How To Create Brand Disciples
What are people saying about your organization? What do you want them to say? What are you doing to get them to say it?
Those three questions are applicable for the design firm trying to attract new clients, the healthcare system looking to gain more market share, and everyone in between. They were posed by Ken Schmidt, brand visionary and former director of communications strategy for Harley-Davidson Motor Co., during his Sunday morning opening keynote presentation at the Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in Washington, D.C.
Finding the answers to those questions is something he had to do in his role at the motorcycle manufacturer as it struggled to rebound from a major slump in the mid-1980s to go on to become the brand juggernaut it is today—complete with the passionate customers, or “disciples,” that spread the word of the lifestyle that embodies Harley-Davidson.
There were many steps along the way, and Schmidt shared a few of them during his talk, including the importance of creating environments that exceed expectations, in this case through the evolution of the Harley-Davidson retail store. “The goal of these dealerships is not to sell you a motorcycle,” he said, adding that that’s too obvious. Instead, the goal is to create an experience, a place where someone not planning on buying anything might walk in and not only become so engaged that he or she leaves with a bag full of goods, but who also leaves as an advocate for the brand.
Achieving that advocacy is another challenge, though. Schmidt used the example of Las Vegas, which struggled with its own brand flop after attempting a family-friendly platform. The solution was the creation of the enduring “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” ad campaign, what Schmidt called one of the most powerful brand messages ever released. Not only is it smart in that it manages to repeat the brand name twice within a single phrase, but it’s unique enough that competitors couldn’t mimic it without being obvious.
And more so, “It’s built on a lie.” Schmidt reminded the audience that what’s so successful about the campaign is the fact that the experiences people have in Vegas never actually stay there; rather, vacationers go home, tell their friends, and a new wave of tourists hit The Strip in hopes of finding similar experiences.
“Vegas knows this. They know it’s their job … no story told means no demand built,” Schmidt said.
That story goes back to the experience created, specifically exceeding expectations. After all, the details spread by word of mouth often aren’t those concerning a business providing a quality product at the price expected, because that’s nothing special in the world of Amazon where any given seller can send a buyer exactly what they want within two days. “When you tell people what they expect to hear, they don’t repeat it,” he said. Instead, it’s what the product means to the person, and that’s entirely personal.
Because, most often, if a person were to describe a business, it would do so by using the pronoun “they.” “That means people; not what you do, who you are," he said. For Harley-Davidson, it became a matter of creating a lifestyle that’s complete with bright-colored branded apparel and endless customization options to create a vehicle that reflects who the rider is, answering the human instinct to attract attention: “look at me.”
And, finally, Schmidt said, it’s about culture and creating a palpable passion among employees that reverberates with the customers they encounter, that’s contagious. “Harley really improved business when we changed our behavior,” he said.
It’s that engagement that achieves the message that customers will spread on their own. “The snowball gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger,” Schmidt said.