UrbanTurbanGuy

I'm just a common person, but I'll offer you my crude understanding.

Community building and technology

While Exploring the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in the Brand Asset Management class at school the discussion moved towards the creation of communities around brands,with communities being defined as dynamic socially-structured groups sharing:

  • An ethos and set of values
  • A moral responsibility and obligation to the group
  • Hierarchies of membership with understood advancement processes
  • Rules and behavioral norms with sanctions and rewards
  • Common language, rites, rituals & symbols
  • Agreement about who the group “are not” as well as who they “are”

In the case of Harley Owners Group, the particular use of Posse Rides was being explored. The point being that there is a brand persona associated with Harley which is reinforced by the Posse Rides, creating a group of die-hard influences, free PR and above all a sense of hierarchy in the HOG community where participation in the Posse Ride is the right of passage into the riding elite.

The picture looks just so perfect right now.

The discussion then moved on to the next point: pondering that technology had nothing to do with community creation.  Hence all the noise we keep hearing that online social media is not what makes communities. This part didn’t sit well with me. :(

Lets look at the HOG, their bikes and the posse ride.Why are they a community? What makes someone aspire to be a member?

The HOG community is based one a basic “aspirational promise”: that once you join us you can share the persona of a rebel, an outlaw, the forever-free, macho biker. In order to have that aspiration though, a consumer needs to have been exposed to Harley’s outlaw history inspired by the likes of the Hells Angels.  The Posse ride and similar events act as tools for the same. ( edit: as pointed by @brigzay the bikes themselves are the tools/media for community interaction. see comments)

There are a few problems here:
Firstly, the Harley riding macho outlaw persona is not an aspirational persona for the millennial generation.The demographics of current Harley users are blatantly obvious, with a clear trend in the wrong direction.  Secondly, the Hell’s Angels are ancient
history.  The youth might like the outlaw persona but they probably associate it more with “hackers” who broke into Twitter than with Harley riders.

What can technology and the Social Web do for Harley?

Technology can create new tools for participating in the HOG culture and can introduce a whole new generation to the outlaw culture.  One of the many things that Harley could try is to be engaged in MMO games. That is where the youth lives and where they express their rebellion.  Why not act as the agent in that safe expression of rebellion?  MMO games share characteristics with real-world communities.  Just like a Posse ride is a tool for keeping the aspirational outlaws among the baby boomers and Gen X, engaged with the Harley Brand, the MMO game (or any social-network-based rebellious activity) can act as a tool to engage Gen Y or the millennial generation.

MMO games are just one of the many possible places that could happen …

disclaimer: Brand Asset Management is probably the second best marketing class I have attended at Kelley, the best would be Marketing Strategy :).

7 comments
Rashmi
Rashmi

Marketing Strategy and Brand Asset Management are the best marketing courses ever :)

Alok
Alok

Gagan interesting perspective !!First of all yes technology & social media can do a lot for Harley, if they are not doing enough already.You just need to check the annals of HD Forums and how busy they, are not to mention some of the deep & passionate rumblings on them to get a sense of the importance of social media for HD.The place I take issue with you is where you mention what the HOGgers community is based on. No it is not aspirational, it is not about confirming to that one persona. It is about going your own way, no matter which the world is going. If it were not for that, it would be different to explain the so many custom modifications, pistons the size of garbage cans and fuel tanks built specifically for your ride. The HD community is based on the love and respect for the machines and on being yourself and Living by It. !!

Mahendra Shikaripur
Mahendra Shikaripur

Gagan - I think you have set it up nicely wherein you highlight that Harleys are almost anachronistic and whether they like it or not the people riding them have different aspirations.I would have loved to see you expand more (and here is hoping there is a part 2 coming as well) on the last part where in you ask the question what can technology and the social web do for Harley and how social media can bridge generational gaps between brands and their consumers.

christian
christian

not sure whether this supports, detracts from, or is just completely ancillary to your takeaway from the class, Gagan, but i'll put it out here anyways. I wonder if the people discussing this in your classes are motorcycle riders or have ever experienced car culture. Motorcycles and cars are forms of media. More importantly, they are highly social media (especially recreational bikes like Harleys and project cars like hot rods). In other words, they mediate, go between, enable and affect my interactions with myself and with other people. My Honda Nighthawk 750, for example, mediates my interactions with Harley riders when we pass one another. It affects that interaction in a way that is more positive than if i were driving a moped, but less positive than if i were driving a Harley. My grandfather's 34 Chevy mediated his interactions with his car mechanic buddies and with his classic car club. So perhaps it might be helpful to consider the entire constellation of technologies, of media (every technology can be considered from a mediation perspective, including cars, motorcycles, virtual worlds, email etc) through which Harley brand communities connect, and broaden the exploration how these technologies not only facilitate a connection but, and perhaps more importantly for a brand, mediate the formation of an individual and shared identity (connection, of course, plays a huge role in identity formation).

UrbanTurbanGuy
UrbanTurbanGuy

"going your own way, no matter which the world is going." is exactly most aspire for. If you look at the typical Harley Owners profile it is more bent towards what I would call "weekend rebels". ( I would love to have the numbers, will have to dig up the old case we studied last year that talked bout it.) A Dentist, a doctor, a CEO, a grandmother of 3 is what you would find on the Posse rides. The conform to the society, The Harley is their outlet for rebellion ( or as you say "going their own way"). The word "aspirational" aspirational only means to signify the relationship people share with their Harleys. What I was exploring here was - Where were the seeds for that association with the Harley brand sown ? & How can tech. help them sow those seeds in the next gen. of users ?

UrbanTurbanGuy
UrbanTurbanGuy

Chris- that makes the point even clearer. In Clay Shirky's language : Owning a Harley or the Chevy come with a "promise", the technology ( harley) is the "tool" & the unwritten rules of community behavior are the "bargain". But, its the development of the promise that I was trying to look at. Harley has a history that makes that "promise" for the previous generation. I was trying to explore what can make that promise for the millennial generation.

christian
christian

very interesting question. Especially since the bargain, the tool and the promise might all be working on and changing each other in a different generation of consumers. (I am using Shirky's language here with full awareness of his economic bent - which has both strengths and weaknesses) It would be interesting to find out if the signifier/signified relationship of Harley community/rebellion is similar to, or different from, that of MMO/rebellion for the particpant.