For decades, Harley-Davidson has been singled out as one of the strongest brand names—in an exclusive circle of cult brands including Apple and Mini. But how does the marketing arm of the Milwaukee, Wis.-based manufacturer drive sales leads into its 650 independent U.S. dealerships? And how has the brand parlayed its audience’s rare offline devotion into an interactive marketing success story? To address these questions, Brandweek sat down with Randy Sprenger, manager of electronic advertising and direct promotions, Harley-Davidson, where he’s been leading campaigns for the last 10 years. During that tenure, he’s had global oversight over Harley-Davidson.com, developed new business around bike enthusiasts, and, most recently, has been zeroing in on social media and mobile marketing. His efforts have helped the brand grow its Harley Owners Group to 1.2 million members. Sprenger recently spoke with writer Christopher Heine about his direct marketing strategies and techniques. Below are some excerpts:
Brandweek: A lot of people might think that Harley-Davidson skews to being an ‘offline’ brand. Is this still true?
Randy Sprenger: When you really look at it, we are truly all about the offline. We sell hardware, things that allow people to enjoy the outdoors. But we are looking to enhance that experience with the online.
BW: You launched social media initiatives last July. In particular, you now have accrued 145,904 fans at Facebook. How are you leveraging the fan application?
RS: One of the greatest advantages for social media is the voice of the customer. We’ll post a question, such as, ‘Are you in favor of darkening the bike out, blackening the bike out or shiny chrome?’ We’ll get customers to comment. It won’t be unusual to receive 300 to 500 comments. It helps us learn what people are saying outside the walls of Harley.
BW: Has your Facebook initiative grown organically or has there been a big promotional push?
RS: It has all been organic. We wanted to go to where the like-minded people are, to fish where the fish are, so to speak. We wanted to build the presence in a good way, and to let the social networking do what it naturally does.
BW: Your department, with the help of mobile agency SnapTell [based in Palo Alto, Calif.], ran a campaign last fall for the ‘V-Rod Muscle’ motorcycle that combined ads in men’s lifestyle magazines with mobile marketing. In the end, consumers could download various wallpapers for their mobile phone that featured swimsuit model Marisa Miller posing on the motorcycle. Were the results where you wanted them to be?
RS: It went really well. We’ve seen great interaction with the brand and with the advertisement. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of downloads, according to Snap-Tell and what they wanted to see. And it was a successful lead-generation campaign for us.
BW: Harley-Davidson has an incredibly strong brand. From the marketing standpoint, what is its secret?
RS: Our idea is that we are close to the customer. And we’re not just saying, ‘We are close to the customer.’ We are actually riders. We participate in events as riders. I think one of the greatest strengths is the passion and enthusiasm here at the motor company for our riders. We always want to be out, talking to them – whether it be at [big bike rallies like] Sturgis or Daytona Beach or a [local] rally. We want to shake hands with riders and hear what they have to say.
BW: What’s your favorite Harley?
RS: I am in the market for a ‘Street Glide’ right now. I had pleasure of riding one out in Las Vegas, and I rode it up to Hoover Dam. I put some miles on one out there. I like the look of it, and I really like the way it feels.