35 motorcycles, 7 model lines, 4 chassis, 3 motor families, & 1 market segment, that’s Harley-Davidson’s product line by the numbers. Where many large production motorcycle companies might have 30 or so motorcycles that span the entire gamut of motorcycling’s different sub-markets, Harley-Davidson has put all of its eggs in the heavy cruiser market. This singular pursuit of one market segment has not only been the cause for Harley’s success, but also a significant contributing factor to the company’s recent downfall, which has led to a recently rumored leveraged buyout.
As the old idiom goes, one should not put all their eggs in one basket, which is exactly the faux pas being committed here by Harley-Davidson in its product offering. Businesses, especially public ones, should always have an eye on sustained long-term growth, and a key element to that goal is a well-diversified position in their appropriate industry. Taking this lens and applying it to Harley-Davidson, one can immediately see a portfolio that has been extensively mismanaged by focusing on only one segment of the total motorcycle industry: the heavy cruiser market.
What this has effectively created is a motorcycle company that looks like Alfred Hitchcock’s take on Baskin Robins: 31 flavors, but they’re all Rocky Road.
Blasphemy, heresy, stupidity, sacrilege, un-American, and downright irreverence. Go ahead, get all those words out of your system. I’ll wait.
The default opinion of marketers, analysts, and the general population is that Harley-Davidson has one of the strongest brands in the United States, this being confirmed by the fact that every business student in America has studied Harley’s marketing efforts if they’ve ever taken a brand management course. So why would I start a three-part series on how to fix Harley-Davidson by arguing to change one of the most revered marketing houses in the motorcycle industry?
Giving credit where credit is due, Harley-Davidson, or I should say its admirers in business school academia, wrote the book on demand generation marketing geared towards the baby-boomer generation. However, in defending this market position, Harley-Davidson has painted itself into a corner by only engaging a very small segment of the population with its product. Unless they redefine and reposition their company image and who it resonates with, Harley-Davidson is going to watch the continued erosion of its footing in the motorcycle industry, and also the continued deterioration of its only industry leading quality: its brand.