The Harley-Davidson Turn-Around Story | Why You Must Differentiate Your Product and Create an Experience That Wows

Show Notes

On today’s show Ken Schmidt shares about:

  1. How he lead the Harley-Davidson turn-around.
  2. How he fixed a company stereotyped as being the product of choice for thugs and criminals.
  3. How he changed people’s perception that Harley-Davidson only built junk bikes.
  4. How he was able to take the Harley-Davidson dealerships experience to the next level
  5. Why any business that lives by its product will die by its product.
  6. Why people don’t fill out surveys, but they will tell you how to improve your product when you are physically standing next to them and asking them sincere questions.
  7. Why social media is not an effective form of marketing for most businesses.
  8. Why meeting people’s expectations is a direct path to extension as far as he’s concerned.
  9. Why people are not loyal to products.
  10. Why people are loyal to people.
  11. Why Harley-Davidson does everything different from their competitors.

Buy Ken Schmidt’s newest book at – Make Some Noise, The Unconditional Road to Dominance

  1. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very excited about having today’s guest Ken Schmidt on the show. Ken is known around the planet as one of the world’s most outspoken and proactive thought leaders. As the former Director of Communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Company, he played a very active and critical role at one of the most well known and celebrated turnarounds in American history and he joins us today to talk about his innovative approach to loyalty and marketplace dominance. Ken, how are you?
  2. Ken, how would you describe the culture and the state of the company when you first got there?
  3. Ken Schmidt, I’d love for you to share with the listeners out there what your role involved as the Director of Communications at Harley-Davidson?
  4. Ken, what were the biggest challenges facing you when you first started working at Harley-Davidson?
    1. The biggest problems in 1985:
      1. People stereotyped Harley-Davidson as a thug and criminal company
      2. People felt that every bike Harley-Davidson had built was junk
      3. Harley-Davidson dealerships were not high quality places (dimly lit with gravel parking lots)
  5. FUN FACT – Despite building highly-rated bikes in 1986 was the worst year for Harley-Davidson
  6. Ken, if you can remember, I would love to have you share about the kinds of action steps that you took during your first year at Harley-Davidson to help the company to make the epic turn-around?
      1. Organize small biker rallies
      2. Gather some small local media wins (local officials and people of credibility riding bikes)
      3. Harley-Davidson began organizing Harley-Davidson owners club at dealership
  7. Ken Schmidt, I heard you say during your an interview that, “I was always a bit of a renegade in that I never liked to accept status quo that to me is kind of part and parcel of what the entire Harley-Davidson lifestyle is all about. We don’t have to do things the way everybody else does. Why should we?” I’d love for you to break down what things that Harley-Davidson does much differently from everybody else?
    1. Things Harley-Davidson does differently:
  1. Harley-Davidson looks very differently from everybody else.
  2. Harley-Davidson is not feature and benefit driven.
  3. NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “Harley-Davidson does not compete on price, and puts its emphasis on you (the rider, the potential rider and the human).” – Ken Schmidt
  4. NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “You don’t worry about risk mitigation so much when you are running out of cash.” – Ken Schmidt
  5. Harley-Davidson goes the opposite direction that everybody else goes.
    1. Book recommendation – Radical Marketing – Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin –
  6. Ken, I heard you say during that interview that, “It’s a lot more fun when we’re calling our own shots I think the single biggest element of Harley Davis’s turn around and this and the same could probably be said for just about any major turnaround that’s ever happened in any business is a company learning to step back and look at itself for the perspective of a customer or potential customer and take the metrics out of the equation take numbers out of the equation and look at business from a very very human leveland what Harley does better than any company in the world is it understands human behavior.” Ken, I’d for you to break down what you mean when you speak about the importance of taking metrics out of the equation and to focus on what the business means from a very human level?
  7. Ken, before we get into your new book, Make Some Noise, The Unconditional Road to Dominance, I would love for you to share with the listeners about your career leading up to the time you spent at Harley Davidson? What did your career path look like before joining Harley-Davidson?
  8. Ken, you are known for helping to lead one of the most celebrated turnarounds in American business history during your time at Harley-Davidson, can you describe, how you first got involved in Harley-Davidson and what made you want to join the company?
  9. Ken Schmidt in your new book, Make Some Noise, The Unconditional Road to Dominance, Chapter 1 of your book is called, What Kind of Noise Are You Making? I would love for you to share what this chapter is all about?
  10. Chapter 2 of your book is titled, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. To start the Chapter you write, “I have a theory about competition. The desire to lead rather than follow isn’t something we’re born with, it’s something that rises within us as we master something difficult and push ourselves to exceed other people’s mastery of the same thing.” – Ken, I would love to have you break this down?
