Harley Davidson- The grandaddy of all communities.

Harley Davidson, since the 1980s, has been building up a brand community of shared values, lifestyle and ethos. The launch of The Harley Owners Group (HOG) became the “meeting point” of thousands of Harley enthusiasts who transformed a company at the brink of banckrupcy into an ideal branding example. Thirty five years later Harley still proves that a brand’s power goes beyond sponsorships, celebrity endorsements and marketing tricks. It lies solely on its customer base and their engagement with the brand. How did Harley Davidson managed to achieve that though? What is the secret behind one of the strongest brand communities in the world?

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What is the secret behind one of the strongest brand communities in the world?

Step 1 : It is ok to be different

The American brand wanted to have loyal customers, customers who would “fight” for them and become ambassadors of the lifestyle that goes with the product. As we can see from the HOG homepage (www.hog.com) “An inside pass to the ride of your life”, it immediately strikes out as a “pack” of followers and the brand is urging you to become on yourself. No matter your background, Harley does not make products wanting to please everyone,  it creates experiences who add value and beat mediocrity.

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Step 2: User driven but Company managed

The HOG is an example worth lecturing in marketing and PR students of a community with a strong user drive. However, every HOG chapter needs to sponsored with a Harley dealership;forging a tight bond with the core of the customer base. In other words, all events, launches, road-trips etc. are equal to every member of the community and are addressed directly by the chapter’s appointed dealer. Thus, the “company” becomes personified as you deal with people you know and become part of your social network. One step forward into turning a  “product” to a “way of life”

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Step 3: Invest on engagement

Every marketeers dream is to get as many customers as he possibly can to join his brand’s community. However, where do you go from there? A couple of PR guys bragging about how good your brand is? The HOG figured it out early and gave their all into keeping their customers engaged. The privileges of being a HOG member are what a true biker would wish for: exclusive launch events, test-drives, road trips (weekends, cross-country, maintenance) workshops and numerous other features. Even more so, the “chapters”  in the HOG have each less than 50 members on average , thus it’s another trip with your friends.

Community building done the right way can transform a “mere product” into a whole way of life.

Of course, through the years Harley is trying to adapt into the digital era as well and find new ways to engage the new generations of the social media. However, their work in community building has set many milestones and examples that companies around the world would kill for. Forging that kind of relationship with your customers is not easily replicable though. However, we can assume with certainty that community building done the right way can transform a “mere product” into a whole way of life.

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