Drivers, Vehicles are Critical Extensions of Your Brand, Former Harley-Davidson Exec Tells Lytx User Group Conference Attendees

SAN DIEGO – March 13, 2017 

Your company’s reputation can be its strongest competitive advantage, and each driver and vehicle in your fleet has the ability to build it up, or, with one bad, high-profile collision, tear it down to its bone, according to Ken Schmidt, former director of communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

Schmidt is credited with helping the Harley-Davidson brand make a 180-degree turn from being perceived as the brand of thugs and criminals to an elite, adventurous lifestyle brand. He is a keynote speaker addressing the 300+ attendees at this week’s Fifth Annual Lytx User Group Conference.

“Brand isn’t what you say about yourself – it’s what other people say about you, and you never want to give them an opportunity to say bad things,” Schmidt said. He knows first hand how difficult overcoming negative brand perceptions can be.

“For decades, Hollywood and the media portrayed Harley-Davidson as the brand for the bad guys, and no one wanted to be associated with it, but that reputation simply didn’t match real life,” he said. “We knew our motorcycles were for anyone who wanted an adventure on the road, but the problem is, people wouldn’t believe it if we said it about ourselves. We had a reputation problem.”

In 1986, Harley-Davidson was near bankruptcy, and while the company continued to focus on making a quality product, it had a huge blind spot about its negative brand perception that nearly ended the company. That’s when Schmidt and his team decided to change the public conversation about the brand. They took Harley-Davidson straight to the people.

“We started holding product demonstrations at dealerships and made an effort to get more influential people involved, like politicians and chamber of commerce members,” he said. “We gave people a highly visible opportunity to see that people just like them rode Harleys. It started a strong word-of-mouth campaign that changed the trajectory of the company.”

Schmidt said that the more people he could get in the “saddle,” the better. Harley-Davidson sent employees out across the country, offering 15-mile road tests to eligible riders, while also gathering critical market data that answered the question, “what would we need to change to get you to buy a Harley?”

This effort helped Harley-Davidson make a meaningful connection with the buying public. Three years later – in 1989 – they were completely sold out of product, and they had built what Schmidt refers to as “positive social energy.”

“Communities were forming around Harley riders – there was visible passion around the brand,” he said. “Ultimately, businesses need to decide and influence what the public says about their brand, and they do this through their people.”

Back then, information moved slowly, but information moves so much faster today, and that includes complaints. For fleet safety and operations professionals, they can play a key role in making sure that the information stays positive.

“Your people rise above all else when it comes to brand reputation, because each and every driver is a brand ambassador,” he said. “When you send them out on the road as safe and vigilant drivers, you’re making a decision about what you want people to say about your brand.”

About Lytx

At Lytx® we harness the power of data to change human behavior and help good companies become even better. Our flagship service, Lytx DriveCam® sets the standard for driver safety in the industries we serve, and our RAIR® Compliance Services helps DOT-regulated fleets comply with safety regulations, complementing the DriveCam® Program. Lytx ActiveVision® service helps fleets detect and address distracted and drowsy driving, both in real time and over time, and the Unisyn™ platform offers video without limits for fleets and field operations of any profile. We protect more than 2,200 commercial and government fleet clients worldwide who drive billions of miles each year. We enable our clients to realize significant ROI by lowering operating and insurance costs, while achieving greater efficiency and compliance. Most of all, we strive to help save lives – on our roads and in our communities, every day. Lytx is privately held and headquartered in San Diego. For more information, visit, @lytx on Twitter, or on our YouTube channel.

Former Harley-Davidson Exec Speaks at Lytx User Group Conference