Taking Design and Branding to Heart in the Heartland with Harley-Davidson

I recently traveled to Milwaukee with Sujit Sheth, COO at Matrix4, to meet with our buyer at Harley-Davidson. Harley-Davidson is a brand I have always admired, so when our buyer offered a tour of the museum, I couldn’t pass it up. The museum is fascinating, but getting a tour from someone with a background in engineering was truly a revelation about Harley-Davidson’s long history as a brand leader in product design.

Harley grew up in tough times throughout history, having to pivot based on economics and politics, but they always stayed true to who they were. In 1918, nearly half of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles were sold to be used by the U.S. military in World War I. Since then, they have continued to use some of those initial designs to make boats, snowmobiles, and the iconic motorcycles of today.

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Maintaining a strong sense of “All American” branding, Harley-Davidson is right at home in the midwest. Their deliberate approach to design makes them one of the most recognizable vehicles, from the “V” shaped engine to the rear tank emblazoned with the Harley logo.

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Like Matrix 4, Harley-Davidson is extremely passionate about what they do. They are rooted in design and even though they are big brand, they are seen internally as a family company. While they traditionally used mostly metal and leather for their components, they’ve transitioned to more plastics over the years for components like dial gages and indicators, saddlebags, compartments to hold phones, and more. Using plastics parts for these elements can reduce the weight of the motorcycle, improving speed and efficiency.

Their brand promotes a lot of customer engagement, and that’s very much a factor at the museum, encouraging visitors to get on motorcycles outside. They want people to experience the brand and understand what open air freedom feels like. Harley devotes an entire section of its museum to elaborate custom motorcycles belonging to a wide range of famous (and not so famous) people. The designs include everything from leather to bedazzlements to American flags. Even as a large manufacturer, Harley encourages customization. It allows the customer to take ownership of the product and express their true self.

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Harley’s future is focused on developing the next generation of brand advocates and passionate loyalists as they seek new ways to deliver on the customer experience and getting people to know what it feels like to ride a Harley. They even sponsored me to take a Harley class for new riders!

It was a great experience to learn more about Harley-Davidson’s company journey and how they have innovated for over 100 years to remain relevant today. As Harley looks to incorporate new and modern makers in their supply chain, Matrix4 is excited for the opportunity to grow, learn, and innovate with them.