By restoring Harley-Davidson’s proud image and creating demand for its motorcycles, Ken helped to turn around the company’s ailing fortunes. His obvious passion for the product helped revitalise and reinvigorate a true American institution making it a global brand. Ken describes how any business can strengthen their brand with passion, a new culture and a focus on employee and customer loyalty. His philosophy: “Never do what’s expected. You need to make yourself as noticeably different as possible.”
One of the most in-demand business speakers and communications consultants in the US, Ken Schmidt is the former Director of Communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Company. He played a major role in turning the company around, with a focus on the history and values of an all-American company that became a global brand.
Ken’s expertise in corporate positioning and media relations played a pivotal role in one of the most celebrated turnarounds in corporate history. As Ken describes, Harley was a company that had become complacent with their 90% share of a niche market. Other, newer, cheaper motorcycles entered and stole Harley’s market share. A price war emerged that Harley lost, bankrupting the company. Ken was at the forefront of repositioning the business both as a manufacturer and a brand. After producing a great product no-one bought, Ken knew something more fundamental was needed. The company started to reconnect with its lost customers, but that still wasn’t enough. What was needed was a root and branch change in the company.
Ken describes and lengthy, difficult learning curve Harley underwent. The triumphs, hopes, expectations, disappointments and ultimately the trial and error that was needed to finally create a brand that was both loved and respected. He looks at how a brand is not just a logo, or even a consumer reaction, but an ‘experience’ that flows through employees, product, retailer, image and customer. An avid motorcyclist himself, Ken recounts his other struggle to restore Harley-Davidson’s image from the dirty, unloved world of bikers to high-end aspirational product, re-igniting consumer demand.
Now an independent consultant, he has specialised in marketing and branding issues for companies including Coca-Cola and IBM. As in his book Make Noise: The Unconventional Road of Dominance, he details how successful corporate cultures must maintain relationships with veteran customers, turn them into passionate fans, and innovatively pursue new ones, as well as the vital importance of doing the unexpected.
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Schmidt: Driving Change at Harley