It came, it saw, it floored one and all. That was how Harley-Davidson stepped into India, to the immense satisfaction of biking enthusiasts in the country, who had long awaited its arrival.
However, it was anything but a smooth ride, as Anoop Prakash, managing director, Harley-Davidson India, explained at Kyoorius DesignYatra 2010.
He said that the 100-year-old motorcycle company was dumbfounded by the high awareness levels in the country. However, there were problems. "The awareness was high, but not where we wanted it to be. We had to figure out how to bring relevance in the local market," Prakash said.
The iconic brand came to India with a promise, which Prakash describes as, "We fulfil dreams inspired by the many roads of the world, by providing extraordinary motorcycles and customer experiences. We fuel the passion of freedom in our customers to express their own individuality."
The challenge was to break the commonly held, stereotypical myths about the brand, take the iconic brand and the Americana imagery, and tell the story irrevocably to India.
Harley-Davidson, hence, decided to design its communication around 'Respect, Knowledge and Tempo'.
Harley-Davidson found it imperative to respect its customers, because they seemed to know a lot more than what they were given credit for. Knowledge referred to what the brand needed to find out about the local market; as well as what its customers needed to be made aware of, regarding the company's products.
Prakash further pointed out that it was important to have tempo and be in the news constantly with their communication and PR strategy.
Hence was drawn the campaign strategy of 'Pure Harley-Davidson. Pure India'.
The company realised that it was not just bringing in the stars and stripes and all that Harley-Davidson represented in the West; but it also had to focus on a new set of images that was culturally relevant for the brand in India.
Harley-Davidson India, hence flagged off the 'Founder's Ride', to respect the existing Harley riders in India and to break certain myths.
"We knew there were around 250-500 Harley owners already in India. We did not want to come in and pretend they did not exist," said Prakash.
The myth that Harleys were difficult to ride in Indian conditions, where roads are not up to the mark and traffic is difficult to move through, were broken by the exercise that was conducted in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
"It set up tons of imagery. It set up a platform to tell a story. It sparked off the imagination of people," Prakash said.
The next step taken was to consciously decide not to have a brand ambassador.
"Our brand ambassadors have two wheels, not two legs," exclaimed Prakash.
"Having a brand ambassador is not authentic. If a brand is authentic, as is Harley, and wants to be different and real, you cannot hire somebody to ride your bike," he added.
Instead, images of Harley being ridden all over India were captured. These pictures not only showed the product, but also how well it fit into the Indian culture.
Harley was officially launched at the Delhi Auto Expo last year. It made a statement by launching as many as 12 models for India, as against the common practice of launching fewer models at the beginning.
The company's commitment to India was expressed at the Expo, by custom-painting a Harley with the Indian tricolour, which further strengthened the juxtaposition.
It then engaged its customers by putting the motorcycles to work and give the customers a chance to ride them. Thus, the Harley-Davidson Boot Camps were conceptualised, where people were educated about the motorcycles in a military-style camp.
"Most lifestyle brands choose a five-star hotel and to wine and dine; but we wanted our customers to experience the brand in our way, under a tent, in a military-like camp," Prakash said.
Participants paid Rs 3,500 that was given away to charity. This was done to filter the serious customers from the rest. The participants were educated about the five families of bikes, and were given the chance to ride them.
Then, the first ad campaign was launched, designed with its then creative partner, The Republic. Through the campaign, Harley wanted to invoke history, inspire wonder and start the conversation.
The print ads spoke about riding and the brand, its racing history, bikes from each family and also about protecting the Harley legacy and trademark. "In five months, we saw the language changing dramatically," said Prakash.
Finally, showrooms opened for business amid the huge excitement already built. The brand has four showrooms and a fifth is due to open next month. The tempo was maintained with bookings that began early.
Saying that it is the difference of leisure riding that Harley brought to India, Prakash closed his presentation with his thoughts on the journey ahead.
"Defining and executing the ultimate Indian riding and ownership experience - that is where we have to go," he said.