Mark Hans-Richer Electrifies Harley's Brand Mission

Harley-Davidson is has been in expansion mode. In addition to populating the Dark Custom lineup with products like Night Train, Cross Bones, and Iron 883, the company recently did its biggest-ever product launch, with new motorcycles and new technology under the aegis of a program called Project Rushmore. There’s the forthcoming Street lineup, comprising smaller displacement bikes. And it is testing the waters with something completely different: an electric motorcycle called Project LiveWire. 

The company, which is taking a fleet of the bikes to 30 markets this year, kicked off the tour at Harley-Davidson's Tribeca store in New York City, where riders got to tool around on the bike, and where Marketing Daily caught up with SVP and chief marketer Mark-Hans Richer. 

Q: So the obvious question: why are you making an electric motorcycle? It's a tiny market.

A: I guess it's to decide what the future can be and help people define it. Take a step forward to advance that. It's obviously not a huge market right now, but we can see the potential of people being into this type of expression of the Harley-Davidson brand. It's skunkworks stuff in the basement of the project development workshop in Milwaukee. And it's been pretty fun to watch and help create. 

Q: Are you using it to evolve what Harley-Davidson represents from a brand-purpose perspective?

A: It's every bit about our brand purpose, which is about personal freedom. This is just another way of expressing that. And it's not an effort to try to bring a whole new kind of customer in. Right now, we are the number-one seller of motorcycles to young adults and have been for six years, and that share has grown every year for six years as well. We are the number-one seller to Hispanics, African-Americans, and women all the same time. So as we expand the idea of what Harley can be, we can reach people within all of those groups who maybe aren't thinking about motorcycling today, or what they can experience through Harley-Davidson. So [Project LiveWire] might help get more people thinking about getting on two wheels and expressing themselves through our brand. 

Q: How is owner base changing for Harley and is it driven by the Dark Custom bikes versus traditional motorcycles like Softail and Street Glide?

A: Well, the top-selling Harley-Davidson or motorcycle of any size to young adults is the Street Glide, and that's a $19,000 bike; that tells me that cliches around young adults -- who they are and what they want, and how much money they have -- is a silly thing from a marketing perspective. And yet this generation rides more Harleys than when Boomers were young adults. Given a similar-sized population we sell more motorcycles today to this generation than to the Boomers when they were young adults. 

Q: How have you changed your marketing and media strategy?

A: We have stopped advertising one way to everyone and have tried to segment our approach to customers more legitimately. So we approach the young adult male and what it means to be more free and more yourself differently than, say, when we are talking to women. It's getting to same place, but coming at it from a different perspective. It's less one-size-fits-all, even though at the end, it’s the same conclusion. 

Q: Have you abandoned the core customer in terms of marketing communications as you focus on new riders? 

A: Project Rushmore came out last year and that was almost entirely core-customer focused. But we aren't a big media spender. Only about 15% of our marketing budget is invested in major media; the rest is experiential and event based, so if people say I haven't seen Harley-Davidson advertising it's not necessarily a bad thing. We focus on the experience.

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