Keeping the motto alive – Live to Ride & Ride to Live.

A shift in consumer tastes has led Harley Davidson, one of the world’s leading motorcycle companies, to expand and open their doors to a new target market, tackling the rugged-rider stereotype against new generation of buyers. Harley Davidson is one of the many iconic legacy brands who prioritize themselves on a focused differentiation. They are one of the world’s most recognized brands who have positioned their image against others, in a way that is meaningful to their consumers. Their promise is freedom and community, and their customers seek this promise in their everyday lives. The strategy behind differentiating a brand is to stand out and be one of a kind. Not only is differentiation the idea of being unique, it is also an aspiration to deliver a promise that appeals to something which is hard to find in the current market or attracts a specific target market that seems untapped.

Harley Davidson has appealed to the freedom-seeking rebels for decades, but in recent times the market has been falling behind, and being a differentiated brand seems to no longer work from a financial point of view. The long endured stereotype about the motorcycle brand is due for a transition, leaving Harley no other choice but to enforce a strategic new take on their brand image and reposition themselves in the market. Brand perception is key – what do you perceive when the brand name Harley Davidson comes to mind? Most likely a 50-something year old, white male, tattooed, leather-clad road hog. Harley has once upon a time advertised the words “here for you during that midlife crisis” in one of their campaigns – reinforcing the idea that the brand is catered to elder males. The current market is too heavy in this area and they cannot rely on those kinds of customers forever.


This is why the brand is in the process of a repositioning – a necessary change in order to keep up with the consumers wants and needs. Transcending gender and transcending the norms, Harley is gunning for the younger adults and revving to appeal to the female market alike – something very new for the mostly male-oriented brand. How will they attract females? With shorter to reach handle bars, and a newer version of the “ultra-low” bike, as well as narrower grips, making it easier for the female body to ride. Harley has repeatedly claimed they are trying to “build riders”, causing them to seek and develop the interest of younger riders. Who are these customers? Perhaps college campus students, born in the 90’s, who will be making money spanning over the next generation of Harley – a generation that will last around 5-8 years, as most motorcycles do.

This is because Harley Davidson is a premium brand, and they need to appeal to those who will be able to afford their products. There is also little to no cultural baggage for this market, as many experienced riders are too exposed to the brand and its original target, whereas the younger crowds are not. There is speculation that Harley is losing their target market, but in the long run, it does not make sense to continue to maintain a specific target. If you keep doing the same thing, you cannot expect different results. Amongst all these changes, Harley is keeping a very important aspect intact – their brand values.

The idea of keeping bikes, not getting rid of them when they are old, and passing them on from generation to generation, is something Harley has stood by for years. They intend on maintaining their promising ideal of fulfilling dreams of personal freedom and self-expression.

How is Harley Davidson going to draw back the enthusiasm? The all-American motorcycle brand has announced their plans for four brand new models due to be launched in 2020-2021, positioning them to compete in new segments – from muddy adventure bikes to electric motorcycles. The new models will be known as the Live Wire, an all-electric motorcycle, the Pan America, an off-road adventure bike, the Streetfighter, a sportier type of Harley, and the Custom, a new take on the classic look for a newer generation – the only one that resembles the conventional Harley. Out with the old, in with the new.

From an investor’s point of view, the numbers are down, 12 percent in the first quarter of 2017 to be exact, and the brand has not resonated with the younger motorcycle rider crowd, leaving them in a tough spot for the future. The recent E.U. tariffs placed on U.S-made motorcycles have hit Harley hard – a 25 percent tariff, in response to the Trump administration’s tariffs on aluminium and steel exports from Europe to the United States. There is also a critical need to capture the hearts of the new, younger riders, different from their usual standards, and embrace the ways of the future. According to Harley’s product planning director, Paul James, the brand is reaching for the 18-34 year old customers.

For non-riders, Harley is motorcycling. In keeping with this perception, the new take on positioning is somehow differentiating themselves from their own initial point of differentiation. They are taking the stereotype and throwing it aside, replacing it with the image of muddy bikes, rashed knee pads, and plugging extension cords – real motorcycling. This transition is going to help the non-motorcyclist easily covert to a motorcyclist, removing the fear and pressure of disapproval, and making riding easily attainable to the people. Keeping their motto alive – live to ride and ride to live. What do you think about this shift in brand image and positioning? Do you believe Harley Davidson will always maintain their image of differentiation? Leave a comment below if you agree with their new stance.

Brand Lounge is an award-winning branding consultancy and partner of Trout and Partners in the region. We have the unique ability to help you uncover your brand’s point of differentiation. Whether you own an existing business or want to open a new business, you need to be aware that everything you put in will affect the outcome. At Brand Lounge, we specialize in experience branding. Through differentiation and by using our strategy-led methodology, we will assist you in reaching your ultimate business goals. Contact us if you have any branding concerns at

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