This weekend, I was helping out a friend who needed to pick up his motorcycle which had been in for repairs. We had a pleasant ride out to the dealership, discussing various life dreams and struggles, when all of a sudden I unexpectedly found myself in the midst of a cult temple.
This was no ordinary dealership. It was the shrine of Harley-Davidson.
I was surrounded by people who were speaking a certain dialect: Harlean. Technical terms about engines and models and paint colors were tossed about with a mix of both profanity and reverence. Uniforms (mostly black Harley t-shirts), symbols (lots of tatoos), and a certain swagger of the elite were all in vogue. You see, these people were not mere motorcyclists. They were Harley owners.
Over lunch, I discussed my reaction with my friend. He laughed, realizing that the Harley rider community was, indeed, cult-like. I had heard in the past that this was the case in Harley-land, but this was my first visit to one of the temples. As I saw the two-wheeled icons on display, and watched the evident brand attachment in the eyes and voices of the owners, it reinforced something that had been brewing for years in my mind. Brand advocacy isn’t always the highest goal to shoot for. You really want to create a cult.
You want people to feel like they’ve found “it.” That they are now part of a special association, an elite, the kind that freely exchanges the secret wave when they pass each other on the highway. You want folks who pull up to a bar or club anywhere in the world, and fellow cult members immediately start a conversation about the icon and their experience of it. You want people who will pay more for the brand t-shirt, who will proudly wear the brand tattoo, who will boast about the apparent advantages of the brand – and you want outsiders to jealously wish they could be part of the club.
You want full alignment with your tagline. These owners really do Ride to Live, and Live to Ride.
I was informed that there are even special edition red Harleys for firefighters, and special blue ones for police personnel. My friend explained to me some of the sub-groups – denominations, as it were – within the Harley cult, but the common denominator was: fierce attachment.
My guess is that Harley has managed to tap into certain aspects of the American psyche – the yearning to chuck it all behind, hit the road, make noise, and show the rest of the world that you fully intend to be free. Other cults latch onto different mindsets. Those who are part of the tree-hugging and latte cult aren’t likely to be Harley buyers, but that’s just fine – they can hop into their Priuses to visit the recycling center and gather to compare Obama and Hillary. Harley riders will roar down the highway to parking lots and rallies anywhere and gather to compare chrome and engines.
I’m not a motorcycle rider (yet?). I feel like quite an outsider in the Harley temple. But I know great marketing and branding when I see it and feel it, and these guys have nailed it big time. Do you have a plan for creating, not just a marketing campaign, but an out-and-out cult?
(Image credit: Harley sign)