Whatever: Brand Loyalty

“If you want a friend in this world, get a dog.”
—Harry S. Truman
Is there an inverse relationship to talking about achieving things and actually doing them? Sometimes that seems to be the case across the whole range of human endeavor.
Once upon a time, say 2006, a tiny motorcycle company introduced a V-twin powered ADV bike that was a big hit with its owners. For the sake of the exercise, let’s call it the Buell Ulysses. There was a little fanfare but not much. Some people, including the great motojournalist Peter Egan, still own and love these things. Of course, tons of other people who’d never ridden a Buell trashed the bike immediately for either a) not being a real Harley or b) because it was a real Harley. Mr. B had a tough row to hoe.
Twelve years later and, just about one-score-and five years after the launch of the BMW R1100 GS that really started the whole modern ADV era, here comes another manufacturer boldly into the game, whose “vast capabilities and competitive firepower – excellence in product development and manufacturing” are going to “lead to the next revolution of two-wheeled freedom to inspire future riders who have yet to even think about the thrill of riding.”
Wow. That’s quite a ringing endorsement of one’s own abilities, and I wish Harley-Davidson the best. But I sometimes think they’d be better off spending a bit less on public relations and a bit more on R&D. The last time I was this excited, the Street Rod was a big disappointment. And if I understood correctly, that’s because the engineers were suffering through a Milwaukee winter while the test riders were in Texas. Beats me, really, but sometimes smaller is better. It’s not even a size thing, really; it’s a hiring really good test riders and engineers and valuing-their-opinions thing when you start competing in pre-existing market categories against the world’s best.
I think the new Pan America 1250 looks pretty sweet, in a Futurama way, but my friend James says it looks like Garry Shandling humped a dust buster. What? (Photoshop by Guccifer 2.0)
H-D’s brand loyalty has been legendary, but I fear when the Motor Company starts branching out into modern DOHC liquid-cooled naked and ADV bikes, it’s going to start bumping into some very well dug-in, highly experienced professionals fighting on their own ground, a new battlefield where brand loyalty is almost meaningless, where what have you done for me lately, along with the bottom line, are the only things that matter. You MO commenters know who you are; you’re happy to buy anything from Triumph to Suzuki to Ducati if it fits your needs and your bank account.
By the grace of God yours truly happens to be in the position of never needing to buy new motorcycles (knock on wood), but I do have to buy new four-wheel vehicles on rare occasions. When I do, my favored brand is the nicest used thing that depreciated the quickest. Hence, I am on my second secondhand Jaguar – but I could just as easily go Chevrolet, AMC Gremlin or Oldsmobile if the price was right.
My Dad had an AMC Ambassador, maybe I want one of them? What? $12,000? Let’s move on.
Where does brand loyalty come from in the modern age? Is it that there are too many choices, so it’s easier to pick one and stick with it? Go with what your Mom rode? Is it like politics? Switching brands would be to admit your entire lineage is deficient because your great Granddad voted for Herbert Hoover twice? Guys who buy sports cars just want what’s fastest and tend to pay the most alimony. People who buy pickup trucks, we’re told, are among the most brand loyal and more likely to also have a motorcycle in the garage and a desire to stand their ground.
Is it interesting to compare politics to buying habits? In our age of information overload and the 24-hour news cycle, allegiance to one big party or the other seems to be more ingrained in people than ever. You either hate on Obama and Hillary or you loathe on President Trump, with almost no crossover no matter what shocking revelation the latest news or Tweet may or may not bring, because there’s too much information to sort through. The few hardbitten types who hate on Obama, Hillary and Trump are the people you see still driving Pintos with singed Ron Paul bumper stickers. They’re all crooks! Could you extinguish my hair, please?
Harley lovers and haters are also pretty stratified, with only a few of us bipartisan MO sophisticates to occupy the middle ground. Hats off to Harley-Davidson, then, for reaching right across the aisle with these new bikes, which are not designed to appeal to H-D’s base nearly as much as they are to not interrupt the base’s nap while the Motor Company steps off into uncharted territory. Well, it’s well-charted, in fact, but not by Harley. There will always be a place for the Electra Glide in every red-blooded American’s heart, and with the lack of widespread enthusiasm for its recent small-bike offerings, it would’ve been easy enough for H-D to withdraw from the world, keep stamping out Glides, and ride its dwindling market share into the sunset. Which was pretty much the course set by H-D’s previous CEO.
We all wanted to love the new Street Rod last July. Alas…
By dint of their being “our” domestic manufacturer and because their product has always been, ahhh, unique, we’ve always cut H-D a little bit of slack for doing things its own charming way – and the rest of the world has always indulged them a bit too – an eccentric redneck uncle from the Colonies. That’s all about to come to an end starting in 2020. With no chrome or polished spokes to redeem it, if Harley’s new 975 Streetfighter can’t keep pace with a ten-year old Suzuki SV1000, what then? BMW’s R1200 GS is one of the most highly refined, best loved bikes on the planet. How many years will we – never mind the rest of the world – give H-D’s all-new Pan American 1250 to close the gap? What are the chances of the Pan America being that good right out of the gate?
Harley’s marketing department is working the social media like crazy and pulling all the levers it can to dispel the brand’s graybeard image and convert the youngsters, who might care a bit more about branding than performance. But the more experience those kids get, the more they might agree with graham111, who commented yesterday, “I love me some H-D, but anyone shopping for a performance offering cares less that it says BMW/Aprilia/Yamaha on it, and more that it can bend space and time. I hope they don’t offer 80% of the competition and expect the name to cover the other 20.”
The only thing Harley’s press release doesn’t say it’s investing heavily in going forward is the engineering department. When the new bikes roll out in a year-and-a-half, the Motor Company will literally be putting its money where its excellent marketing-department mouth is now, and then the people (many of them in Europe, is the hope, and later in Asia and India) will vote with their Euros and rupees. It will be time to walk the walk. If H-D pulls it off, it’s going to be great for all concerned. Then Indian will have to step it up with the snowmobile-engined two-stroke streetfighter I’m waiting for. And what’s next? The possibilities are mind-boggling. Jared Mees on a Harley-Davidson MotoGP bike? Why not?
Well, of course we at MO wish our friends in Milwaukee the absolute best, for personal, patriotic and even monetary reasons (sometimes they advertise on MO), and lots of luck. They’re going to need it.
We really do live in interesting times. Godspeed, H-D! Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. Anything at all.
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Source: All Bikes news one

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