Ashwini Gangal
Interviews

"Pune has emerged as a very strong market for us": Pallavi Singh, Harley-Davidson India

The weekend saw the fifth season of Harley Rock Riders, Harley-Davidson's annual rock music festival, in Mumbai. At the event, the brand promoted a customised avatar of the Street 750, designed by independent bike building outfit Rajputana Customs. The variant was first launched in India in February this year.

Harley-Davidson India currently has a market share of 70 per cent in the premium motorcycle segment. The brand has been in the news lately for the launch of three new models - CVO Limited, Breakout and Street Glide Special. In all, Harley now has 13 models in India.

Today, there are 6,000+ Harley-Davidson motorcycles on Indian roads. The price of a Harley motorcycle ranges between Rs 4.1 lakh to Rs 49.23 lakh.

Harley launched its Facebook page for this market in 2012. With over 1.7 million fans, this is Harley's second largest engagement page (the largest being its FB USA page), across markets.

We caught up with Pallavi Singh, director, marketing, Harley-Davidson India, who has been with the company since it commenced operations in India, in August 2009. Prior to joining Harley, Singh was with Yamaha, where she was involved with ground-level consumer research across India and Thailand, and also helped launched variants like R1 and MT-01 in the local market.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

What purpose does an event like Harley Rock Riders serve? Isn't it hinged on the presupposition that motorcycle lovers are also music lovers?

From a company standpoint, it's our way of building a pipeline for our future customers. It is our customer outreach platform, targeted at people who dream to own a Harley. It is an opportunity for them to come and enjoy some rock music, see motorcycles and meet likeminded people.

Music is a very important part of our events. We do a lot of motorcycle rallies in which music plays an important role. Globally, rock stars have ridden Harleys. Even our research shows that music and motorcycles go well together.

"Pune has emerged as a very strong market for us": Pallavi Singh, Harley-Davidson India
What kind of research methodology do you usually use?

For the launch of Street 750, interview-based research was done across Brazil, USA and India, to understand who the 'Street 750 customer' is. In general - and this I've learnt right from my Yamaha days - when a person buys a motorcycle, he doesn't buy a product; he buys a lifestyle. He makes the purchase when he feels like it's time for him to do what he wants, never mind family and responsibilities.

In India we did almost 400+ face to face interviews across Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, to understand our market for Street 750. Today, to do anything you need data. Without data, you can't make a brand strategy.

Our research also helps us get certain 'marketing elements' across our dealer network right. It has taught us the importance of being detail-oriented. For example, we ensure there's no water on the outside of the glass when we serve our customers a drink... we ensure the guard standing outside the showroom always greets customers with a smile. These things make a big impact and add to the overall brand experience.

In India, does Harley have a market beyond the metros?

Pune has become a very big market for Harley. Especially after the launch of Street 750, Pune has emerged as a very strong market for us. It has many Harley aspirants - young adults, who have just taken up new jobs... these are people who are very emotional about their motorcycles.

Indore is another big market for us. Even Surat is a great market for us. Surat has a strong 'motorcycling culture'; we'll be opening a new dealership there by the end of this year.

Goa is another big market for us... it is really picking up. Goa is where the India Bike Week is held.

How has your core TG evolved since you entered India in 2009?

When we started out in this market, our customer base was around 35+ years of age. But after launching Street 750, it has come down to 27+ years.

The age of the Harley-Davidson buyer goes up to 50+.

There are some customers who are in the 19-21 years age group - customers who are just coming into the brand and are embracing our events. India is the only country in which we have such a young customer base.

To what do you attribute this?

When we started out in this market, all our bikes were CBUs (completely built units). They were expensive. But then we started selling CKDs (completely knocked-down vehicles). That's when the brand started becoming affordable. We also have tie-ups with ICICI and HDFC Banks, to help make the financing aspect easy for people.

We do a lot of zonal and national HOG (Harley Owners Group) rallies. Recently, we did this Southern HOG rally in Hyderabad (that saw the participation of around 600 people) and now we're doing a Northern HOG rally in Pushkar.

Almost 80 per cent of our marketing budget is for events and experiential marketing.

How popular is your brand among Indian women?

Most of our owners are male.

Presently, there are over 20 female Harley owners in India.

And most of these women ride big bikes. For example, we have one customer in Pune who rides a V-Rod; it's a big displacement motorcycle.

After the launch of Street 750, we're seeing more women coming on board. Just recently, we've had two buyers in Delhi, one in Hyderabad and one in Chandigarh. They are all very, very young - little over 22 or so.

In the future, we see a lot more women buying Harleys.

Your LinkedIn profile says you specialise in the 'premium marketing segment'. What does 'premium' mean today?

Harley-Davidson is not a luxury brand. We are a premium brand.

Luxury is very 'black tie, cocktail and champagne'. We don't compare ourselves to a Ferrari or Lamborghini. We're not in that space.

Here's the distinction: Estee Lauder is luxury. Victor Rolf is premium.