Is Harley trashing their brand in an effort to stay relevant?

brand strategy, brand architecture

Harley focuses on product development and growth but disregards its long held brand beliefs

As a brand strategist I have often admired and held up Harley Davidson as great example of a powerful brand. Not because I own or want to own a Harley (so not me), but because as a brand they have stayed true to who they are for 115 years.

As a brand, they know who they are, who their audience is and they don’t care about anyone else.

But that is about to change with their new product strategy.

brand tribes
The Harley Belief System

Harley has always had ‘the freedom of individualism’ at the heart of their brand.

This is supported by a potent belief system and brand story that is like no other brand. It’s why Harley has managed to build a passionate tribe of followers who would never consider buying any other brand. For Harley owners, the brand is not just a bike, it’s a fundamental part of their identity.

Many Harley owners feel so connected to the brand they even have a brand tattoo – not many brands can ever hope for this kind of loyalty and connection!

Harley’s new product strategy

Harley is about to risk all the equity they have built up in their brand to try and attract ‘new’ riders.

Harley Davidson has unveiled their new product range that breaks from their classic big and loud machines to include more innovative, modern bikes and electric scooters. This is a bold but also risky strategy to reverse falling market share and attract new generations of riders.

However, much of this goes against Harley’s long-held beliefs.

While I get the need for the company to remain relevant and attract newer, younger generations of riders, it seems they haven’t carefully considered the brand implications.

Harley hasn’t properly considered the impact the strategy will have on their current loyal customers. Also, regardless of how appealing the new bikes are, will putting the Harley brand on them carry any value or meaning to the new audience they are trying to attract?

Harley president and chief executive Matt Levatich has recognised some of the challenges with the strategy, particularly with employee engagement. He says it will require a reversal of corporate mentality. “We are shifting our mindset from ‘we build bikes’ to ‘we build riders’.

While the product development strategy may make sense, the brand architecture strategy doesn’t.

Like many other motoring groups, Harley might best to create a new brand that can appeal to new audiences, without compromising its traditional fan base.

What happened to “we believe in going our own way, no matter which way the world is going”?

Michael Hughes


Michael is Managing Partner and Strategy Director at Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years’ experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in unlocking the strategic power of your brand to create a differentiated, compelling and authentic brand proposition that will engage all your audiences. Michael has extensive experience working across Australia and the Middle East working with leading Australian and International organisations across just about every sector.

7 Comments

  1. Absolutely wrong move in means of “known” brand management. I would also note about the “brand archetype” since Harley Davidson is /was the perfect example for “Rebel”.
    Anyways. I wonder if the coming future demands brands do such moves like this. Shell making a car, H&M making a sustainable line.. etc.

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