Wholly Harley

harley davidson mark-hans richer

Co-creation’s just another word for Harley-Davidson, says marketing chief Mark-Hans Richer.

The whole world loves the story of the mighty corporation that got its start in a garage: Amazon, Apple, Disney, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Mattel. The Rolling Stones. Then there’s the mega-brand that led the trend more than a century ago: Harley-Davidson.

Truth be told, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson technically did not build their first "motor-bicycle" in a garage because, in 1903, garages were not yet commonplace. Their "garage" was a shed. A more important truth, however, is that unlike others, Harley-Davidson Motor Company never left its "garage" — at least spiritually.

It is precisely Harley’s fierce devotion to its roots that has kept its motor running for 110 years. In fact, the company’s first advertised product was a motorcycle engine for the do-it-yourself market; this set a collaborative tone with Harley-Davidson’s customers that endures to this day.

"Our ability to let the customer customize with us, change the way their motorcycle looks, sounds and feels — that is essentially Harley," says Harley-Davidson CMO Mark-Hans Richer. More than anything else, Harley’s brand identity has always been its ability to empower its customers to make the brand say something about each and every one of them.

To make this point, Mark-Hans describes the scene at Harley’s periodic anniversary rallies, which attract some 150,000 Harley die-hards to Milwaukee. "You’ll see a gigantic stadium parking-lot full of motorcycles," says Mark-Hans, "and yet every single one of those riders knows exactly which one is their bike."

That sensibility connects Harley’s online factory-customization program that allows riders to design their bike to the premise of its "No Cages" advertising campaign, which it crowd-sourced from its customers. For Harley, co-creation is more than just a marketing construct; it is a way of life.

If the secret of any strong brand is to hold onto its past while navigating its future, Harley-Davidson’s culture of co-creation cracked that code well before the advent of computers or social networks … not to mention garages. continue

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