Harnessing the Power of Connection to Build an Iconic American Brand


AUGUST, 2017

Brand Story

In 2010, I did something I thought I’d never do – abandon all control and ride on a motorcycle.

That summer, I was completing my graduate residency at one of the top advertising agencies in the world — FCB. As a brand planner, my job was to get inside the minds of my clients’ consumers (and their competitors) and craft strategies to help move their brands forward. I took an unspoken oath to be authentic, to represent the true voice of the customer, and to strategize in a way that kept brands good on their promises. When I was assigned to the Volkswagen account, I immediately immersed myself into global driving cultures — specifically for cult brands like VW. I needed to understand why and how people could have such strong emotional connections to their vehicles.

One day on my lunch, I walked along Erie Street until I reached the corner of Michigan Avenue where the Harley Davidson store was located. It doesn’t get any more “cult-ish” than Harley, I thought. I stood and stared for a few minutes before a middle-aged man with roughly trimmed facial hair and an American flag bandana very poignantly asked me:

“You ride?”

I’m guessing my baby blue cropped pants, white silk blouse, four-inch heels and oversized tote didn’t necessarily scream “Harley Girl.” His question was warranted. Before reservations of my life ending on a Chicago city street could settle in, I answered him:

“No, but I’d like to try.”

I’m an Image Caption ready-to-use.

Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

He tossed me his helmet and granted my wish. Within seconds, I felt the indescribable thrill of what Harley riders coveted so much: the journey.   It didn’t take me long to figure out what Harley Davidson’s key selling point was or why its customers had such strong emotional connections to the brand. It was that feeling. It was the same feeling that made me abandon all good sense, a recollection of the amount of minutes I had left on my lunch, and even my own safety. I cared about none of it. In the 15 minutes of our ride, I understood more about branding and marketing than any class could have ever taught me.

“Great marketing is all about connecting two stories together: that of the brand and that of the customer.”

Because Harley did this — connected the stories of their riders to the ideals of the brand — they became more than just a motorcycle company; they became one of the most iconic American brands of our time. Today, I still count myself as fortunate to have experienced this connection, if only for 15 minutes.

Written by: Amber Williams

Master Brand Storyteller & Founder of PunkyFlair

Want to take your brand to the next level?
Get on the list.