Harley-Davidson corporate culture crippling brand

For many in the motorcycling world, Harley-Davidson is a brand that splits opinion and attracts derision and loyalty in equal measure. Those outside of the owners circle would readily scoff at the agricultural and archaic technology whilst those inside would bask in the glory of tradition, lifestyle and revel in being the outcasts of motorcycling fandom.

However in recent years there has been a growing division even from within the brand riders who have grown weary of the dilution of core values and monotonous overtones being played to the masses. In short, many would argue that they have lost their identity and their connection with grass roots motorcycling and the average Joe biker.

In the last twenty years or so, H-D have gradually out priced many average income earners in favour of the high income demographics. The bike and parts have largely got more expensive, the merchandise is unfashionably overpriced and the competition is stealing away the minds and hearts of owner riders.

To their credit they have tried to improve their standards and technical stock but in so doing have lost the essence that helped build the brand through many trials and tribulations since the company’s inception in 1903.

The company played on the notion of society’s outcasts, rough riders and playing merry hell with motorcycling conventions. Yes the older bikes were usually pretty poorly made but that only increased the endearment for a brand already falling behind the rest but only keeping in touch by the power of will, loyalty and individuality.

However, no matter how many marketing campaigns they may have which flaunt the rebel without a cause ethos or show vintage bikes and riders flat tracking their way to village notoriety, the division between the haves and have nots was getting bigger. The company that was once in touch with its core fanbase was now cutting communication lines and settling for the new breed to lead the pack of the new generation filling the bikerdome.

This gradual erosion between the company and the values upon once which it stood has left a stale stench in the air for too many riders. The older generation who still love the bikes, are less enamoured with the IBM hearts and Starbucks frosting of the H-D culture. They are not buying motorcycles anymore and the newer generation who entered the fray, did so buying into a ‘lifestyle’ that is largely defunct and cliche. The tomorrow biking generation are more likely to be the next big Tik-Tok influencer that want anything but to do with bikes…so where does this leave Harley-Davidson? In a dilemma!

Harley-Davidson have become so focussed on their image and branding that they have lost touch with what motorcycling is actually all about. A dealership salesperson once told me they are the Ferrari’s of the motorcycling world. Not because of superior technology but due to the aspirational appeal of owning such a bike. And with the desire comes a hefty price tag too!

However, the reason why people aspire for such expensive cars is because they have limited supply and they are at the peak of technical innovation…and usually go very fast. None of this applies to Harley Davidson bikes! Whilst they have got a lot better from their olden days, by comparison to other comparable or cheaper brands, they fall short on value for money.

Something has not been right within the corridors of Harley-Davidson power for a number of years. A recent CEO change has made for a U Turn in their attempt for global domination in preference for consolidation and conservative expansion when the world health crisis would allow. However that disconnect with the average motorcycle rider is ever present and its inability to attract the future rider is going to be its biggest challenge yet.

So for a company forged from earth, rock and steel, you might think their key order of business would be to reconnect with its core supporters and engage with those already riding the bikes, blogging and vlogging about the brand and showing the rest of the world what can be done on two wheels and what opinions the real riders of yesterday, today and tomorrow have.

Instead the corporate whizzkids at H-D and those marketing executives who lurk in the shadows would rather employ celebrity or throw money at branding rather than promoting and connecting with those riders who are selflessly promoting the brand just as a byproduct of how they live their lives.

In the last year, two Harley-Davidson themed content creators on YouTube have fallen foul of the H-D legal teams who are imposing their corporate might upon their creativity. Many others have been stifled as they try to make videos in and around dealerships or making independent bike review videos. They have actively stopped liaising with content creators or have blocked their progress for fear of any negative opinions, when really they should be embracing the independent spirits and try to support them as much as they are able.

When they start to listen to the fanbase and those actively working with the branded bikes, then they’ll have a chance of salvaging the credentials. They have riders doing adventures across continents, endurance rides that test the limits of man and machine and entertainment that puts the fun back into biking. All of these things are being done by people outside of the Harley Davidson corporate structure but are largely ignored when they should be embraced.

Making the decision not to get too involved with one particular brand or dealership allows a content creator to be independent and gives them oxygen to promote and rejoice without corporate shackles to restrict the creative juices flowing.

Some content creators have fallen into the trap thinking that having a closer relationship will be beneficial to them and their work, but this only pays dividends if the other party believe they are getting the right payback. When there is a difference of opinion, that’s when restrictions or supportive starvation begins and the waters become muddied very quickly.

However, it shouldn’t necessarily be so if the best corporate culture was in place to respect the individuality and creativity that weaves its way among us. If they comprehended the huge benefits of supporting the likes of YouTubers; Adam Sandoval or Million Dollar Bogan or embracing the countless others like yours truly who live and breath motorcycling, who work endless hours producing content focussing on a particular bike or brand…then they would be half a step closer getting themselves back in touch with the riders who made the brand a success of the past and may be the same riders who will help ensure the future prosperity of the brand also.

For those who would thrive within the independent spirit of motorcycling and find glee in creating content about adventures, bikes, biking issues manufacturer news or biking lifestyle…I salute you.

For those Harley Davidson corporate fake bikers or any other manufacturer who would actively alienate some of its best supporters out there, time and time again…shame on you!

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