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Posts Tagged ‘Youth’

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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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.

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Concert promotion blew up in the ‘70’s during the development and heyday of classic rock.  Stadiums or festivals were where the gigs took place as music drove the culture and everybody wanted to participate.

Thirty plus years later and along comes the internet.  Suddenly everyone is no longer focused on the same thing and niche was king.  Yet the major music labels continue to play the same old tune of trying to get acts TV exposure and on terrestrial radio with 22-minutes of commercials an hour, but the public is sick of being dictated to by music corporations purveying artists only in it for the buck and have tuned out.   The end result?

Is today’s modern concert business where the average person feels fleeced by excessive fees and high ticket prices and have decided to pass on most concerts.  In fact, ‘twenty-ten’ might go down as the turning point year that devastated the concert business.  Look at the signs from SoundScan.  Arizona concert boycotts.  Cancelled concerts by the Eagles, poor showing for John Mayer, Bon Jovi downsizes the number of cities, the death of Lilith Fair, winery offers for Court Yard Hounds, and the ever popular $10 concert cash coupons if you can drink a dozen 1-litre bottles of Diet Coke at $1.49.  The list goes on.

H-D Tent @ Mayhem

Disregarding the external conditions of the concert promotion sphere, is Harley-Davidson marketing.  Their demographic ‘machine’ determined that ‘twenty-ten’ is the year to double down on seeking young motorcycle buyers and do so at…music concerts!   Huh?

It’s true.  They launched their H-D Golden Horse Saloon at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival two weeks ago in San Bernardino, Ca., in an effort to market to young, edgy potential customers.  The third concert of the tour was last week at the White River Amphitheater, in Auburn, Wa.  The festival includes Korn, Rob Zombie, Lamb of God, Five Finger Death Punch, Hatebreed and several other bands. Last month H-D had a similar set-up at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN.

Rob Zombie (R) and drummer (L)

The goal of any Harley-Davidson special events marketing campaign is to generate awareness and increase sales among the target audience.  It’s well known in music circles that the concert business is in the toilet.  Sure you can talk about the economy, all the external business factors, but they’re secondary to the acts, the music.  It’s doesn’t matter how great the venue is, certainly doesn’t matter how great the promoter is, it comes down to the quality of the act and whether they can draw a crowd.  Given sky high concert prices and that we live in an on-demand world where you experience only that which you want means this demographic outreach/tactic is unlikely to pay motorcycle sales dividends for Harley.

H-D Demographic -- Young Edgy Potential Customer

One notable item…  Mayhem could arguably be the loudest festival on the planet giving the sparse crowds so much ‘metal’ that many will feel aurally violated after the gig.

Photos courtesy of H-D, Mayhem Festival and Rob Zombie.

Bonus: If you’re into this type of ‘Metal’ music mix there is a free 9-song download via iTunes (good through Sept 30th) using the following code to redeem the songs: 9EL3JJRW3JNF

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Uh, that would be a NO.

No, I don’t have a man crush on Mark-Hans Richer the Harley-Davidson CMO.  But, we do have some things in common and that is we’re both motorcycle enthusiasts of double-digit years, and proud owners of H-D motorcycles.

Mark-Hans Richer is the “Billy Mays” of pitch men for H-D products, brand and lifestyle.  He pontificates about the rebellious nature.  He’s on the advertising speech circuit.  He is an opportunist.  He defends H-D founding fathers and their ideals.  He mixes up speeches with dramatic entrances.  He quotes the younger generation and the thanklessness of posterity.  He laments about young-rebels-with-tats ethos.  He slams “American Idol” and aligns product placements with fictional motorcycle gangs (“Sons of Anarchy”) through the use of attitude-enhanced advertisements, social media efforts, and lifestyle programs around counterculture happenings.

Mark-Hans Richer (H-D CMO) Dramatic Entrance

To say Richer is a marketer would be like describing Bill O’Reilly as just another news anchor.

Richer is a blow-hard motorcycle zealot to the core evangelizing and marketing a company strategy.  He would make Peter Drucker, the management guru of the 20th century PROUD.  It was Mr. Drucker who stated, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation.”

