Identities Create Empires

Everyone knows the brand in the picture above. Take a minute and consider what type of person you think of when you hear “Harley Davidson”.


Mid-50s white guy, right? Maybe has some facial hair and probably wears ugly sunglasses. Another common thing that people think of is motorcycle gangs.


If it was a picture of a Honda or a Yamaha bike, you wouldn’t picture the same type of person. It doesn’t matter that the Honda Goldwing probably has a similar looking rider; if you even pictured a person riding a Goldwing, it probably looks nothing like the guy that you’d picture riding a Harley.


That was the genius of Harley Davidson and what ultimately catapulted that company into become an icon of not just an industry, but the very image of a lifestyle.


Everyone makes great bikes, Harley’s probably aren’t objectively better; people buy them for the little logo on the side of it. People buy Harley Davidson bikes because they want to be the type of person that rides a Harley.


It’s about identity.


That logo doesn’t represent great motorcycles, that logo represents a lifestyle.


Harley Davidson started in 1903 and with their V-Twin engine and quickly became an American icon. Harley Davidson stood for freedom, rebellion, and ultimately, America.


I mean if you think of Harley Davidson, do you really think of any other country?


But this identity made people proud to be a part of the company. People desperately wanted to accept the identity that Harley Davidson offered them, and the price to adorn the mantle is only the cost of purchasing a motorcycle (and dealing with your wife).


It’s the reason that people wear Harley Davidson shirts or hang up Harley Davidson plaques in their bars and man caves.


If Harley Davidson didn’t become an icon that drove people to assume their identity, the business wouldn’t have come as far as they have.


I’ve always loved and wanted to own a motorcycle but the only one that I’ve ever owned was a Honda. If I was going to buy another motorcycle today, it would probably be something Japanese like a Yamaha or Kawasaki. Bikes that look and feel nothing like Harley Davidsons.


Neither bike is objectively better so it begs the question – why would I choose those brands over Harley Davidson?


Easy really – I don’t see myself as the kind of guy that needs to own a Harley. I prefer sleek, modern, crotch rockets as opposed to the classic ones. I have no desire to adopt the status that Harley Davidson is selling of rebellious and unbridled Americana.


It’s just not who I am.


I value driving fast, which is why I prefer small sports cars and spot bikes over street cruisers and pickup trucks. The best part of that statement is I know that the sport bike probably doesn’t go faster than a street cruiser, but I feel like it should.


It’s all about identity.


Apple is a company that spent all of their time and energy building an identity, and then serving products to those people who aspired to it. Apple has since stopped with that type of marketing and is starting to see a decline in sales. There are still residual effects to all the marketing that they did 10 years ago, but it’s not nearly as powerful today as it once was.


Build an identity for your company by reflecting on what your values are. Create the identity that is most true to who you are as a business owner and then communicate that to your market. It might not be immediate, but people will eventually notice what you stand for and become loyal customers.


It all starts with what you stand for. What does your business value? If you had no shareholders and didn’t ever have to worry about sales, what would you say?


That’s the identity you need to cultivate.


And of course, we’re here if you need a hand.