Posts Tagged ‘O’Guinn & Muniz


Harley, human behavior and Saab

Believe it or not, in the mid 1980’s, Harley-Davidson was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Founded in 1917, Harley flourished during World War I as the first motorcycle to be broadly adopted for combat services.  By the 1970’s, the design had remained basically unchanged. The bikes were expensive and far inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles.  The brand name was mocked as “Hardly Able.”

But, as the Harvard Business Review tells it, after examining every aspect of their business, “Harley management recognized the brand had developed as a ‘community-based phenomenon.’  The ‘brotherhood’ of riders, united by a shared ethos, offered Harley the basis for a strategic repositioning as the one motorcycle manufacturer that understood bikers on their own terms.”

Executives were required to spend time in the field with customers and bring their insights back to the firm.  What they discovered, after looking at everything, was the company’s most valuable asset and future was its advocates.

In the early 2000’s, with their landmark study on brand communities, Thomas O’Guinn and Alfred Muniz concluded it’s part of our DNA as human beings to share our brand experiences with others, especially if they’re favorable.  Maybe that’s why 4 out of 5 people write positive reviews online (source: Groundswell).

Today, one of the more visible manifestations of Harley’s comeback is a brand community called  Here, Harley owners share pictures, their vacations, jokes, where to get hard to find parts, buy and sell Harleys and 7 Harley mechanics are online.

It’s a community of over 26,500 built by Harley loyalists, not the company, and maintained entirely with user-generated content.  And they welcome every new member by name, including their newest, SpyDer Monkey.  The brand community is a negligible marketing expense and a major source of business vitality.

Do you think Saab could have concluded the same thing?  And, if they had taken similar steps at the right time, might things have been different? Do you know the value of your advocates and steps you could be taking to nurture and show appreciation for the backbone of your brand?


March 2019
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