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Posts Tagged ‘Aging’

A Marketing Staff Meeting at H-D?

Reflection of a Marketing staff meeting at H-D?

I don’t know who the people in “People” are and candidly I don’t care.  I use to have some casual interest, but as I’ve aged, I realized that promoting faux stars is how an industry makes itself feel good about itself.

 
I grew up in a different time.  Yes, I’m getting older, put me down for it, as some readers do, but unlike some of you I’m wise and experienced. And when I grew up, hard work, a bit of skill and insight would not only get you a house in a reasonable neighborhood, but the ability to support your family and go on vacation. Now, most people can’t even pay their bills.

When you think of “aging boomers,” what comes to mind?  Accelerating retirements, workforce skill shortages, stagnant incomes, or runaway health care spending?  It’s unlikely you think about aging as an economic drag on Harley-Davidson, right?
H-D History

H-D History

Down the road from my place, in the rolling farmlands north of Sunset Highway (U.S. 26), is a greasy burger joint called Helvetia Tavern … a place I’ve been known to frequent a little more often than my doctor might recommend, but the burgers are oh so good!  If you stop there on any given summer weekend, you might see a dozen or more bikers parked in the lot, who are talking bikes and showing off their blacked-out or chrome-laden Harleys.  And nearly all of them are over the age of 45. Many are over 50.

This isn’t a coincidence.  Harley-Davidson is a brand whose sales depend disproportionately — almost exclusively, in fact — on middle-aged males. There have been business case studies written and stock investment analysis looking at the H-D demographics while espousing doom and gloom for the company.  The fact is that motor company has been working hard to try and capture a younger, more diverse set of riders, including women and are trying to appeal to the less experienced and younger riders who want cheaper alternatives.

Blackline Appeal

Blackline Appeal

I would submit that riders younger than 30 generally lack the time, interest or the bankroll to buy a Harley for touring. And by the time they get into their 50s or older, riding with the wind in the face loses it’s allure.  It’s the noise, it’s the traffic, it’s the increased dangers, it’s the joint pain of long rides, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s… always something.

I know that many of you are riding into your late 60s, but my observation is you’re doing it less frequently and you’re not buying a new bike as often as you might have in your 40’s.  That means Harley has a growth problem with the boomer demographic that will not go away.  Even with a robust economy which we are not experiencing.

But, this is all well documented and debatably old news (“Living High on the Hog” (WSJ: February 5, 2007).

Looking at the challenges...

Looking at the H-D boomer challenges…

The challenge for Harley-Davidson, in my view, is how they will continue to tap into the enormous resource that older Americans can provide?  Boomers are generally healthier and more educated than prior generations.  They are the largest group starting new businesses both in Oregon and nationally.  And many economic projections about aging are misguided because they are based on outdated notions about retirement and what it means to grow older.

I can speak with some authority on this aging topic and it’s debatable whether Harley-Davidson can grow if boomers decide to quit riding in mass.  I wanted to offer up some observations:

  • Boomers are bombarded by media.  In an attention overload society it’s very hard for the message to get noticed because it’s noisy out there and hype is more prevalent than ever.
  • Boomers believe everything they’re into should last forever, but it doesn’t, just like them.
  • Have all the latest gadgets but barely know how to use them.
  • Boomers know the lyrics of “Hotel California.”
  • The boomers can’t square looking good with feeling bad. All the hogwash about 50 being the new 30 and 60 being the new 40 has convinced them that they’re breaking the laws of science, but the truth is people break down, everybody does.
  • Want to be anti TV, but talk about doing Netflix marathons.
  • Were into the Great Society, but now don’t want to pay taxes, especially if the benefits don’t flow to them.
  • Believed boil-able vegetable bags by the Green Giant were the future only to find out fresh and local was truly “in.”
  • Thought college was where you grew up and learned something as opposed to overpaying for an entry ticket to a job.
  • Still believe in government, and that their voice and vote counts.
  • Know that you work ever harder for less money.
  • Remember when companies were loyal.
  • Remember when you fixed stuff, now you just throw it out and buy a new one.
  • Want manufacturing to come back to the U.S., but still want very cheap electronics.
  • Boomers talk about their health. The pills they take, the conditions they have, it comes up in conversation, and it doesn’t bug them, it’s akin to discussing bands when they were younger.
  • Realize opportunity has slipped through their fingers. But are still dreamers nonetheless.
  • Baseball, motorcycles and big block automobiles are so twentieth century.  Baby boomers don’t stop talking about them, but their kids shrug their shoulders and lust for the latest mobile device.

Sure some of these observations are broad generalities and I’m painting a large group with a wide brush here, but I’m sure something resonated, right?   Once upon a time the baby boomers were the younger generation, champing at the bit to replace our parents. But now we’re fading off into the sunset, just like Letterman.  So long the era of the baby boomers. They were the largest segment of the population, who pushed and pulled and help change the world.

