Business growth planning: managing the Harley-Davidson way

by | Business Success Tools

It’s hard to believe that Harley-Davidson, the only major American company in the global motorcycle market – and one that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – almost went out of business. By the early 1980s, Japanese manufacturers had flooded the U.S. market with high quality, low priced bikes and Harley was not prepared to compete.

But what a difference a few years can make. A new management team put a major restructuring plan in place, and – thanks to this business growth planning – the company went on to achieve 20 consecutive years of profitability and record earnings. Not bad for a company that at one point had been faced with the prospect of being forced to sell out to a foreign competitor.

There were dozens of components to the Harley makeover, and numerous books and case studies have been written about the turnaround. But at the center of the Harley strategy was a customer-focused approach to running the company.

Rather than just concentrating on operations and sales, the company put emphasis on creating a sense of community – a brand community – with its customers.

A brand community, where customers are linked by their liking of a particular company or product (think Harley-Davidson, Apple, and Starbucks), can solidify customer loyalty, reduce marketing costs, and even become a source of new ideas and innovations for your business.

Building Your Brand Community

Maybe your products or services aren’t as trendy or edgy as Apple’s or Harley’s. But the good news is you don’t need household name recognition to benefit from the strategies that can build a brand community. Here are a few business brand strategy ideas.

Engage at a High Level. Harley stays aware of changing customer needs through a process called “super-engagement.” As part of this program, company executives ride with customers on a regular basis and get to hear their feedback directly.

Your company probably doesn’t have Harley’s built-in advantage of letting your managers share that kind of adrenalin rush with your customers, but there are other business brand strategy methods to make customers feel engaged and important.

  • You can schedule regular client feedback forums or focus groups. Take serious note of customer issues and have a high-level executive follow up with the questioner.
  • Invite customers to your facility for lunch and a tour. Ask for feedback on what they observe. Invite them back if you have used any of their suggestions.
  • Ask a valued customer to co-author with you an article for an industry trade magazine.
  • Invite customers to comment on service or product offerings very early in the planning process.

Remember the 80/20 Rule. It varies by industry but, for the most part, 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers. Start with your top clients when putting together a plan for building customer relations.

  • Consider special programs or incentives for valuable, long-term customers. Make sure the rewards are valuable and appreciated.
  • Be a “connector.” Harley customers are part of a unique “brotherhood” and “sisterhood.” Again, that’s hard to duplicate in most businesses, but do you have clients that might mutually benefit by meeting each other? Arrange an introduction , or consider hosting large-scale networking events.

Use the Internet. As part of your business brand strategy, update your website regularly with information that can be useful to your customers and solicit feedback.

  • Don’t always sell! Concentrate on providing content that can make your customer more successful.
  • Consider an outbound e-letter that gives your best clients industry information. Ask for feedback on the articles.
  • If your company has helped a customer reach a production, sales, or other milestone, ask for permission to profile the experience on your site. Send a press release to media outlets that might have an interest.

Say Thanks! There are many ways to do this, but so few companies take the time.

  • Harley-Davidson sends “birthday cards,” along with a thank you coupon, to its customers on the anniversary of their bike’s purchase.
  • Loyal customers are invited to dealerships to test drive new models with no obligation or expectation of a sale.

There’s probably a way to show similar appreciation to your customers as part of your business brand strategy. A sincere thank you can go a long way.

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