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Posts Tagged ‘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.
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Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman

“I’ve got to run to keep from hidin’
And I’m bound to keep on ridin'”

The 1973 reference is when the Allman Brothers were the biggest band in the country.  Duane had died two years before, but the band carried on, ate a peach, and emerged with the “Brothers and Sisters” album that was so prevalent we were all ramblin’ men and women.

Remember 1973…  scratch that, you probably weren’t even alive back then. The preoccupation of young males was the stereo shop on Saturday afternoon followed by some tuning of your ride.  Back in the day music used to be a commitment.  You actually had to step out of the house and go to your local store to buy the vinyl album.  After paying with hard earned cash you returned home to the Marantz amplifier and Advent speakers, dropped the Dual turntable needle and digested it.

America has a bit of an outlaw culture.   Boomers understand this as the great American pastime was to get in a vehicle or put some wind in the face and set off across this great country of ours, where no one knew where you were going, or where you were, which is exactly how you liked it, because we don’t really want to be boxed in, we want to be free.

So, today I’m driving north on the spot where all commuters know traffic grinds to a halt, pushing the buttons on the satellite radio and I hear “Midnight Rider.”   It’s the track that got all the airplay from the “Laid Back” album.  And I’m instantly transported back to that high-school swagger in art class with this playing in the background.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’ve become a member of the over-the-hill gang.

Probably, but I’m past the point of caring.

Do we really have any choice but to keep on keepin’ on?  We keep on ridin’ because the road really does go on forever.  Around every bend are not only unforeseen potholes, but a lot of pleasures.  And just like the hopeful grooves in those old vinyl favorites they are as powerful today as it was back in 1973.

Older?  Yes.  Over the hill?  Hardly.

We’re still ridin’ and groovin’.  We’ve got the wind in our face, the power of music in us and no one is going to catch us midnight riders!

Original version of “Midnight Rider
Alternative version of “MidnightRider” with Vince Gill, Gregg Allman and Zac Brown

Photo courtesy of Facebook.

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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.

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The Changing Faces Of Harley-Davidson Owners

Don’t you just like that word?!

You’re either out of the inner circle or working hard to remain firmly in the trusted seat.

Maybe you’re that guy who is tired of missing out on his friends’ weekend motorcycle trip because he doesn’t ride. Or maybe she’s the woman who has been a passenger for years and wants to ride her own ride. Maybe you’re that middle-aged guy who sees a kid on a dirt bike and remembers the happy riding days of his youth, and suddenly can’t recall why he ever stopped riding. Or the young woman who spots a sleek new “72” in the local Mall and suddenly decides, with absolute certainty and no warning, that she simply must have it and learn to ride it.

There are many different ways or reasons to get into motorcycling, but the common riding experience is inclusive for everyone.

And speaking of inclusion, last month I read how more and more businesses are looking to make sure they get their fair share of the black dollar and how H-D is no exception in making sure that this community is appreciated for helping strengthen their bottom line.  In fact,  there were reports of African-American reporters who were completely immersed (read wined and dined in Milwaukee on H-D’s dime) into the biker culture with the motor company for three days and pitched on the company attributes in hopes of them writing about the experience and then even more African-Americans coming over to participate in the H-D lifestyle.

If nothing else, Harley-Davidson, is showing how serious it is about broadening its reach.

I’ve often blogged, that if the motorcycle industry is to be reborn — and even the quickest scan of sales statistics is enough to know a rebirth is necessary — it will come from expansion into long-ignored niches, such as youth, women and minorities. We Boomers are quickly approaching our doddering years and will soon be trading up to trikes if we’re lucky or for walking sticks if not.

These days if you meander into any Harley dealer you’ll likely find: a pink-haired twenty-something white woman who could be a student to a bandana-ed Hispanic man that is a police officer and all nondescript types in between who ride. Oh sure there is the occasional tatted up true blue stereotype white male rock star trying to look gritty and the ever present old time long haired grey bearded biker.  But, Harley’s message is simple: They are no longer a niche brand. They are no longer focused on Boomers who hijacked the brand during the last decade. They are for everyone.

The claim is that no stereotypical Harley-Davidson rider exists anymore.  I say welcome to the family and a trusted seat in the inner circle!

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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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.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Harley-Davidson has shown superb marketing prowess in the motorcycling industry with some absolutely brilliant campaigns, but could someone tell me what the exec’s were thinking of with this one on the right?

I thought about calling them to say, “Hey Harley, Scientology telephoned and wanted to let you know the spaceship is on the way…long live Zenu!” after reading it.

Sure the Motor Company is a textbook business school case study for “lifestyle” marketing, but this advertisement at minimum shines a spotlight on age disparity, trophy-wife dysfunction (TWD) and connotes enticement to underage marriage (depending on the state).  It’s a non-rational marketing decision to be sure.  It harkens back to the AMF marketing days where motorcycle rebels cared more for role models than reliability and the bad memories of the “Harley-Davidson Cigarettes” campaign in 1992-1993.  A miserable flop to be sure with several lawsuits leaving a bad taste (pun intended) in consumers mouth.

