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Posts Tagged ‘Senior Citizens’

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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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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