Indian Motorcycle Marketing Strategy

Cyril-Huze-Indian-Ad-1Choice is coming to American motorcycles. Are you of the Harley-Davidson or Indian Motorcycle type? Of both? It is my opinion that the motorcycle industry needs another high profile American motorcycle brand and that the Indian launch will positively disrupt the market, growing our industry, creating a healthy competition primarily with Harley-Davidson and marginally with other V-Twin brands, American or foreign.

Let me first mention that all decision-makers and strategists involved in the Indian Motorcycle re-launch – I talked several times to most of them – have the highest respect for Harley-Davidson. They also know that by offering very soon another American choice to bikers they are going to re-activate the pre-1953 rivalry, both on the road and on the track. I don’t know anyone, biker or professional from the industry complaining about an up-coming competition between the two brands.

During the last 50 years motorcycling has become socially respectable. In the ’90s, for whatever reasons (I may develop this topic in another post), the upper class of lawyers, doctors, real estate developers, dentists, etc started to ride expensive Harleys, playing the biker outlaws on weekends and during a couple of big rallies like Daytona and Sturgis. Harley-Davidson sold a lot of bikes to them until many Rich Urban Bikers looked for other ways to have fun. Then in 2008, the US recession hit hard with Harley-Davidson realizing that its core clientele was soon getting too old to ride, and started courting not only younger potential bikers, but also pursuing all sort of hobbyists in many social categories, either women, latinos, blacks. In addition, Harley started  focusing its efforts on foreign markets like Asia to compensate for what Harley sees as a very low potential for growth in the USA, probably for the next 10 years. It is well known that many core Harley bikers, right or wrong, feel alienated by Milwaukee’s last years strategy (and it includes foreign made parts assembled on its “American” motorcycles) and would abandon Harley for another American brand like Indian if the opportunity was given to them…

Cyril-Huze-Indian-Ad-2In this context, can Polaris seriously compete with Harley-Davidson with its new Indian model(s)? No denial that Harley is and will remain a legend. But the Indian brand remains iconic around the world despite the fact that the final production run of the final genuine Indians (the Blackhawk, a version of the side-valve 80-inch Chief) came in 1953. Also despite several failed attempts to re-launch the brand. After 60 years of “silence”, in terms of “good will” towards the brand, Indian is at least as powerful, if not more, than Harley is. With the right bikes, it says a lot about the potential of Indian to rival with Harley-Davidson motorcycle and biker gear offering.

Indianengine1Indianengine2The marketing and advertising gurus handling the Polaris launch of the new Indian motorcycle(s) are acutely aware that relaunching such an icon can be tricky. Expectations are so high… Success will depend on the bike(s) themselves (design & technology), on their price(s) and of course on the way Indian establishes its marketing position statement versus the competition. Credibility? As of today, especially after unveiling the brand new Thunder Stroke 111, Polaris has already convinced the motorcycle industry, media and the vast majority of bikers that they understand the culture, are able to offer an Indian engine “honoring the past and powering the future.”. Succeeding, as Indian says “at capturing the iconic design and styling aspects of the 112-year old brand’s most historic models and fusing that heritage with state-of-the-art technology and progressive design elements.” Price of its new model(s)? I guess we will know soon, and it will affect the percentage of people jumping ship right away for Indian (By the way, how many have already postponed a new or used Harley purchase until the new Indian is unveiled?) Marketing and advertising strategy? It is evidenced by the 2 new Indian Motorcycle ads illustrating this article. Who is going to ride the new Indian? 1- All those who identify themselves as core bikers, not hobbyists (ad number 1). 2- All those who stand apart, who want to challenge the status quo, who understand and live the lifestyle (Ad number 2) 3- All those who, since a long time and for whatever reason, wish to have an American brand alternative to Harley-Davidson…

indian-motorcycle-storySo, will Polaris take in a couple of years with its Indian Motorcycle brand a very significant share of the Harley-Davidson domestic market? Now is your turn to tell me and all readers: which brand do you identify yourself the most with (look again at the 2 ads I feature); your overall thoughts about Indian’s product/marketing/advertising strategy; what do you feel Indian’s chances are to succeed; and if you are a Harley or V-Twin motorcycle rider, if you would be willing to switch right away for the new Indian motorcycle to be unveiled in a few months, or purchase one as a second bike.


87 Responses to “Indian Motorcycle Marketing Strategy”

  1. 1 Courtney Apr 22nd, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    So, Cyril what is the next reveal? The handlebars, the fenders, the horn? Lol.