So, what’s behind the man sticking it to the man, the chief marketer or H-D rock star?  Mr. Richer joined H-D in July 2007 as the Sr. VP and Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) with primary responsibility for overseeing all global marketing activities including promotions and advertising, motorcycle product planning, the H-D Museum, and the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.).

Mark-Hans Richer (at Pontiac) Slammn'

Prior to joining H-D, Richer held marketing and advertising positions at General Motors’ defunct Pontiac brand. In November 2006 he was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement for his career of high-impact, non-traditional marketing approaches. These include two Cannes Gold Lion-awarded marketing programs while at Pontiac, and prior successes helping lead advertising and promotions at GMC and Chevy Trucks. Richer also has previously won three Effies, the PMA Super Reggie, Promo Magazines’ interactive promotion of the year and a Kelly Award for best national print.

Harley-Davidson is lucky to have hired this motorcycle in every garage evangelist!  Richer has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show (remember the Pontiac Give Away?), The Apprentice III and V, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch and CNBC. He has been on the cover of Promo magazine and Advertising Age’s Point. He and his team’s accomplishments have been covered by Advertising Age, Ad Week, Brandweek, Media Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, NPR Radio, The New York Times, Chief Marketer Magazine, Business 2.0 and Fast Company among many others.

Have I blogged about H-D marketing tactics?  Yes.  Have I’ve been critical of some H-D marketing?  Yes.  But, how do you fault a guy whose job it is to find new ways to “stick it to the man” so to speak?!  In the Greek to New Jersey dictionary that translates to – ti na kanoume – whaddya gonna do?

Seeing this as a small hurdle, I decided to take a different angle and set out on a behind-the-scenes, unauthorized “tell-all” blog – everything Richer – and the icon behind the worldwide marketing empire at Harley-Davidson.  I did my best “Nixon Deep Throat” impersonation and was hopeful to uncovered it all…sham marriages, secret informants, shirtless outtakes in Cosmo, fear of flying, a celebrity-Melisa-Miller-addiction dysfunction, or personal hygiene habits that would make Michael Jackson blush, but I didn’t.  There is nothing worthy of TMZ.  Nadda.  Mark-Hans Richer is either squeegee clean boring or has a brilliant publicist who ran interference — always putting a good spin on whatever embarrassing predicament their boss found himself — like that time as the marketing head of Pontiac he jumped up on a conference room table in a Digitas meeting to shred a few tunes on Guitar Hero.

It turns out that Richer is the marketing real deal.  It reminds me of that saying “A marketer without the press is like a pencil without a sharpener: pointless”!  All he wants to do is sell Harley-Davidson, the brand, the motorcycles, the lifestyle and talk about the achievement of double-digit sales to young adults.  Look for a Richer “Fan Club” page coming to a Facebook near you…

Photo courtesy of H-D, WARC and SlyFox.com.

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Nick Jonas - Harley Clothing and H-D/Ford

Targeting younger buyers.  It’s not a news flash!

Harley-Davidson has been executing a number of marketing efforts aimed at 20-somethings from whom Harley is an aspirational brand.  The H-D SVP and CMO, Mark-Hans Richer, has pitched the brand to the young-rebel-with-tats ethos through attitude-enhanced ads, social media efforts, and lifestyle programs around counterculture happenings.  And Mr. Richer should know.  He used to head up marketing for General Motors’ defunct Pontiac brand until he left in 2007 to take on the marketing helm at H-D.

The result?  Like magnets, teenagers everywhere are attracted to the motorcycle counterculture lifestyle.  As proof positive the above photo is 17-year-old Nick Jonas (of Jonas Brothers fame) who coordinated his clothing with a Harley-Davidson Special Edition Ford truck and a matching Harley-Davidson sweatshirt while he refuels his vehicle.  OMG!  Like the best band evah, like who knew that, like Nick pumping his own gas would be like such a hawt H-D fashion statement?!  Clearly a Jonas Brothers haircut is more devious that we first thought. Is this priceless H-D advertising for the younger generation or should youthful motorcycle fans across the nation be sickened?   I wonder if Harley marketing had a hand in the fashion wear for this almost 20-something motorcycle magnet.  Hey when you’ve got it, you got it!

