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3 Ways to Refresh an Aging Brand

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PROTAGONISTEveryone has a favorite or iconic brand they love and relate to. What happens when you love starts to wan as the brand becomes a bit stale over the years? Marketers and their brands often struggle to remain relevant in the ever-evolving, sometimes Millennial-driven market. A once beloved brand falls out of favor in lieu of the newest competitor on the block. It happens. Even to our iconic brands like Ray Ban, Hershey, Brooks Brothers, and yes, even Harley-Davidson.

In the case of Harley-Davidson, what causes missed sales goals and loss of market share? We can’t blame it all on millennials, even though they reportedly are not fans of motorcycles (really?)

To understand why specifically the Harley brand has gone a little stale,  it’s essential to look at the underlying beliefs that drive buyer behavior.  To uncover major changes in brand preference, analyzing surface data or even traditional market research is not good enough. We analyzed 20,000 pieces of content including news, blogs, and social conversation on motorcycles over the past year through the Protagonist platform to learn more about the Harley-Davidson narratives.

The solution for any brand in decline? It boils down to three steps to take to flip the switch:

Step 1. Know Where You Stand

The sheer amount of content available to buyers and the number of channels for conversations means understanding the deeply held beliefs (narratives) that influence behavior are impossible to analyze and act on our own. Thankfully, with the help of AI and machines learning, deciphering the trends, sentiment and depth of the narratives surrounding a brand is now possible. So, hop to it.

Every brand needs to know where they stand before trying to mend or change its narrative. For Harley-Davidson, we examined the motorcycle competitive landscape and surfaced 10 beliefs that are critical for Harleys.

3 Ways to Refresh an Aging Brand Positive narratives about motorcycles make up the largest share of our data set, but neutral narratives at 36% focus on the image of motorcycles. The negative narrative makes up only  8% of the landscape, but emphasizing the dangers of the sport.

Knowing where you stand are as a brand requires not just knowing all the beliefs across the landscape, but how you compare to others as well.

3 Ways to Refresh an Aging BrandThe Harley brand presence is tiny when compared to competitors in the positive narratives that focus on the buyer’s journey: Crowd Favorite, Smaller and Lighter, and Industry Rated.  On the other hand, the data shows they’re associated with a lifestyle that’s losing popularity and their presence in favorable narratives that may attract new customers is extremely low.

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Step 2. Pinpoint Where to Play

So how did Harley-Davidson get to this point?  Despite reports of an overall decline for the motorcycle industry,  positive beliefs are rising for motorcycles.. However, Harley is not associated with the ones that are driving new customers and is most strongly associated with baby boomers and older generations. It’s crucial for Harley-Davidson to boost its presence in the positive narratives to grow its business with the younger, new market

Any brand in decline has to take a good look at growth opportunities associated with different narratives. Brands cannot afford to cling to historical branding, aligning to aging customer populations and ignore emerging narratives and their buyers.  Keep your eyes and ears open to new narratives to know where to play.

Step 3. Develop a Narrative Strategy

When leveraged correctly, buyer beliefs can powerfully inform both communications and product strategy. Harley-Davidson’s product designers can tap into the competitive landscape for positive narratives promoting its smaller models like the Street Rod and Sportster. The other piece of this puzzle is using the right channels to deliver that message to resonate with the new buyers (new narratives are often present on non-traditional channels)..

3 Ways to Refresh an Aging BrandBrands in decline like Harley are often pulled in two directions: one to maintain an image and popularity with its traditional demographic, and another to grow and tap into a new generation of buyers.

Narratives are a compass, showing where a brand can and should follow direction. Brands do not have to ignore traditional narratives, however, ignoring newer, emerging narratives that different buyers relate to may be the death of a once beloved brand.

For Harley-Davidson, tapping to the beliefs of the younger buyers may just revive your brand. But don’t wait too long. You have to know your current and future buyers beliefs to capture their hearts and wallets.

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