Mark-Hans Richer, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at iconic motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson, tells Hindustan Times about what makes Harley-Davidson a globally enduring brand icon.
Harley Davidson employees and biking enthusiasts in Mumbai. REUTERS
How important is India as a market for Harley-Davidson?
India is a very important market for us. This is the first country where we set up a wholly-owned subsidiary. India is one of the best examples of Harley-Davidson's brand appeal. We are not trying to be the biggest here or anywhere else in the world, we just want to be us. India has responded well to us.
Who is your target customer in India? Is this different from the developed markets?
The average age-band of the Harley owner in India is 35-45 years. This is when they can actually afford Harley-Davidson bikes that cost between Rs. 5.6 lakh (883 cc) and Rs. 35-plus.
The customers are working executives who ride out on the weekends and holidays and enjoy riding in a group... who are passionate about their Harley-Davidson bikes. We don't target any age or income band.
What makes Harley such an enduring brand?
Harley-Davidson's brand resonance continues to endure because of its powerful, universal dual essence of personal freedom and collectivism. Freedom is universal.
Collectivism through shared experience, in this case the Harley-Davidson experience. In India, such shared experiences are strongly encouraged by our HOG (Harley Owners' Group) clubs, run by our customers themselves.
A lot of brands talk freedom. How is Harley-Davidson's essence of freedom unique?
The word 'rebel' is used a lot at Harley. Linked to our essence of freedom, 'rebel' as a verb becomes about rebelling for yourself, not against anything. Harley's 'collectivism' is about respecting the individual and yet being able to share experiences with others - a kind of belongingness.
How important is the collectivism part of Harley-Davidson's brand essence?
Harley-Davidson was one of the first social networks of like-minded people sharing stories. This is nothing new from a human behaviour standpoint.
It's how the brand exhibits it on the ground that creates and sustains its uniqueness powerfully. Most of our marketing investments are on experiential initiatives.
Is creating unique Harley experiences an important part of your marketing?
We always work to create such experiences at levels the consumers can connect with. For example, in India, Harley-Davidson needed to tell customers who have different ways of cleaning their bikes, sometimes through paid help, how to maintain their Harley bikes.
The company developed a video on the bike's maintenance. Such a video did not exist with us before.
Internationally, there is a perception that our bikes are too heavy.
So we do this road show where we have a slightly-built person pick up a tipped Harley bike from the ground with ease by using his natural leverage. This never fails to create an impact.
Similarly, we do garage parties for women at our dealerships. In the US, for the last 15 years, we have been the leader brand with women riders by a long way. In the last five years, women consumers have grown by 12% a year.
How do you translate Harley's iconism in different markets with different cultures?
Our essence never changes. Harley-Davidson has always been about personal freedom and yet allowing you to share it with others. However, in every country, our dealerships are local and independent.
While we give them the concept and guidance, we want them to put their unique characters into the brand experience. Our brand comes to life the most at our dealerships.