In a conference room on West Juneau Avenue I can see it now.  A Jonas Brothers concept motorcycle.  A Jonas Brother movie, with H-D product placements where Nick as an orphaned teenager along with his hipster dog set out to save the planet on a Dark Custom when all the land is in ruins.  Harley will ask the Jonas Brothers to rename their next album and call it the Milwaukee Daydream.  Huh?  Is this what they mean by Harley-Davidson fandom?  Nick will probably have a couple of unanswered questions like “Where is Milwaukee?” and “What are motorcycles?”, but hey try and enjoy yourself and have fun with that choreographed in a self-important, “I’m so cool!” kind of thing you do.

Forty years ago, if you worked hard and saved your pennies, you too could live the life of the rich and famous, if only for a night, or a weekend.  Now the gulf between the worlds of the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have-nots, is so vast as to seem uncrossable, and the public is upset.  Not only right wing Tea Party members, but left wing Democrats.  How did we get such a raw deal?  It’s about jobs and foreclosures, stupid!  How did Obama and his minions get it so wrong?   But, I’ve digressed.

Back to Nick, his hair cut and this manufactured hipness script.  I’m not really the kind of person to get caught up in the latest trends or fashions.  Some days, I’ll wear a black t-shirt and then other days it’s a white one.  The media has trumped up the Jonas Brothers.  The industry said they were above criticism, because they were getting kids to come to their shows.  But can you name one Jonas Brothers hit?  I can’t.

Music or not, seeing Harley-Davidson with Nick Jonas stresses out my “Tolerability Index.”

Photo courtesy GSI Media and Just Jared

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Yamaha YZ400

Yamaha YZ400

Three years ago I sold my (purchased new) 1978 Yamaha YZ 400 to a good buddy.  At the time I was downsizing and making room in the garage for other more active projects and the bike received little ride time.  My buddy had plans to ride with his kids and though there are days I regret selling the ‘ol yellow buzz bomb, I know it has a good home!

The vintage MX was clean, ran very strong and was most reliable.  Meaning it would sit for months in the garage and within a couple three kicks blew blue smoke on any neighborhood kid brave enough to stand next to the ride.  I recall that Yamaha expanded on a good thing with the 1978 YZ’s as it became very stable with the box section aluminum swing arm and longer travel (at both ends). The bike was a bit heavy (tipping the scales around 240 lbs.) but long gone were the cracks in the frames, common with the previous (non-Monocoque) designs. The rake was also a bit long which made that year YZ400s better at cross-country than in motocross.  The bike was always more motocross(er) than I had skills.   Get cocky and it reminded me of broken ribs near Lee’s Camp…so, I’d back off the go-juice!

Speaking of dirt bike riding and the main point of this post – I want to raise your awareness on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).  It bans numerous youth products with lead content and prohibits selling them.  Simply put the consumer product law passed last year bans the sale of quads/ATVs, dirt bikes and associated accessories for use by young people (Youth 12-15).  This was the response from our legislators after the outrage and calls to do something when U.S. toy companies allowed China to ship lead-laden toys to American toddlers. 

micHowever, these ‘youth’ products are prohibited for no good reason, and quad/dirt bike manufactures have demonstrated that they should be excluded under the law, however, they have yet to obtain an exemption from our “big”…yeah, they are working for us… government!  Clearly the provisions of the law place an unfair burden on the Powersports industry and it’s yet another example of broad-brush legislation with no thought about the unintended consequences.  I’m unaware of any child suffering lead poisoning from chewing on an ATV fender, foot peg, motorcycle seat, or handle bars in any garage?!  So how did this new set of economy damaging laws get passed?

Last Saturday, the CPSC approved the sale of vehicles designed for 12- to 15 year-old riders, units that had been previously banned under the CPSIA, however, the recent statement was simply a verbal clarification that CPSC staff believes that Y12+ ATVs are not subject to the law…not a written exemption or reversal and causing confusion for retailers.

Industry members and enthusiasts have sent thousands of e-mails to Congress through ARRA and other letter-generating Web sites like the motorcycle industry council.  If you want to stop the ban on youth dirt bikes, ATVs or quads please visit the web sites and weigh in on the topic.

Meanwhile I’m going to think about hard-core motocross bikes from KTM….where’s that brochure?

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