The Motorcycle Man and the Why

The Motorcycle Man and the Why
Ken Schmidt of Harley Davidson does not lack for energy - I learned this last week at a Canon conference where he keynoted. His narrative was on Harley Davidson being on the verge of bankruptcy in 1985 because Harley had lost all sense of why people buy their motorcycles and instead tried to play the specs game; Harley versus Honda, Harley versus Yamaha, as the logic engine to buy. The problem was that Honda makes world class everything, even according to Ken, and their very similar bikes cost half that of a Harley.

So, they were hours from bankruptcy then but today they are north of 6 billion in revenue, 36% gross margin and over 267,000 bikes sold annually. What happened?

Lean production was brought in?  Was that it?  Nope, says Ken, it was story.

It was the understanding that in order to be part of the Harley Davidson story, that specific community - someone had to hear a friend tell their Harley story – stories of how their expectations were exceeded, not by a little but a lot. First at the dealership and then stories on how great it was to be part of the tribe, to be in that specific club, and in sub-text the validation that they are (unconsciously) seeking, as we all are, being fulfilled… by buying a Harley.

 Validation that can occur as easily as revving the engine (loudly) while at a stoplight, quite probably intended to annoy.   That great roaring engine sound is code for “look at me.”

Ken also talked about the genius of the phrase, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Absolutely everyone knows this catch phrase, it is both instructional and a huge lie. Las Vegas relies completely on the total opposite. If you get back from Vegas and no stories are told it could only mean you had a terrible time. Vegas understands, just like Harley Davidson, that no stories told means no demand is built.

The irony of Ken’s presentation – as great as it was – was that it immediately followed ninety minutes of Canon executives from all over the world presenting to their re-sellers on how Canon quality, specs, speeds and feeds could trump Fujitsu and other market share leaders. So I am not completely sure how much they loved Ken’s exclamation of “everyone has great quality now and making your bones on just that is a killer.”

Admittedly a story on Canon scanners or even document management is not as sexy as motorcycles or Vegas. But it can be done. It needs to be about your “Why” and your people and how you help to validate those who have chosen you…how they feel about being in your club. But if you doubt it can be done check out our customer stories in our IOS videos on our website.

So yes, Vroom  Vroom…look at IOS.

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