  11. Ken, in your book you write about this concept called, “Noise Cubed.” And you write, “Noise Cubed. You’ve got work to do. Your first official assignment, but it’s only going to take a minute. I want you to type out, word for word, what you see in the box below. Then print it out and display it in the most visible area of your workplace so you and people working with you can see it. What are people saying? What do we want them to say? What are we doing to make them say it?” Ken, this is so good, but I’d love to have you break this down before my head explodes?
    1. NOISE defined:
      1. NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “Every business and every person on the planet makes noise. What are people saying? What do we want them to say? What are we doing to make them say it?” – Ken Schmidt
  12. Ken, Chapter 3 of your book is called, “Truth in Packaging, Italian Style: Managing Positioning and Narrative to Dominate.” Ken, you start off the chapter by writing, “It’s high time to start thinking about not only how to make sure you’re properly positioned and living your positioning in ways that get noticed and reacted to, bit also how to create your positioning language and manage your narrative to improve the chances that they’re talking about you and saying what you want said.” Ken, I’d love to have you break this down for us?
  13. Ken in your book you wrote, “I’ve long been convinced that most business people view their business the way they wish it to be seen and would be rather disheartened if they peered through Reality Goggles that show how it looks in real life from a customer’s point of view. Because John’s product is great and gets positive mentions in write-ups, perhaps their management assumes they’re golden. But “product” isn’t what my wife (a frequent Yelp! contributor) and I are talking about when we described the restaurant, is it? How quickly would you make a reservation at John’s based on what you just read?
  14. Ken, Chapter 4 of your book is titled, “Your Markets Didn’t Change and Neither Did You. But We Sure Did.” I would love for you to share with the listeners what this chapter of the book is all about?
  15. Ken in Chapter 4 of your book you write, “Remember when being really good at something was enough to keep phones ringing and bank deposits swelling? I don’t. I’ve been told many times, though that such a world once existed, by well-meaning folks who very much believe it to be true, or at least want it to be.” – Ken, I’d love for you to share with the listeners what you mean by this?
  16. Ken Schmidt, in Chapter 6 of your book is titled, “Why and How Businesses Lose Their Competitiveness.” To start this chapter you write, “Here’s a fun idea: Let’s commoditize ourselves. Come on, it’s easy. Let’s make ourselves indistinguishable, do and say nothing more than what’s expected of us, minimize our value, become a marginally competitive also-ran and then lose sleep over it while others eat our lunch.” Ken, I’d love for you to share your passion about the importance of not commoditizing yourself in the game of business.
  17. Ken, in Chapter 7 of your book is titled, “Why and How Businesses Lose Their Competitiveness” I would love for you to share with the business owners out there listening what you mean by this?
  18. Ken, in Chapter 7 of your book you write, “Warning: gratuitous celebrity name-dropping to follow. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. After getting the first-class treatment at The Tonight Show; which was a gift I was fortunate enough to receive several times from the world’s most beloved gearhead, Jay Leno, I was walking out the back door of the studio with the evening’s special guest, country music legend Garth Brooks. Suffice to say his performance killed and the studio audience was thrilled to be in the presence of one of the brightest, fan-friendly, A-list stars in the universe. In addition to being a monster talent, he struck me as a super cool dude, the real deal.” Ken, I would love to get your take on what this experience felt like?
  19. Ken, in Chapter 14 of your book you’ve got the chapter title of, “You’ll Know Noise Cubed Is Working for Your When…” and then you write, “I get asked all the time about so-called Net Promoter Score metrics because these things have become an accepted part of doing business and seem to mesh neatly with Noise Cubed initiatives. These questions always end with, “This stuff’s expensive. Should we be doing this?” Ken, I’d love to get your take on this section of your book?
  20. Ken, I heard you say during one of your talks that “Meeting expectations is a direct path to extension as far as I’m concerned.” What do you mean by this?
  21. Ken, you once said in business we need to ask, “What do we want people to say about us and what are we willing to do to get them to say it? At the end of the day that is the magic elixir.” Ken, this quote fires me up just reading it, I would love to have you break this down for us?
  22. Ken, for any listeners out there that would like to learn more about you, the books and the principles you teach, where is the best place for our listeners to go?
  23. NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “We are not loyal to products. We are loyal to people. We are loyal to sources of joy, happiness and light in our lives.” – Ken Schmidt
  24. Ken Schmidt, our listeners are always curious about the habits and routines of the world’s most successful people and so I would love if you would share with us what the first 4 hours of your typical day look like?
  25. Ken, you are obviously well-read and our listeners love to read books that can help them to improve their skills and their lives. I’m always curious. What 1 or 2 books would you recommend for our listeners and why?
  26. Ken Schmidt, I know that you are always proactively designing your life. I’d love to have you share with us about any projects that you are working on during the next 12 months that we should be looking out for?
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