Harley-Davidson Invites Cognitive Dissonance

Harley-Davidson is probably close on the heels of Apple as one of the brands most cited as an admirably authentic brand, with people who aren’t merely customers purchasing product, but rather fans evangelizing and incorporating/reflecting the brand into every aspect of their being…

…and employees/executives who walk the walk and talk the talk.

True cred all around. But Harley-Davidson is a bit of a schizophrenic brand. It’s impressive that the brand is able to credibly support two sets of core customers who seem like they would be at best uncomfortable with each other: hard-core lifestyle biker dudes and chicks (anti-establishment, subculture) and weekend-warrior gentlemen or gentlewomen hobbyists (well-to-do, mainstream).

Across from the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee sits a new high-end boutique hotel to draw motorcycle enthusiasts. The Iron Horse clearly caters to the income bracket of the weekend-warrior…

…but holds bike events there that celebrate and attract hard-core bikers. These pictures, courtesy of Stefanie Norvaisas, were taken at a recent “Bike Night” at the Iron Horse.

Then again, perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe there’s more overlap between these two types of “users” than just looking at the extreme points of the scale would suggest. So often we think we have the customer figured out only to have those assumptions shaken up after a bit of fieldwork. It’s easier to pigeonhole and design for one imagined (probably exaggerated) type of customer, or persona. Harley-Davidson has shown that by celebrating the blurry lines between customer types a brand can invite strange but surprisingly comfortable bedfellows.

See Also:

  • Steve discusses Harley in Interactions magazine. Ships in the Night (Part I): Design without Research


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