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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

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Few brands are as synonymous with their products as Harley-Davidson.
Few brands are as synonymous with their products as Harley-Davidson.

Road trip, day 2: Ambassadors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – This morning presented us with another beautiful day. After an excellent stay at the Opryland Hotel we were off for lunch in Tupelo. As we traveled, I looked forward through our pack and thought about the Harley-Davidson brand. Obviously, I'm staring at seven Harleys with riders wearing Harley gear. It was a constant brand message.

But it goes so much deeper than the surface. The lead rider in our group is Matt Flintrop, the service manager of the House of Harley-Davidson on Layton, and several others in our group are somehow connected to H-D. And here we are on a ride together. Every person I know at the Harley-Davidson Corporation, its dealerships and extended programs are bikers. They all seem to live by it.

And then I thought about other brands.

Do Chevy dealers drive Chevys on trips with other Chevy drivers? Do Asics shoe salespeople host runs catering to Asics enthusiasts? Do 3M Scotch-Brite workers come over and help you do dishes?

Yeah, yeah, I realize that there are other brands out there with over-the-top ambassadors – like the experts at the Apple Store, the wonderful management and employees of The Outpost or the cult of Disney. The Saturn picnics used to connect the brand to its audience on a social level, and McDonald's does amazing things with its charities, but no brand is connected so strongly than our own Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

The brand is intricately woven from top to bottom. And of course, by nature of the product, it may be easier to have these relationships, but the experience is saturated with brand. Its enthusiasts become ambassadors and ambassadors evolve into evangelists.

And obviously, I, too, am a fan.

But in my exploration of the Harley road trip, the reinforcement of message is constant. And on top of it all, I don't hear any trash talk about other cycle brands. In fact many of them own other brands as well. We wave at BMW riders, Honda riders and a scuzzy dude in Nashville on a dirt bike.

The shear enthusiasm of simply being on two wheels helps H-D own the category.

I'll leave you today with another Robert Pirsig quote that reminded me of the Harley brand: "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion." Amen.

We're in Memphis for two days before we travel to St. Louis. Maybe we'll do Graceland, maybe Sun Studios, or maybe we'll stack a few sandbags to stop the floodwaters.

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