  2. 2 Roger Davenport Apr 22nd, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Until now I think Indian did everything right, even the 2 ads. The engine looks great, but now how to not disappoint with the bike itself. It’s impossible to please everybody with 1 model.

  3. 3 fuji Apr 22nd, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    CourtneyApr 22nd, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    So, Cyril what is the next reveal? The handlebars, the fenders, the horn? Lol.

    You know you want one . : ] You dont want your friends to know

  4. 4 Woody's Apr 22nd, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    “…have the highest respect for Harley-Davidson” Really? They have a funny way of showing it. I think it’s perhaps a little strained to talk smack about another’s line of motorcycles when you haven’t actually put a bike of up for sale yet. Personally I’m tired of the teaser ads to where I am losing interest, especially when they decided to go with a V-Twin.

  5. 5 John Bauer Apr 22nd, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Woody’s. Tired of the teaser ads? You mean you can’t wait to see the bike. right? So, their strategy is working.

  6. 6 Peter Rodgers Apr 22nd, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Good ads…if you are upset at Harley.

  7. 7 Chris Rivera Apr 22nd, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I may want one if overall design looks as good as engine and warranty is as good as the one offered by Harley.

  8. 8 Nobody Apr 23rd, 2013 at 12:52 am

    I might get one a few years down the road when they filter onto Craig’s List for a few grand after some poor git figures out that a midlife crisis doesn’t turn out any better buying an Indian rather than a Harley.

  9. 9 Septic the Sceptic Apr 23rd, 2013 at 12:54 am

    When I actually see a bike roll off the line, I’ll start to pay attention to their propaganda.

  10. 10 Ralph Martinez Apr 23rd, 2013 at 5:48 am

    I may buy one right away because I can, and it will probably be a collectable.

  11. 11 Ruben Jones Apr 23rd, 2013 at 5:54 am

    Hey Septic the Septic. It’s not propaganda. It’s called marketing. Strategy (I suppose) may also be to slow Harley purchases until launch of the new Indian. We will see soon if it works.

  12. 12 plowboy Apr 23rd, 2013 at 6:28 am

    the ads will come and go but the iron will stay if it’s worthy . I will give them five years and then look at trading for a Indian.

  13. 13 highrpm Apr 23rd, 2013 at 6:42 am

    polaris must preserve the mystical of the brand. to me, the crazy horse icon carries with it the spiritual heritage of the lakota and their sacred black hills. (otoh, maybe im fos.)

  14. 14 highrpm Apr 23rd, 2013 at 7:05 am

    the thunderstroke 111 carries brand magic.

  15. 15 Ryan Apr 23rd, 2013 at 7:45 am

    I love these ads. They are directly competing with HD, so you might as well focus your ad campaign on “Us vs Them”.

  16. 16 calif phil Apr 23rd, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I also wish Indian well. It’s great to see an American company prosper and create jobs building products in the USA. A domestic parts count % would be nice to see on Indian, Polaris and Harley.

  17. 17 mal ross Apr 23rd, 2013 at 7:55 am

    way overpriced, ugly old looking motorcycles.

  18. 18 Bob Sherman Apr 23rd, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Go Indian, go.

  19. 19 Kevin Apr 23rd, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I’d trade my Sportster in for an equivalent Indian Scout if they ever get around to making one.

  20. 20 Motorcycle Marc Apr 23rd, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Key to long-term success of the brand…amazingly deep pockets, patience and equipment quality from Polaris. I do find their new advertising distinguishing hobbyists and those passionate about riding to be excellent. I for one, will be adding an Indian to my fleet of motorcycles…when I can afford it. They are over-priced in the current market.

    Ride Safe Out There Everyone

  21. 21 Woody's Apr 23rd, 2013 at 9:18 am

    @John Bauer. Actually I can wait easily. Of course I’m curious about ANY new bike, most all of us are. If anything they’re alienating some folks with the constant tease stuff, not making people like me more excited about it at all. The reason I even commented wasn’t about the bike (’cause there isn’t one yet 😉 )but about Cyril’s story on the ads. The demographics Indian’s going to need to make it are as much or more the same as the trailer queen segment of H-D’s ownership si I find it amusing they can talk smack about somebody’s else’s ridership before they even HAVE one.

  22. 22 fuji Apr 23rd, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Those who own the first low serial numbers wont have to be concerned about getting their money back.

    I would assume that they are already spoken for.

