When branding kills tradition

We are living in a modern world, with modern marketing techniques, but unfortunately they are not all positive.

Old fashioned values like tradition, loyalty and respect are getting lost, and replaced by something called brand value. I like these old fashioned values, the are regaining importance and attention, specially in todays challenging times that showed the negative and ugly face of the ever increasing speed of change, hailed by modern managers as the ultimate path to prosperity.

For me Harley-Davidson is all about tradition, with a history going back to 1901, it is about loyalty of its customers that stay with Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and it is about respect that Harley owners show to each other in HOG and HOG chapters, where people of very different origins, professions and wealth join together as equals to enjoy their favourite motorcycles.

A modern economist may summarise above values in just two words: brand recognition, which these managers then try to quickly express in real cash terms as “the brand value”. But this questionable monetary translation is where the problem starts, because I know for sure that my tradition and history is not for sale, there is no price tag for my loyalty, and my respect can not be bought, it has to be earned.

I think Harley-Davidson knows that very well, but some of the modern day quest for profits and investor returns jeopardises the whole HOG concept, specially in these difficult economical times of stagnating sales.

Here in England’s south, 3 Harley-Davidson dealerships closed in recent weeks: Dockgate 20 Harley-Davidson in Southampton, and Thames Valley Harley-Davidson in Slough, and the  Stratstone Harley-Davidson  in Walthamstow. These unfortunate events are the result of difficult economical times, and my sympathies are with the employees loosing their job, and the investors who may not have fulfilled all of their goals.

As a Harley-Davidson dealership has one associated HOG Chapter, these economically driven closures have suddenly a deep social impact on the sponsored Chapters and the members of Thames Valley UK Chapter, New Forest Branch and the Essex Chapter Great Britain.

As no new dealership opened yet in Slough or Southampton, Thames Valley and New Forest are (for now) directly associated to HOG UK only, without a designated sponsoring dealership. Their social life however can continue pretty much uninterrupted, its just for some a longer ride and a bit harder to find the closest Harley-Davidson dealership to service their motorcycles.

It is however the news on the fate of the Essex Chapter that disturbed me: after 19 years, the Essex Chapter will be disbanded on Feb 5th 2011. (read the announcement here in pdf)

One could now think: “very sad, but shit happens”, with no sponsoring dealership the Chapter members decided to sell their Harleys and buy Ducatis or Hondas instead. But the real story behind is much more complex, touches my traditional values and triggered the title for this post: when branding kills tradition.

20 miles south of the previous dealership, now in Thurrock, still ESSEX, a new dealership opened, and I myself drove there on a rainy Sunday to celebrate its new opening. The dealership is called Lakeside Harley-Davidson.

One may think that all is suddenly fine for the 19 year old Essex Chapter, their dealer changed management, name and location, but what are 20 miles down south, a nice ride in ESSEX on a nice day. A happy ending to economical troubles.

How wrong!

One has to appreciate that the sponsoring dealership is de facto the owner of the Chapter, with a strong influence on many aspects of the Chapters management and life. That is sensible, and very often works very well, as Chapter members want to ride a Harley-Davidson, bought or serviced by the dealership. This partnership of economical and social interests is in most cases a win-win situation, for the Harley-Davidson dealer and the HOG Chapter members. From last years experience I can only praise my Guildford Harley-Davidson dealership, its management and employees.

It seems however that the owners of the new Lakeside Harley-Davidson recently read the book “Branding for Dummies“, and decided that old Essex Chapter should die, and a brand new Lakeside Chapter be born. Branding kills tradition.

You can buy the book on Amazon for 9.74GBP (see here)

This is very confusing, and I only hope that HOG US and/or HOG UK will use their veto-right to this unnecessary name change. Should we really start to call our chapters by the name of associated shopping centers?

In a few month my HOG membership has to be renewed, and I am tempted to decide on a life membership. But taking these Essex events into consideration, I have to question what “life” really means to Harley-Davidson and their marketing department. It seems that with the flic of a finger a 19 year old Chapter can be killed, its social life turned upside down, replaced by a new name, a new structure, just for a questionable new start on a clean new sheet. Tradition, Loyalty and Respect suddenly seem worthless, thrown in the bin and replaced by modern marketing hype, believing that brand recognition is the utmost goal and quickest way to prosperity.

Please do not get me wrong, I think the the HOG structures and rules are sensible and should be observed, but culling a old and renowned name like “Essex” only for short- term “Lakeside” branding goals is very disruptive, as the reaction of many Essex Chapter members show.

The Only Way is Essex !


5 Responses to “When branding kills tradition”

  1. Well its almost three years since my original comments and I have to say (and confirm) we “Essex Chapter” are going from strength to strength with more members than ever as an Independent Chapter and have just had a fantastically successful Rally (again) and look forward to next years 25th (yes 25 years) Anniversary rally to celebrate our complete history as one of the longest surviving and biggest Chapters in the UK…………hope to see many of you at the event ……check out our (one of the best) web sites for details.

  2. Bob Andrews Says:

    Agree 100% with the article and supportive comments, would just like to say that now is the time to update and tell the world that the “Original” Essex Chapter is alive and kickiing with more members than before its last year of “HOG” affiliation and that is without any dealerships sending new members our way, its due to word of mouth of how good we are. (new members always welcome, check out essexchapter.com)

  3. I have been a member of Essex Chapter HOG since February 1992, and have served on the Chapter Committee for much of that time – and now it seems that all of that loyalty, committment and upholding of the ‘HOG Family values’ are totally meaningless in the eyes of the ‘corporation’. Regardless of any thought for the individual, the camaradarie within the club, the work that has been put in by the various committees over the years and sheer passion shown by everyone connected to the club, corporate strategy railroads over everythng to suit the needs, desires and direction dicated by those who are totally clinical in their approach in dealing with very emotive and human issues. Our club has been built on a foundation of Tradition, Loyalty and Respect – none of which have been observed or embraced by all of those, without exception, who have been instrumental in dealing with the dictatorial way that the Essex Chapter HOG has been instructed to close. We have an EGM on the 30th of January 2011 – it will be very interesting to see in which direction our membership vote to go in! Smurf.

  4. Gary France Says:

    I agree with you on this. I would much rather join the Essex Chapter rather than the Lakeside Chapter. For me, Lakeside is a tacky shopping centre and I have visions of young mothers walking around there trying to keep their children in check, while looking in cheap fashion shops. I would be embarrassed to join anything associated with Lakeside, let alone a HOG. I was shocked to hear of the 3 closures – a sign of the times no doubt.

  5. I blow hot and cold on HOG. I was a member. Then I wasn’t. Then I was again. But I never really got into it for many of the same reasons that a chapter can be disbanded after 19 years. (http://ontwowheels-eh.blogspot.com/2009/06/to-hog-or-not-to-hog.html)

    HOG is an extension to the Motor Company, pure and simple. Their goal is to foster and encourage brand recognition, and everything they do is done to support the brand – nothing more. And except for the fact that they have some membership privileges that I use on occasion, I really would prefer not to pay to be marketed to.

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