.

But what about the new Ken?  The new modeling paradigm of American masculinity today seems to be that of men in their 20’s who hang out in a novel sort of limbo land – sort of a hybrid state of adolescence and responsible self-reliance — many still living at home with their parents!  These so-called “men” talk about ‘Star Wars’ like it’s not a movie made for people half their age and their idea of a perfect guys-night-out is a hanging around the PlayStation 3 with your guitar “bandmates,” or a trip down to the local ‘bucks’ with college friends who have yet to complete two semesters and are perpetually looking to land that dream job…  Yeah, the twenty-something’s have the appetite for luxury, but not the cash and given the slow pace of economic recovery it may be a long while on that job.

My advice?  Mattel should consider partnering Ken up with the likes of BRP/Can-Am to promote Ken & Barbies electric-hybrid roadster sensibilities and showcase that it’s okay to be more fuel-efficient and have greener CO2 emissions on the open road.

Photos courtesy of H-D and Mattel.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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