Harley Davidson: Category strategy

SHARE helped Harley Davidson adapt their strategy by understanding who is influencing the motorbike conversation and what messaging is penetrating.

Every brand has its fair share of detractors – particularly in the evocative motoring space. But should a brand like Harley Davidson invest its marketing effort into silencing their detractors or amplifying their advocates? To answer this question, we analysed data ranging from March 2019 to February 2020, captured on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To understand the dynamics of advocate & rejector motorbike conversation, we needed to understand the topics of which it comprises.

What do they talk about?

First, we looked at the networks of words in the total conversation and identified core themes. Although the conversation sphere is wide, it’s driven around three key areas: the lifestyle (‘club’, ‘riders’, ‘community’, ‘adventures’, ‘music’), the bikes (brand and model preferences) and the safety (accidents and precautions).

Advocacy conversation is driven by those passionate about the biker lifestyle. They share the joy of riding. There is a sense of camaraderie, community and culture around motorcycles. Bikers go on ride nights together, express which brands they prefer and also share advice on how to ride safely to ensure enthralling rides.

Detractor conversation pivots around tragedies, regulation and stigma. However, it has less reach and impact than the topics surrounding advocacy. Ultimately, the passion, the community, and the thrill of the ride shine through and shape the prevailing conversation.

Who has influence and impacts the conversation?

When plotting relationship networks, we need to consider three key elements:

  • Degrees – How many authors mention other authors?
  • Assortivity – Is there a likelihood of nodes to link with similar nodes?
  • Reciprocity – If one author mentions another, does the other reciprocate?

From analysing the data, we discovered that the motorbike authorship is disparate, siloed and have niche subgroups. Most of the authors don’t mention another author also talking about motorbikes. This suggests that most of them are simply expressing their opinion online, having 1-on-1 conversations or within smaller communities, but these conversations would be private.

As we deep-dived into the motorbike conversation, we understood that simply putting a message out doesn’t influence anything whether it’s brands, individuals, or media. However, in the case of Harley Davidson, we identified three types of authors that the brand could leverage to stimulate highly productive discussion: Community Leaders, Grassroots Creators, and Supportive Enthusiasts. And those discussions can be linked back to the themes we uncovered earlier: the lifestyle, the bikes and the safety.

Should a brand focus on amplifying advocacy or silencing detractors? Amplifying advocacy certainly has the highest opportunity for impact, but in the case of Harley Davidson, there are some nuances.

Detractors don’t need negating because they don’t have much impact. Likewise, advocates who are ‘too vocal’ don’t need amplifying. Instead, it’s a case of finding relevant discourse and shining a spotlight on it.

We saw a difference in the conversation networks based on riding proficiency and a difference in influential authors based on their relationships with others.

We tied the two together to create a framework identifying what kind of advocacy should be amplified, by whom and targeted at which audience. Besides being a roaring project to work on, SHARE Creative helped Harley Davidson reevaluate their strategy so they could become pioneers in enhancing honest and genuine motorbike discussions.

  • Account Manager: Charly Geoghegan
  • Data Scientist: Mike Tapp
  • Analyst: Saffie VandenBurg
  • Creative Director: Alex Hill
  • Head of Creative: Robyn Saunders
  • Creative Strategist: Max Grunefeld
  • Copywriter: Jack Watkins