PODCAST: Harley-Davidson Goes Old-School to Lure New Customers

Sarah Steimer
AMA Podcast
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Key Takeaways

​What? Harley-Davidson and others in the industry are looking to expand their aging fanbase.

So what? As of 2014, the portion of U.S. motorcycle riders 50 or older was close to half.

Now what? The motorcycle industry needs to appeal to younger customers and those overseas, providing wider option of bikes for first-timers interested in experiences.

​Dec. 11, 2017

In an effort to draw a broader fanbase, Harley-Davidson releases smaller, 1960s-style bikes aimed at first-time riders

Motorcycle sales in the U.S. peaked at 716,268 in 2006 and fell to 371,403 new bikes in 2016, with the demographic of buyers growing older with time.

In an effort to combat these trends, the industry has been offering more bikes designed for first-time riders, according to Bloomberg, with smaller, lighter and more affordable options that could compare with rides from the 1960s. These new bikes are part of an effort to appeal to more millennials, who are said to be more interested in experiences than products—an easy rider-esque lifestyle.

Harley-Davidson has a goal of releasing 100 new bikes by 2027, including ones that appeal to a broader audience. Most recently, the company released the Sport Glide, featuring the iconic Harley batwing shape, but in a more compact and sporty package. The bike is also meant to appeal to overseas customers, according to Product Portfolio Manager Paul James, because of its ability to navigate twistier roads that are common in other countries.

“This is for people who aspire to Harley but didn’t see anything in the catalog that was just right for them,” James says of the Sport Glide.

The company is also looking to capitalize on the excitement around its 115th anniversary in 2018, with nine 2018 limited-edition bikes to commemorate the celebrations.


 All for Freedom. Freedom for All.


The Answers in Action podcast spoke with Heather Malenshek, vice president of global marketing and brand at Harley-Davidson, about the company's focus on freedom, along with plans for its 115th year and beyond.

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Author Bio:

Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.
Add A Comment :

Displaying 24 Comments
Shivani Naik
March 16, 2018

Because Harley Davidson's brand image has been set in stone for about 115 years now, what are some marketing tactics that can be used to form the brand image to the likes of millennials?

March 16, 2018

Very insightful podcast. I’m curious how Harley-Davidson will be able to change the brand image to attract younger generations. I definitely agree that the experiential marketing strategy would go a long way. As a millennial myself, I can only agree that I would be more interested in the experience rather than the product itself. I would want to see what I can do with the bike, where it is going and what opportunities it brings with it. Although I also have typical stereotypes about the brand (old people, tattoos, beards, etc.), a branding focus on freedom, bringing people together and travel would probably make me want to consider looking into the brand.

March 17, 2018

I am also interested in the specific ways that Harley-Davidson plans to market to younger generations, especially since they are not trying to directly focus on the segment of the millennials, but are also trying to capture--or recapture-- people that may have gone away from the brand a bit, but could come back. I also find it interesting how the company is still trying to expand its brand to other places that may be unfamiliar with Harley-Davidson, even though motorcycle sales has gone done significantly.

March 20, 2018

I think it would be a smart move for Harley Davidson to launch their line of bikes for under $12,000. It's especially important if they are trying to reach the younger millennial generation that might be "strapped for cash". Marketing to a younger audience could be beneficial, even if they don't purchase at this moment in time, because years later they may find themselves as the stereotypical Harley consumer. It's important to capture them so that your brand stays in the back of their mind. Great podcast!

March 20, 2018

I found interesting that millennials described Harley Davidson as a brand for old people, men with tattoos, bandanas and leather because as a millennials I would also describe the people buying the Harley's motorcycles the same way. I think it is interesting that Harley wants to evolved and reach out another generation and I think that the experiential marketing they are doing is the good thing for them to evolved. I am curious about the exact price of the motorcycles dedicated to millennials because they don't have as much money as older people. I also found interesting that they want to market overseas in order to grow.

March 20, 2018

Great podcast! It's great to see that a successful 115 year old company conducts research about their consumers to make sure they are continually understanding their market. As a millennial, I also see the traditional Harley Davidson rider as a bearded, older, male; but, I definitely think marketing the sensory experiential components of the ride will appeal to the younger crowd. By changing the marketing technique towards a more value oriented strategy, it could definitely change the way consumers visualize the "Harley Davidson rider." I'm interested to see how Harley Davidson's future campaigning will satisfy millennials and their core market cohesively.

March 21, 2018

The topic of Harley Davidson and their relationship with millennials was more surprising than I thought. To hear that the sales of Harley's aren't as big with the younger generation is sad but not surprising. More millennials are focusing on saving money and convenience, so buying a Harley isn't practical for the generation focusing on those two aspects. Being a millennial in the Bay Area, using ride sharing apps, BART and carpooling are most ideal for transportation.

March 21, 2018

I think that it is great that Harley is planning on focusing more on the ride itself more than the physical bike. I think this will attract more millennials. However, I think that millennials compare the value of the product to the cos and lowering the price of some bikes to under $12,000 would be beneficial since most millennials prefer more cost efficient products.

March 21, 2018

When I think of Harley-Davidson, I think to transportation, and how many millennial's do not think of motorcycles in general as a form of transportation, and prefer to purchase a car. The segment on what a "Harley Rider" looks like, and how many said they envisioned a rider, older than 50 and predominately male. In other words, a biker. Harley-Davidson has the challenge of appealing to a young generation in an industry where the main consumer is from the Baby boomer/ Gen. X era.

March 22, 2018

I definitely agree that the first thing I think of when I hear Harley-Davidson is older biker guys wearing lots of black leather so it is easy to see how Harley-Davidson would have a difficult time changing its brand image to attract younger consumers. I think it is important that Harley-Davidson is aware of that fact about how consumers perceive their brand and are actively conducting doing marketing research to better understand their market. It would be a challenge, but it appears that the company is ready to broaden their brand appeal to a younger audience.

