Friday, May 31, 2013

“I’ve Gotta Have It!”

OEMs want to develop and market products that appeal to us as consumers, right? They supply genuine parts to fix our vehicles – parts that provide the machines with longevity and us with peace of mind. They come up with new accessories and add features to enhance our ownership experience. Some OEMs even offer clothing so that we can wear our pride in the brand.

What drives demand for these products? Price, quality, customer service, warranty, and functionality to name a few. However, look past these “tangibles”. What about the “intangibles”? From a retailing perspective, consumers are subject to whims and desires for products that go beyond a rational thought process. When they see a product, they think “I’ve gotta have it!”

I was recently exposed to the “I’ve gotta have it!” aspect of the aftersales business while working on-site at Harley-Davidson. Though I was only slightly acquainted with Harley products, when I walked into Harley’s historic Milwaukee headquarters, I was overwhelmed by Harley’s history and tradition. Everywhere I turned, I saw bikes, gas tanks, and other parts and accessories decorating the hallways, offices, and cubicles. Even tables were built using V-twins as legs! Nearly every employee was wearing some sort of Harley gear, and judging by the number of bikes parked outside, many were also riders. After spending significant time working on Harley projects, I became more familiar with how Harley’s culture permeates through its employees, dealers, and customer base. Without knowing it, I started to become an “I’ve gotta have it!” customer.

A bike was out of my budget, so I began looking for Harley merchandise to make me feel more connected with the brand. On my second visit to Milwaukee, I visited the Harley company store. My first reaction was surprise – the prices were higher than I expected – but then the “I’ve gotta have it!” mentality set in, and I left with some t-shirts, not only for myself, but for family and friends as well. In Boston, I visited the local Harley dealers in Faneuil Hall and Everett to get some Boston Harley-Davidson branded clothing. Now, I felt connected not only to the brand, but also to the local version of the brand. I was almost ready to quit my job, purchase a Sportster Iron 883, and ride cross-country before reality (a.k.a., my significant other) stepped in.

Finally, sitting down to drink coffee from my Harley-Davidson replica oil can mug, I reflected on what had occurred. I wasn’t a Harley customer, but I had purchased Harley products because I was swept up in the company culture and wanted to be a part of it. Imagine the earnings potential from an avid Harley rider who attends meets and rallies and has a close relationship with a local dealer? These customers are probably the “I’ve gotta have it!” types. At (almost) any price point, they are willing to purchase Harley parts, accessories, and clothing simply because they have such a strong connection to the brand. Heck, there’s even a commercial for motorcycle insurance where two riders tease a third about his noisy bike (“That sounds like a weed whacker”). The problem? The biker’s insurance company hadn’t used genuine parts to make repairs.

Of course, being a powersports company, Harley has a unique customer base compared to other OEMs. While many customers purchase vehicles for transportation or commercial use, powersports vehicles are generally discretionary purchases used for leisure. Customers make the purchase to buy into the brand and the lifestyle it represents. Nevertheless, there are “I’ve gotta have it!” customers for every brand. In agriculture, I’ve heard people say, “My family’s blood is [green/red/blue]”, referring to their chosen equipment OEM. Switching brands is like switching religions. Can you say that about your customers?

BOTTOM LINE: The ideal customer is the “I’ve gotta have it!” customer. Not every OEM is steeped in tradition or associated with a lifestyle or culture, but all OEMs should focus on selling the brand – not just a vehicle, a part, an accessory, or an item of clothing. If a customer buys the brand, he or she will likely keep coming back for more. Creating a brand identity isn’t easy, but there are certain things OEMs can do to help build one:
  • Use consistent theme colors in products and marketing campaigns to help customers associate with the brand
  • Offer a line-up of accessories so that customers can customize their vehicles and add personal touches
  • Offer various clothing items so that customers can show their brand pride in or out of the vehicle
  • Offer toys so that children can begin to associate with the brand at a young age

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