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Posts Tagged ‘Baby Boomers’

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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Kingfisher-LogoI’m talking about Kingfisher.

Beer was introduced into India by the British, who eventually set up a brewery that produced Asia’s first beer — a pale ale called Lion. However, these days, lager is the only type of beer you’ll find available in India and “The King of Good Times” is Kingfisher.

It’s India’s most recognized and widely available beer. Its name has been associated with sports, fashion, and even an airline.

And sooner than anyone would have thought… in Bawal, India a Harley-Davidson assembly line worker will be having a Kingfisher and relaxing with co-workers.

But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself…  let’s jump into the the way back machine and set the dial for — 2009.

The fact is we must focus both our effort and our investment on the Harley-Davidson brand, as we believe this provides an optimal path to sustained, meaningful long-term growth,” said CEO Keith Wandell at the October 15, 2009 announcement to discontinue production of Buell motorcycles.  On October 30, 2009 the last Buell (Lightning XB12Scg) rolled off the company’s East Troy, Wisconsin. assembly line.  It was the last of the 136,923 motorcycles built in the company’s 26 years of operation.

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Harley-Davidson Street 750

It was a combination of factors in making the decision, but essentially the global recession forced a reckoning and Harley-Davidson decided to refocus on its tent pole products or what I’d call doubling down on its core lineup of heavyweight bikes.  As a result, the motor company abandoned entry level motorcycles (Buell Blast), exited the sport bike (Buell and sold MV) and thumb their noses at the adventure market (Buell Ulysses).   In the process the motor company made a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts upset about what looked like a myopic approach of only looking at spreadsheets versus doing a bit more market research and addressing a need.

Jump ahead 4-years and witness the financial rebound of the company and the launch this week of the new Harley-Davidson Street 750 and Street 500 motorcycles.  Could it be a Buell Blast ReDeux?  The smaller 500cc motorcycle basically fills a void left when they discontinued the Buell motorcycle line which included the 492cc Buell Blast.  More important in this announcement is the fact that the motorcycles will be made both in the U.S. and Bawal, India, marking the first time the company will manufacture a complete motorcycle at an overseas facility.  I’ll repeat that… the first time the company will manufacture a complete motorcycle outside the U.S.!

Harley-Davidson Street 750  (Side View)

Harley-Davidson Street 750 (Side View)

The manufacturing news in of itself will be fodder for many future blog posts, but sticking to the motorcycle announcement, the new ‘Street’ bikes are the first Harley-Davidson motorcycles to be designed from scratch since the V-Rod 13 years ago.

It makes this Road Glide owner wonder if that’s an indicator of where all the engineers were redirected in lieu of updating the ‘Glide’ with the all new Project RUSHMORE features that were incorporated into the new 2014 touring models?

The fact is the company has aggressively expanded its marketing efforts because realistically, there is no replacing white Baby Boomer men. And this means they have to attract younger men, non-Caucasian men, women, and do that from countries as disparate as India, Italy, Brazil and the U.S. with much more success.  By turning inwards, relying on a single-brand tradition and nationalism over the last 4-years and divesting itself of brands that were dimming the lights on a brighter future–the motor company can and now has expanded into other segments.

At the Street 750/500 announcement the Harley-Davidson, CEO Keith Wandell said, “The younger riders don’t want their dad’s chromed-out Harley,” “They want the Dark Custom, sinister look, the ability to rebel.

Sounds like a bit of marketing spin, but with more than half of its dealerships outside the U.S., Harley-Davidson has really put a lot of investment behind a push to expand and broaden its customer base including new motorcycle buyers–worldwide.

Photo’s courtesy of H-D and Kingfisher.  Note: Kingfisher, “The King of Good Times”, is India’s most recognized and widely available beer. Its name has been associated with sports, fashion, and even an airline.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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mfg_plantBaby boomers and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  The combination of these two delivered a plethora of profits.

I was upgrading my Mac OS and while I waited, I read magazines.  First it was “Baggers” then “BusinessWeek.”

Skimming the BW magazine I notice an article about business book guru Jim Collins.  He wrote “Good To Great.”  Collins was brought to West Point, where he chaired a discussion amongst military men and civilians.  Had America lost its greatness, was it in decline?  The attendees were split as to America’s future, half optimistic and half pessimistic.  But what fascinated Mr. Collins was an observation from a CEO during a break.  The dude stated: “I’ve been thinking about your question in the context of my company.  We’ve had tremendous success in recent years and I worry about that.  So what I want to know is: HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?”  This question formed the basis of Collins new book, “How The Mighty Fall.”

Harley-Davidson has been quite mighty.  But they broke the first rule of Mr. Collins’ book.  Which he labels Stage 1: “Hubris Born Of Success”.  “Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.”

Mighty_FallBingo!  Harley-Davidson and Baby Boomers.  H-D execs actually believed they were geniuses, who’d found the golden formula.  Dealers marked up everything from t-shirts to baggers.  From then on, motorcycle model after model would all sell thousands of bikes, there would be untold profits!  Rather than questioning their success (“We might have been just really lucky/we’re in the right place at the right time…”), they believed they were entitled to it.  And ultimately blamed this decline of their fortunes on the economy.

Stage 2 of Mr. Collins’ theory of corporate decline is “Undisciplined Pursuit Of More”.  Here we have H-D catering to image buyers… selling sizzle, style and fashion over function paradigm.  With spokespeople like Marisa Miller.  If TV sells motorcycles, let us find the least amount of clothing and the most telegenic performer and craft a message about lifestyle for TV/print consumption!  