But, let’s face it, aging isn’t so much about the fact that we are getting older.  It’s about how the motor company is always going after the young buyer and often denigrates or discounts the older demographic.  They make an assumption that today’s Americans will behave in much the same way as prior cohorts did.  I don’t know about you, but boomers in general have reshaped every element of society as they’ve aged.  And, I would submit that Harley-Davidson is placing a disproportionate amount of focus and customer feedback on the youth lifestyle.  Sean Cummings, H-D senior vice president of global demand reinforced this by stating:  “We’re targeting the 55 million Generation X’ers to get them back out and riding.”  In doing so, it makes it harder for Harley to keep a finger on the pulse of the aging motorcyclist.

It might be someone else’s time (looking at you Millennials and GenX), but what is not fixed is how affluent boomers respond to Harley-Davidson motorcycle changes.  You have to give boomers motorcycles/features they can get excited about and you can’t be too catering to old age.  No one likes to admit they’re getting older and at the other end of the spectrum you’ll alienate the entire boomer group if you cater to youth.

Power, sex and youth have long been used to sell motorcycles, so anything that suggests older buyers might not be as virile and agile as they were could backfire and only serve to fulfill the “Silver Tsunami.”

Photos courtesy of marketoonist.com and H-D.
All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog
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H-D LiveWire

H-D LiveWire

Charged up, amped out and delivers a jolt…

Just a few of the colorful words used to describe the Harley-Davidson LiveWire which has received so much free and fawning press coverage about the prototype electric motorcycle that you’d think they invented electricity.

I get it.  The motor company builds good products, but does it really deserve wave after wave of gushing prose in every news article?  I blogged previously about the announcement HERE.

Let’s keep it real.  Is LiveWire any better than the other electric motorcycles on the market?  What are the rider advantages of LiveWire vs. other electric rides?  Are there drawbacks of an increasing reliance on electricity for transportation?  No one is reporting on anything other than regurgitating the marketing talking points.

Has the press failed to notice that there are many electric bikes already in use by riders and a growing number of police departments across the country?  From New York to Oregon, and around the world, including in Bogota, Colombia and Hong Kong.  The police versions of the “Empulse LE” by Brammo, Inc., based in Ashland, Ore., and the “DS” by Zero Motorcycles immediately come to mind.

But it gets worse.  The Harley-Davidson president, Matt Levatich tells the world during the LiveWire press tour that Harley’s are longer just for old guys…  Huh?

He must have been basking in a special Milwaukee sun-imitating light that failed to fend off seasonal affective disorder with that alluringly sales quote.

It happened at the Lower Manhattan Harley dealer during the recent LiveWire electric motorcycle test rides.  Mr. Levatich tells the press that Harley would not be forgetting its core customers who want old-fashioned motorcycles.  “We’re absolutely not abandoning any of that,” he stated.  “We’re going to continue to invest in the great traditional Harley-Davidson motorcycles…

As a current core customer, I guess I’m one of the riders only interested in “old-fashioned” motorcycles?  Hey Harley, hashtag this…  #YoureDoingItWrong.

Wow, nothing like slighting the mature motorcycle rider base, the base that has been paying the company bills with a back-handed comment that is clearly all about reaching out to Gen-X’ers and Millennials.  There’s a thin line between appealing to Millennials and pandering.

Yeah, I get wanting to open new doors to people that are outside of the motorcycle sport and only know the brand for its t-shirts.  But, that “old-fashioned” reference is as if Harley has come to terms with an electric future, which excludes their current customers, so let’s spit out aging and old-fashioned insults at them.

If Harley-Davidson LiveWire is “only looking at rider feedback at the moment” then why all the publicity?  You might recall that prior to Project RUSHMORE rolling out on the touring bikes there wasn’t a peep until it launched.  The motor company has by design crafted a publicity stunt and worked at driving social media outreach.  It’s a marketing campaign pure and simple.  And thanks to Harley, Zero had their biggest single day of Internet traffic in the history of the company on the day Harley made its announcement, according to Scott Harden, VP of global marketing for Zero Motorcycles.

Shouldn’t Harley-Davidson be talking to the “right” riders?  And H.O.G. grey-beards aren’t exactly the wrong people to be getting input from, but relying on this user base for feedback on this new GenX or “Millennial” motorcycle is unlikely the most salient feedback from the “right” people.  Shouldn’t they look for those Portlandia-esque grown men on BMX bikes who are ‘riding’ to weekend pubcrawls and who make their living in a variety of ways — some legally and others by any means within their particular skill set?

The fact is that future customers could be from newly wealthy Chinese looking for style, city-dwelling Millennials who need utility and affordability or retirees who want a trike that doesn’t embarrass them.

Whether electrics take off is anyone’s guess and your welcome to label me a gas station-centric oldster.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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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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