Harley-Davidson Builds Legendary Customer Loyalty on Cross-Channel and Peak Seasonal Marketing

Thunderous motorcycles roaring down an open road conjure iconic images of freedom and a thrilling allure of possibility. That is, of course, when seasonal weather permits. It is pretty tough to ride a motorcycle on icy roads, which is why motorcycle brands must especially consider peak seasonal marketing while designing effective customer engagement strategies.

Harley-Davidson is a brand built on a foundation of customer loyalty that has become almost mythical, and it considers seasonal considerations to be a crucial aspect of cross-channel marketing success.

During a session at Oracle’s Modern Marketing Experience conference in Las Vegas, Aaron Ormond, head of Customer Lifecycle Management at Harley-Davidson, discussed how the American motorcycle manufacturer sets itself up for cross-channel success with consumer-focused plans that target customer engagement during key seasons.

The session titled, Driving Results in Peak Marketing Seasons: Learn Key Secrets to Drive Cross-Channel Success, also focused on how seasonal peak marketing strategies are a critical consideration for almost every brand, regardless of their thoughts on the weather.

“On the things that really help drive what Harley-Davidson does across all marketing channels is the company’s purpose,” Ormond explained. “That is, that Harley-Davidson fulfills dreams and personal freedom. Literally everything we do at the motor company ladders up to this. If it doesn’t, we don’t do it.”

This philosophy drives the overarching marketing reach of the brand, which also ties directly into seasonal strategies.

Chris Wilson, strategic consultant with Oracle Marketing Cloud, was also on hand to talk about peak seasonal marketing and how this related to other industries. In addition to the actual seasons, it also applies to holidays. But most importantly, a peak “season” can be any point in time that is critical for business success, including unique brand events, which can vary greatly between industries.

“The way I like to approach planning for peak seasons is to divide things into three buckets that I can focus on, and then really connect the dots to bring these pieces together,” Wilson said.

1) Historical Benchmarks:

Since a lot of peak seasons are cyclical, Wilson recommended first looking at things brands have done in the past to gauge where they might want to go in the future. This provides opportunities to assess what worked and what didn’t, study what the competition potentially did, and identify areas that can be improved.

2) Identifying Consumer Benchmarks:

Specially, Wilson detailed a number of core categorical questions that can help elucidate this process. When do consumers being to think about holidays? At what time have they historically begun to take action? What mindset do the customers find themselves in, and does that change during peak seasons? Do they respond differently during different times of the year? Are there any overarching trends that can be identified or incremental shifts noticeable?

To further help this analysis, Wilson suggested harnessing the power of various marketing tools. These include Google trends to see where the spikes in key words happen, consumer research studies from independent agencies, competitive analyses, and internal brand research.

3) Brand Events: 

This “bucket” centers on the defined details and ultimate objectives including dates, locations, products, prices and everything that can impact the strategy. This also includes appropriate customer segments. Since not every customer will be equally engaged with every event, it is important to consider a customer segmented strategy that efficiently maximizes value and customer engagement.

“This past holiday Harley-Davidson took this methodology and matched up these three historical benchmarks,” Ormond said. “We considered the key days, what we had done in the past, what had been the results, the consumer behaviors, and what we needed to do from a business standpoint. And we were able to put together a great plan that capitalized on each of these initiatives to very successfully see a 15% increase in year-over-year revenue.”

The Methodological Framework

Wilson first stressed automation, which creates the ability to do much more with less. Automation also allows brands to hone in on real-time customer interests, create an array of targeted and personalized content, and drive incremental results in a very timely manner.

The second part of the framework focused on cross-channel mobile. This is a growing area of focus for marketers as greater segments of the population are now relying mobile devices and digital platforms.

Wilson offered some numbers that highlighted the importance of these channels, especially MMS and SMS. Most consumers (70%) have said they would like to receive mobile offers. And 64% of those that do receive such mobile offers have made a purchase after receiving a relevant message. What’s more, SMS coupons are 10 times more likely to be redeemed over those sent exclusively via email.

Regardless of these positive indicators, Harley-Davidson had been historically hesitant to dive into the marketing realms of SMS and MMS. But once it found the right opportunity, the successful results were undeniable.

The Road Glide

Despite being discontinued, the Road Glide was a popular touring bike that still had a strong loyal customer following. And unbeknownst to consumers, clandestine plans were in the works to reintroduce the model. Harley-Davidson devised a strategy to unveil the new 2014 Road Glide at Sturgis, an event that draws almost half a million motorcycle enthusiasts to the town every year. This was an enormous seasonal event. And Harley wanted to engage this devote customer base and drawn their enthusiasm into the campaign.

Two weeks before the event, Harley-Davidson emailed about 80,000 Road Glide owners and asked if they were heading to Sturgis. If so, Harley-Davidson also asked if they were interested in participating in a special event and requested their phone numbers.

“So the night before the big reveal, of which they had no idea, we sent them a very simple text,” Ormond said. “It said, ‘big announcement tomorrow. Meet us at the Tin Lizzie Casino parking lot.’”

Only that specific customer segment of Road Glide riders was targeted.

“So they met us and we unveiled the new Road Glide just for them,” Ormond said. “We wanted them to be a part of this dramatic reveal before 400,000 rabid motorcyclists in downtown Sturgis.”

This was followed by a giant parade where the Road Gliders were invited to ride downtown side-by-side with the legendary Harley-Davidson. Video was captured and an entire social media campaign titled, “It’s Back,” used the hash tag #RoadGlide to extend the campaign’s life even further.

This customer engagement tactic brought the offline and the online worlds together and leveraged SMS to personally connect with a passionate consumer segment during an extremely relevant time period for the brand.

That’s peak seasonal and cross-channel customer engagement marketing done right.

That’s how Harley-Davidson does it.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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