Harley-Davidson’s chief executive Keith Wandell, who took over in 2009, has been working on changing the company’s image in order to attract a new customer base. They are trying to get rid of the “Geezer Glider” image that Harley has in general. Everyone knows that Harley-Davidsons appeal to a large base of baby boomers and in the past that was good for their market. But today that market is getting smaller and they wanted to appeal to a younger market. They have decided they had too many geezers and needed to change their image.
In trying to diversify their customer base Harley is expanding the types of motorcycles they have to offer. They now have a line designed to get away from the “geezer glider” perception and attract buyers in their 20s. Less bulky and less expensive, the effort to get younger has consumed millions of dollars of investment in design changes, aggressive marketing of lower-priced bikes, and a massive effort to teach thousands of aspiring bikers to operate a motorcycle. Apparently it has been working because HD now owns 48.6 percent of the market of under-35 buyers.
Although their efforts are about marketing and brand identification I suspect that this change in emphasis will also pay off in future talent acquisition efforts. At some point the older generation of workers will go away much as the older generation of customers will go away. If Harley-Davidson had not changed their image to attract a younger generation of buyers it might also not be able to attract a younger generation of employees.
So take a lesson in this. Take a look at your product images. Does it reflect “older”? If it does remember that ultimately you may have to deal with the effect this has on your ability to attract the next generation of workers. Many younger workers do not want to work for “old” companies. What can you do about it?
How about some suggestions? And I would love to have some input from Harely-Davidson HR.
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