By Tina Berres Filipski
Ken Schmidt roared on stage aboard a Harley- Davidson 1200 Series Sportster at Wednesday’s General Session and spoke to a packed ballroom about the importance of having a story to tell. “You guys have a story yet?” he asked. “No demand is created in a world where stories aren’t told.”
The content of that story is where great branding is born. During his tenure as communications director at Harley-Davidson, Schmidt not only orchestrated a legendary branding turnaround that restored the near-bankrupt company to a brand that’s not only outselling Honda 10-to-one in the U.S. but also created an experience that’s become a lifestyle for Harley disciples, as Schmidt calls them. There’s a huge chasm between disciples and customers. “A disciple is someone who feels so good about something they’ll tell another person about the source of their joy.”
He told the audience if their clients haven’t told others why they do business with their companies, zero demand has been created. Without creating experiences for clients through company stories, the relationship is based on a commodity. “If we have zero differentiation, we are creating zero demand for what we do,” he added.
To illustrate the transaction-based model, he used an analogy to which just about every listener could relate: shopping for a flat-screen TV. “Salespeople are fighting to sell you the same thing,” he said. “And the consumer will always take the easy way out if they don’t see a difference—and it will come down to price.”
If consumers can’t differentiate between products, they will demand to pay less. Brain is pain, he likes to say. “When the brain is churning inside the head of a potential customer, we have failed. When your customer’s brain is fully engaged, the customer will become logical. Logic, to the average consumer right now, means to pay the lowest possible price.”
Today’s world is marketing averse—a problem he attributes to the average consumer viewing more than 6,000 marketing messages every day. He said he could talk for hours about the quality, craftsmanship, product line, engineering and elegance of Harley-Davidson motorcycles but still create no demand for his product.
What does move the needle is to ask customers what they want, listen to the answers and take action based on their input. During Harley- Davidson’s rebound, its management team learned that asking customers what they want and using that information to improve the process, product and experience was successful. Schmidt recalled asking, “What can we do differently to make you buy this bike?”
The customer’s ego is the single-most important lesson sellers and their companies can learn. Sellers, he said, need to create differentiation that engages human beings and allows them to feel good about themselves. “We are all selling the same thing,” he ranted. Differentiation demands creativity—and when that happens, price becomes less of a concern.