March 22, 2018

I really enjoyed listening to this podcast! I also found it funny how when describing a typical Harley Davidson fan, Millenials tended to categorize them as old men with beards, and an eagle t-shirt. The reason why I found this funny was because I had the same thought in mind. I wonder however if the company will be successful in appealing to the millennial generation by proposing "experiences". Harley Davidson has a pretty established brand identity so I'm excited to see how they will be positioned 10 years down the line.

March 22, 2018

It's really interesting that Harley Davidson wants to market to a younger audience. How can Harley Davidson convince millennials that they should buy their expensive bikes? The brand image of a "Harley Davidson owner" has been engrained into 3 generations and that is going to be very hard to change.

March 22, 2018

I agree with what they are saying about how the stereotypical Harley Davidson owner looks and dresses. It was not suprising to me that the younger generation are not buying Harleys as much as the generation before them did. I think its a great idea that they are trying to focus on inspiring the next generation to buy their vehicles buy seeing what the baby boomers like and focusing their marketing strategy on that.

March 22, 2018

Great podcast! I find it funny that I too, would describe Harley-Davidson as a brand for old people as well. Although it is just a biker company, I only picture their customer in the same way described in the podcast— old guy, long beard, tattoos, eagle t-shirt, etc… Since there is a decline in overall motorcycle sales, Harley Davidson has an opportunity to re-capture old customers and get them to return or to target the new market of millennials. Millennials are interesting because they will see Harley-Davidson as old and outdated, but still share that “adventurous” spirit. They could easily be influenced by a drop in price or strong social media campaign. I would be interested to see what they do to attempt to market to such an interesting clientele. I do think that re-capturing old customers would be easier, but not as promising down the line. As the girl said in the podcast, its a little morbid, but they won’t be around much longer. I think that the best way for Harley-Davidson to see success is to pick one and go all out. Trying to do both could certainly deter the other.

March 22, 2018

I found this podcast to be super interesting. What really stood out was the phrase “skip a latte, buy a bike” and how most milliennials can not afford a Harley which is why Harley came out with 9 bikes < $12,000. Do you think the main reason milliennials don’t buy motorcycles is because they can’t afford them or is it because Harley Davidson’s brand image doesn’t appeal / target to them?

March 22, 2018

I enjoyed this podcast. I thought it was interesting to hear how different generations describe who they thought was a Harley rider. The younger generation described them as old people. Most people typically described the typical biker person that we see in movies. It's interesting to see how we translate an image of something we see in movies to what we think of in real life. The baby boomers had a more broad range description including saying could be anyone, and multi demential.

March 22, 2018

I agree with Harley Davidson’s move, as they need to find their next customer base with the new age. I feel that the options and customizations they are planning to offer will appeal to a younger crowd, as people of this generation lean more towards customization and adding a touch of their own personality. The fact that the biggest problem millennial face right now is affordability in an increasingly expensive society shows how much millennials may appreciate motorcycles under12k. The challenge Harley Davidson faces is remaining true to their ideals and brand image while still managing to change enough to attract the younger generation. Hopefully they will be able to find a balance.

Kaitlin Moore
March 22, 2018

It is not surprising to me to hear that Harley Davidson's sales have fallen behind with millennials. Younger people today are more price-sensitive than our parents and therefore we cannot afford to own that which may not be practical for our lifestyle. Harley Davidson has a very distinct brand and image, and I think it will be very challenging to adjust that towards the younger generation without completely changing what the company stands for.

Carly Turner
March 22, 2018

This Podcast really delved into some interesting points of discussion and reasons as to why the Harley Davidson brand is not as appealing to millennials as it was to older consumer groups. I think a major point that should be considered it the knowledge that millennial have about the dangers of motorcycles. For Harley to become more successful in the millennial market, they must find a way to deter them from this fear.

March 22, 2018

Harley-Davidson is a well established brand that has seen a fall in motorcycle sales. The podcast first talks about how younger generations perceive Harley to be a brand for old people (which they’d like to reinvent). They could definitely take advantage of the wants/needs of their old market that they lost over time or the new, emerging, millennial market. I am interested to see how they tackle the millennial market because it is new compare to reconnecting with their old customers. At least they are aware of the outdoorsy/adventurous types and plan huge events in the US and abroad to do long rides and bring awareness to the brand.

Rachel Rowland
March 22, 2018

I think it's important for Harley to realize that millennial's buying habits aren't centered on the product itself, but rather the experience that comes with it. The price is the barrier for most millennials that already struggle to own one vehicle, let alone two. By offering a lower priced product and focusing on the experience that goes with it, Harley can attract a younger customer base.

March 22, 2018

Awesome Podcast! Did not know Harley-Davidson was so interested in changing brand image! Am curious to see if they end up implementing a marketing strategy to test. I think many young people feel it is more of an "old-man" company so they should try and drive youthfulness.

Kevin Dragomir
March 27, 2018

I really enjoyed this podcast. I thought it was cool seeing the perspectives of what specific markets saw to be the a typical Harley motorcycle rider. I would be more curious as to what you believed to be the main reason that most young people don't buy motorcycles.

May 23, 2018

I am intrigued by the podcast, and agree with many opinions below: Harley Davidson, (in my opinion) would be taking great steps forward to develop a line which checks off certain boxes popular with the millennial, and even Gen Z audience. Figuring out a way to incorporate and communicate quality with great monetary value, as well as a way in which HD can create important and memorable experiences with a younger audience would bring positive results, I'd imagine.

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