Stage 3 is “Denial Of Risk and Peril.”  That’s the beginning of the end.  “Those in power start to blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility”.  It’s like the music industry saying the Internet ruined it’s business!  It’s the economy’s fault, we couldn’t get bank funding at HDFS, etc. But what’s Harley’s business?  Manufacturing premium (overpriced?) priced one-dimensional products and marketing them for sale on TV and print magazines to the ‘boomers’, the young, minorities and to women?  No difference in product just marketing messages.

Stage 4 is “Grasping For Salvation”.  “The critical question is: How does leadership respond?  By lurching for quick salvation or by getting back to the disciplines that brought about greatness in the first place?”  We’ve got Harley-Davidson heavily invested in MV Augusta and embedding advertising space in video games (UFC).  A non-motorcycle riding enthusiast at the helm.  Is that their core mission?  And we’ve got dealers exiting the business.  All the while the motor company works to protect a business model of an overexposed limited product to reap giant rewards.  Dealers are up in arms that corporate got rich and the locals did not…  But once again, what was each entity’s core mission?  Dealers were made to expose.  The motor company were made to..?  MAKE!  That’s what manufacturing companies do.  Making motorcycles is their core competency.  It’s their defining MISSION!  But that got lost in the shuffle of incredible profits during the nineties.  Harley started selling branding, lifestyle, sizzle, fashion and even some premium priced motorcycles!

Stage 5 is “Capitulation To Irrelevance Or Death”.  Some would argue that’s where the motor company is today.  “In some cases the company’s leader just sell out; in other cases the motorcycle institution atrophies into utter insignificance; and in the most extreme cases the enterprise simply dies outright.”  How long until Harley-Davidson chops up the parts and sells it for catalog value?  

What is the future?  Not the past.

“Never give in.  Be willing to kill failed business ideas, even shutter big operations you’ve been in for a long time, but never give up on the idea of building a great company.”  It’s clear.  Looking for an instant success like the old Michael Jackson days of MTV ultimately render instant irrelevance.  The company needs to be about MOTORCYCLES!  Today’s execs seem only interested in tonnage.  They could be selling anything!  They are not necessary.  Harley needs to find unique talent and nurture it.  Leverage independent blogs?  Motorcycle artistry/development isn’t finding more people to buy a plain stamped out bike, it’s a creative arc, over a period of iterations, wherein the motorcycle grows and more and more people come along for the ride.  

That’s what you need to survive…”to build an enterprise that makes such a distinctive impact on the world it touches (and does so with such superior performance) that it would leave a gaping hole – a hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution – if it ceased to exist.” Everyone knows that real motorcycle enthusiasts are the indies.  The commercial crap from the majors is about commercialism more than artistry.  Today it’s about manufacturing cookie-cutter stuff and yelling at the public to buy it, all the while bitching that the economy is failing.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Rather than whine, be the company that accepts reality, that notes change and adapts to it.  That doesn’t mean charge huge upfront fees for anybody who wants a CVO.  Or clothing attire marked up to the point that celebrities question the essence of imported fabrics.  Your average Joe consumers are your partners, they’re the ones who are going to make you money.  

If you lose your core, you’ve lost everything!

Photo courtesy of Newsweek.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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We’ve all heard the “Boomer” term or sound bite from advertisers or from the evening news anchor.  More recently there has been a lot of debate about the aging Harley demographic and Boomer accident/fatality rates on motorcycles.

But, if you are like me and recently turn another year older, I wasn’t clear on where the name Boomer was derived?   So, like millions of other web consumers that on a daily basis go on-line to find something or be entertained — I thought I’d best research this gap in knowledge.

The term comes from two primary audiences: the Baby Boomers Generation and Generation Jones – both born during the big 20-year, post-World War II boom in births from the mid-1940’s to mid-1960’s.

  • Baby Boomers were born 1942 to 1953; we associate their youth with Howdy Doody, Davy Crocket hats, and later, Woodstock and Vietnam War demonstrations.
  • Generation Jones, born 1954 to 1965, is a newer concept and name that represents the actual children of the sixties (more wide-eyed than tie-dyed); Jonesers were weaned on The Brady Bunch and Easy Bake Ovens and later were the teens of 70’s heavy metal, disco, punk and soul.

Wow, something new!  I’ve heard the urban slang of “Jones’ing for Something”, but never Generation Jones.  Today, Boomers are 53 to 64 years old and 16% of the adult U.S. population; Jonesers are 41 to 52 years old and 26% of all U.S. adults. Together they make up almost 80 Million people, arguably at the prime of their lives.

I shouldn’t really say “they,” but rather “we,” or “me” because many of us are part of one or the other generation.  I’m truly excited about this new generational paradigm. Generation Jones makes me feel young.  Having been the recipient of extensive major media coverage, AARP mailings and a need-not-apply elusive group of the 16-34-year-old MySpace group, I’m thinking this new “Jones” demographic is worth some buzz.

Jonesers were originally and mistakenly lumped in with the Boomers because of shared high birth rates.  But, generational personalities come from shared formative experiences, not head counts. The dramatically different formative experience of Boomers vs. Jonesers has created two very different generational personalities. I’ve never felt like a “Boomer” even with the AARP flyer in hand, but I totally “get” Jonesers, the differences as well as the similarities.  

I feel so much better now that I’ve redefine my own identity! Next I’ll be evangelizing how a cell phone is technology for anything other than talking?!

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