Harley-Davidson: Customer-led Marketing to Revive a Cult Brand

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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Case Details:


Case Code : MKTG295 For delivery in electronic format: Rs. 500;
For delivery through courier (within India): Rs. 500 + Shipping & Handling Charges extra


Marketing Communication / Consumer Behavior / Brand Management
Case Length : 16 Pages
Period : 2000-2010
Pub Date : 2012
Teaching Note : Not Available
Organization : Harley-Davidson
Industry : Motorcycles
Countries : US; Global


This case is about the customer-led marketing strategy of US-based iconic motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc. (Harley). Harley was the world's leading designer and manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles with over a 50% market share. Harley bikes were known for their distinctive design and heavy customization. The company created an experience around their bikes that emphasized freedom and empowerment. The case discusses the evolution of Harley as a cult brand. By adopting a focused differentiation strategy, Harley was able to command a premium for its products.

Marketing Management Case Studies | Case Study in Management, Operations, Strategies, Marketing Management, Case Studies

The case highlights the key problems faced by the company which include plummeting sales due to the global economic recession and the changing demographics of its purchasers. The median age of a Harley rider, which had been 35 years in 1987, went up to 47 in 2005 as the majority of Harley's core customers, the baby boomers, were aging. Due to shifting demographics, the company adopted a multi-generational and multi-cultural marketing strategy and decided to change its marketing approach from a "one size fits all" agency-based marketing approach to a customer-led model. The case discusses the company's shift from a traditional model to crowdsourcing wherein it could draw on the ideas of Harley fans around the world to guide the direction of marketing for the brand. It discusses the 'Creativity Model' and the crowdsourced advertising campaigns launched by the company as part of the new strategy. The case concludes by discussing whether the new customer-led marketing approach will be able to solve the company's problems related to the demographic shift and revive the cult brand.


The case will help the students:
Understand the marketing strategy of Harley-Davidson.
Study how Harley-Davidson emerged as a cult brand.
Understand the impact of changing demographics on the company’s business.
Understand the issues and challenges faced by a brand in attracting new customers.
Explore the future strategies Harley could adopt to attract new customers.


  Page No.
Introduction 1
Background Note 2
Building a Cult Brand 4
The Harley Owners Group 5
Dealerships 6
Promotion 6
Tough Riding 7
Shift to Crowdsourcing 8
'Creativity Model' 9
'No Cages' Campaign 10
Fan Machine 10
A Risky Ride? 11
Exhibits 12


Customer-led marketing; "one size fits all" agency-based marketing; customer-led model; Crowdsourcing; 'Creativity Model'; Cult brand; Demographics; Brand loyalty; differentiation; Focused differentiation; brand dilution; Unique selling proposition; Lifestyle; Brand image; Community; Multi-generational and multi-cultural marketing strategy; Harley Owners Group (HOG); Harley-Davidson; 'Fan Machine'; 'No Cages' campaign; Focus group

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