Can an electric car ever truly be cool? What about an electric scooter? An electric scooter made by Harley Davidson. Perhaps marketers there can make such a scooter cool, but probably not in the way that Harley Davidson has marketed cool over its many decades of existence. Can an electric-powered scooter really represent Harley's brand of cool?
That might not matter because what is considered cool is probably changing. Harley has built much equity in a brand that has promoted (and is now well-known for) big, loud, American motorcycles. For Harley, this has been cool for many years. But as consumer attitudes change, it won't be easy to alter consumer perception of the brand as the marketing environment shifts from favoring the internal combustion engine and towards the electric motor. And despite the fact that the vast majority of consumers do not prefer electric vehicles, it nonetheless appears that green-minded governments do. So it is clear that electricity as a technology platform represents the future, at least until we find a more desirable power source.
The major worry for marketers at Harley is how much this electric scooter strategy might dilute the equity built into the brand's personality. But even as it does so, perhaps it is all a very necessary part of the brand's evolution. For Harley, opportunities are greater in Asia and Europe than they are here in North America, and electric vehicles are far more common over there than they are over here. Indeed, the electric scooter appears to be a major part of the company's international strategy which also includes moving a major part of the production process overseas. Electric scooters are, in many ways, a far more practical transportation option than are motorcycles for many international markets.
So when is diluting a brand's equity a good marketing strategy? A good rule of thumb is that when market conditions change, so must strategic thinking. And if the market is moving away from favoring a brand like Harley (and dropping sales suggest that it indeed does), smart marketers must first figure out why, and then carefully alter the brand's identity to appeal to a new generation of consumers. Perhaps the "tough" image is doesn't resonate so much anymore and so must give way to some new identity, something more contemporary, but something that's still cool. Let's see what happens.
Discussion: Do you think marketers are making the right moves here? Explain in detail why/why not and what you might do differently.
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