So, if I have this correct…we have a slightly weathered and bearded 50-something ‘boomer’… proclaiming that as a “quiet gray gentlemen” he would never let his under-18 aged wife ride his motorcycle until she turns of legal age.  In this era of hyper-pedophile-mania there is nothing more classy than old men married to under-18 girls. I find the ad downright creepy to suggest that under-18 girls are looking to ‘hook-up’ with a 50-something boomer. This marketing doesn’t make sense even for boomers let alone as a way to reach-out to the youthful motorcycle riding demographic.  The only thing I could imagine being worse is using it in a branding blitz during Child Abuse Prevention month or to post it on a billboard advertisement in Houston while the polygamy trials run through the court system!  To be fair, this ad/photo has been circling online since ’08 and I’m not exactly sure where it ran in print.  Let me know if you’ve seen it.

Last quarter when Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell stated the company was investing in the brand I first thought this was some kind of ‘code word’ for more layoffs, but little did we know it meant CMO, Mark-Hans Richer was deep in the H-D branding lab, with his sleeves rolled up, hitting the marketing white board to improve the company image.

H-D likely spent hundreds of man hours building out the creative concepts for this advertisement.  What’s next?  I’ll save them some time and $$… I’m visualizing a multi-city billboard campaign with a “cougar” straddling a Dark Custom… a Glee club drop-out on the back holding on with the tag line… “I just added my first aftermarket accessory.  I think his name is Billy.”

Time for a new marketing road Harley.

Photo courtesy of H-D and Flickr.

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Concert In The Park

Concert In The Park

Do you feel it?  The smell of fall as the lazy, hazy days of sunshine dwindle faster than a Harley-Davidson financial comeback.

Too soon the leaves will fall, rain will flood the roads and snow will fill the air as television news canvas the area to report fender-benders over and over.  Before this happens, however, there is still time to ask: “Am I making the most of my 2009 summer riding season?”

In trying to stretch out summer as much as possible I attended an outdoor concert last night.  Was it motorcycle exhaust fumes mixed with cigar smoke and classic rock music like Summerfest in Milwaukee?   No, but Body & Soul reunited last night to perform high-energy Tower of Power, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder and classic rock.

Speaking of classic rock,  I’m not talking about Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” or Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, rather it’s about Steely Dan and “My Old School.”  Remember it was the “boomers” who grew up with music at the center of their lives.  There were no cell phones, there was no Facebook.  They lived to twist the AM dial in the coupe, if lucky had a FM radio and a phone in their bedroom.  The glue that kept them together was the music.  They call this music “classic rock”.  Classic, as in aged, as in done.  But, I beg to differ.

Body & Soul Music Group

Body & Soul Music Group

Insiders will tell you the best Steely Dan album was the second, “Countdown To Ecstasy“, the one that ended their touring career, the one sans any hits.  I disagree. It was “Can’t Buy A Thrill” which was truly a masterpiece.   At the concert last night Body & Soul performed “My Old School” and hearing those guitar riffs made me want to blog about it.

For the uninitiated, or those who grew up in the mid-west, or even further left, Annandale-on-Hudson is the location of Bard College, where those who were smart, but thought high school was B.S and didn’t have the grades commensurate with their intelligence ended up going to college to further their creativity.  It’s where Walter Becker and Donald Fagen went to school before moving on to back up Jay Black as two of his Americans and ultimately getting a deal with ABC Records.  They were forced to get a lead singer, David Palmer, since Fagen’s voice was “supposedly” deemed not radio-ready by the studio execs.  Mr. Palmer sang the lead vocal on a legendary track, but I like this version of “Dirty Work” however, when performed live it hasn’t got the same power with backup singers taking the lead.

SDAfter struggling in the music trenches for years, plying their trade far from the spotlight, Steely Dan became a success and was an AM radio fixture.  Not an FM staple.  Remember back… FM was in the process of getting dumbed down, featuring meat and potatoes rock as opposed to intelligence, but when the hooks of “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In The Years” poured out of one speaker it could not be denied by AM radio and the album “Can’t Buy A Thrill” became a huge hit.  It was an album seen most often in dorm rooms of those not quite hip, but didn’t have to worry about their cred.

For those of us who lived through it, when we hear Steely Dan songs we’re brought right back.  I’ve seen Becker and Fagen at the Gorge Amphitheatre a couple of times.   Their troupe of hired musicians return us to what was and who we used to be.  And one could say it was aged music, but like wine, some things get even better as the years go by.

Even though youngsters these days might not understand, they positively get awesome musicianship.  It’s not about staging or production it’s about the music. Yes, the sun is setting on these baby boomer acts.  Their audience is getting older, fans don’t feel the same need to go to the show.  But if you’re a musician you play anyway.  That’s what you’re in it for, the SOUND!

Steely Dan and Body & Soul photos courtesy of respective web sites.

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