2 Minute Read

Taking a closer look at Harley-Davidson and a marketplace being re-shaped by a new generation of consumers.

For this month’s blog, I thought I would use an example outside of Life Sciences to reinforce that disruption is occurring in every industry, even the ones we once thought impossible.

As I read about the latest difficulties facing Harley-Davidson regarding tariffs, I was reminded of the challenges the company has faced in recent years.

Their sales in the U.S. have been declining and their once loyal fan base is shrinking. These are sad developments for a company that has had such an amazing legacy of manufacturing in the United States.

As a Harley owner, it is hard to watch the company’s influence on American culture waning.

As an intelligence professional, I am not surprised at this outcome. 

Many industries and companies have been feeling the effects of disruption as the marketplace changes.

Companies who miss or ignore indicators of these shifts do so at their own peril. Below are some of the indicators that Harley may have missed or didn’t address adequately enough to possibly avoid their downturn.


Marketplace Shift



Rise of the on-demand economy


Harley hasn’t adapted to the changes brought on by the on-demand economy in U.S., such as ride and bike sharing services (and now scooters)


Millennials lack of disposable income

Millennials, many of whom are saddled with school loan debt and a tight job market, may not be able to afford to purchase a new or even a used Harley


Millennials living at home longer

Many Millennials are living at home longer, thereby delaying a shift in the household into an “empty nest” when a motorcycle purchase often occurs


Millennial influencers/promoters becoming critical to creating brand relevance

Harley has not focused on or has been unsuccessful retaining prominent promoters to market their brand to Millennials

With a product like motorcycles, replacing your customer base is critical. It is well-known that the up-and-coming Millennial generation struggles to accumulate disposable income which causes delays in home ownership, family planning, and, in this case, purchasing motorcycles.

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Harley’s failure to evolve their business model to align with the opportunities presented by the on-demand economy has alienated Millennials looking for cost-saving measures like sharing over ownership.

While Harley has been (and continues to) focus on growing in other key markets like Europe and Asia, other ideas for adapting to the changing U.S. market include offering leases instead of loans for purchases or deploying a motorcycle subscription service. Companies like this one now exist to help businesses transition to subscription-based models that appeal to the Millennial market.

Of all the indicators mentioned above, Harley’s inability to mobilize promoters to connect with Millennials stands out as being the most damaging in the long term. Over the years, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been featured prominently in movies, on TV shows, and by celebrities which reinforced their iconic brand. This was an effective model to attract the Baby Boomer generation but, with the advent of social media as the chief influencer on purchasing decisions to younger audiences, the brand has not made as large of an impression on the market.

As this example illustrates, indicators are easy to miss and their potential impact can be hard to predict.

Using a competitive intelligence software solution like Knowledge360®, where key sources such as news, patents, social media, job postings, regulatory documents and financials, are continuously updated can alert your team to important shifts in the market and give you the time you need to respond. With a team of strategists and software to monitor your market, you will be able to keep pace with the changing marketplace and develop a strategy to ride out any changes.

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