Customer Engagement Key to Dominating the Marketplace


In the mid-1980s, Harley-Davidson Motor Corp. couldn't sell 30,000 units a year and was millions of dollars in debt. 

The key to success wasn't the quality of the product, according to Ken Schmidt, former Harley-Davidson director of communications strategy, but rather the way the company engaged its customers. 

“We made changes in how we relate to people," Schmidt told attendees of The NATSO Show in Las Vegas, Nev. "I will say until my face turns purple that there is nothing you are selling that I can’t get from someone else for less money. Our world is commoditized.”

Marketing is more about building relationships then touting the features of a product, Schmidt said. “In a world where all things are equal and there is nothing we can sell you that you can’t get for less money, who do we choose to do business with? It is people who we like, period,” he said.

Schmidt asked attendees what their customers would say about them. “No story equals no demand,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what you do, somebody is going to copy it and price it lower.”

That is why creating a narrative is crucial. “Marketing is about engagement,” Schmidt said. “Worry less about what I can sell this person and more about how can I engage this person.”

Photo Credit: Chuck Fazio/NATSO

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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