Ken Schmidt; How to Create a Tattoo Worthy Brand

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Most companies these days approach their marketing by telling you about their commitment to service and explaining all the benefits and features of their product. The result is a bunch of companies saying the same things about similar products.

Ken Schmidt believes this is the wrong approach, and he should know. He’s responsible for taking Harley Davidson out of its slump in 1985 and transforming it into the global brand it is today through his words.

On the latest installment of The Art of Making Things Happen with Steve Sims, we discussed what most companies are doing wrong in their approach to navigating their brand and the three questions he used to transform Harley Davidson into a tattoo-worthy brand.

If you’re anxious to learn the secrets that major brands use to go global and remain relevant for decades, read on to learn how Ken Schmidt did just that for one of the most iconic brands in the world, Harley Davidson.

What Are People Saying About Us?

One of the essential questions to consider when trying to establish your brand or transform it is to ask: what are people saying about us?

In doing so, you understand the good and the bad about your brand. Ken states this is crucial, “If you’re not controlling your narrative, then someone else is.”

When he first took over communications at Harley in 1985, he reports people had a certain stereotype about Harley Davidson. “It was long associated with, you know, big burly criminal type people. And that was the Hollywood, media-driven stereotype. That was the marketplace narrative. That’s what people believed in.”

He states that up to that point, people controlled the narrative for Harley Davidson, so the first step was to take back control.

What Do We Want People to Say About Us?

Ken explains that controlling the narrative about your business is critical to your success as a brand.

“What people to say about you? That’s your reputation? That’s your most valued asset? That should be the single most important thing within the business.”

He explains that this is what most businesses get wrong when it comes to talking about their business. “They spend way too much time talking about what they do, what they make, rather than who they are.”

It’s this understanding of knowing who you are as a company that’s important as a way of asserting control over the narrative of your company. It is essential because, other than your message and your narrative, your brand, other companies can copy everything else.

“When people talk about a business and say they’re cool, or, you know, they suck or, you know, they, they take great care of their customers or they have awesome stuff, whatever it is. What they’re talking about isn’t what the business does. They’re talking about who the business is.”

Ken states that this is the distinction that companies must make to control the narrative. Companies must talk about who they are and what they represent rather than what they do.

What Are We Doing as a Company to Make Them Say It?

Once you know what your business stands for and who you are, the company must then act in accordance with their new vision.

Ken says, “If the actions, the specific actions that a business is making don’t match with how they want to be seen or talked about, it can’t happen. It’s not real.”

In order for your brand’s narrative to be controlled by your business, you must be clear about who you are and link that to how you serve your customers.

Ken explains how they did this at Harley Davidson, “Harley became a worldwide presence…through the language and behavior of building a lifestyle. That lifestyle went beyond the product.”

He followed up with, “People pay more for passion and Harley is living proof of that.”

Interested in Learning More?

If you’d like to hear how Ken helped to make Harley a powerhouse global brand using these questions, you can pick up his book, Make Some Noise. In it, he discusses his story, and provides actionable advice on how to create your own brand.

Looking for more great content? Check out our The Art of Making Things Happen podcast page for more great interviews.