  23. 23 Rick Lossner Apr 23rd, 2013 at 10:45 am

    @mal ross … “way overpriced, ugly old looking motorcycles.”

    Have you seen an Ultra Classic lately ? LMAO .. Slap a CVO sticker on it and you just described it

    Since they will have multiple price levels, multiple models , new engine… you must’ve been describing another brand, another model year

  24. 24 spaz Apr 23rd, 2013 at 11:44 am

    As I write this they are remodeling part of our showroom for the new Indian right outside my office. We sell Victory and used Harley’s at about a 1-to-1 ratio, but when anyone asks me what the differences are between Victory’s and Harley’s, my answer is long, as the list of technological superiorities that Victory has over Harley is long. I tell people,” isn’t it amazing that there will be 3 American V-twin brands competing for our business?” -It’s like Ford, GM, and Chrysler battling it out with Mustangs, Vettes, and Challengers. It’s awesome. We as buyers benefit from the competition, and we should all embrace it. Just like the old guys going the the Good Guys car shows, they all have their favorites, but they hang out and share their passion for cool cars together. That’s what the biker community should be like. We’re all out there, riding our AMERICAN bikes, and soaking up the lifestyle together. -Speaking of American, it’s pretty common knowledge that Victory’s are built with significantly more American parts than good ol’ HD’s. I suspect the same will be true with Indian. -just sayin’…

  25. 25 Mac miss Apr 23rd, 2013 at 11:48 am

    You bet . And you could take back market shears if you bring back the poney in 750 or 900 cc something like the early sportster . A lot of people don’t even know Indian made a small bore bike Thank You Mac Out

  26. 26 Jack Apr 23rd, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I love the attitude that they are trying to convey with these ads, but the danger is that they are poking just as much fun at the riders as the Motor Company. Riders that ideally they’d like to see buy their bikes. Maybe people will look past the slight and just revel in the attitude, but its a risk.

    That being said its always fun to see David taking a whack at Goliath and I hope Indian does well. All riders win if they do.

  27. 27 Alexander Apr 23rd, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    I hope all of you bought the Polaris stock (PII) when Cyril announced on April 19, 2011 that they bought Indian. No, bikers are terrible investors.

  28. 28 courtney Apr 24th, 2013 at 2:47 am

    I haven’t read all of the comments yet, so, if I am echoing someone else then… awesome!

    Here’s the problem with all due respect to Cyril: There Already Exists Another American Brand. It is called Victory.

    To postulate that Indian (a sad and defunct marquee that is not intrinsic to Polaris in the least) is the Only Viable Alternative to Harley Davidson ultimately undermines Polaris’ efforts to achieve major status within the American motorcycle market simply due to the fact that Polaris HAS ALREADY invented and mass-produced another American brand for 15 years and counting.

    Perhaps it didn’t catch on as anticipated, thus, a New Old marquee will do the trick! It’s all in the name I guess….

  29. 29 dmj Apr 24th, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Woody, I was thinking the same thing,

    “The demographics Indian’s going to need to make it are as much or more the same as the trailer queen segment of H-D’s ownership. What I find it amusing, they can talk smack about somebody’s else’s ridership before they even HAVE one.”

    No motor company can chance alienating any part of the market place and expect to succeed. Two years from now, Indian had better hope those trailer queens have Indians on the back of those black jackets. Hobbyists have been good to the Motor Company over the years. I suspect we will see some new adds from Indian showing us how well their bikes trailer in the coming years.

  30. 30 BobS Apr 24th, 2013 at 8:23 am

    80 comments on just an ad. I’d say the future looks bright for Indian.

  31. 31 Brett Apr 24th, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Courtney. I don’t think Cyril really forgot about Victory. But Victory will never succeed in competing against Harley cruisers. Victory is mainly a touring bike line up. It’s their niche market and it’s where they did well against Harley, although still a small number of units have been sold. Indian is competing against Harley. I also think that Indian will take buyers who would have bought a Victory cruiser. If the new Indian s a success, the Victory cruisers are going to extinction.

  32. 32 Jack Apr 24th, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Brett, I don’t think Victory is going anywhere. Just like you said, Victory has never really been able to compete with Harley, so Indian shouldn’t steal any buyers from them. Victory will continue to try and pull in the Star & Honda riders who want to trade up but don’t want a Harley and probably never will, while Indian will attempt to go directly after Harley’s market share. There is more than enough room for all three brands.

    BobS, you certainly can’t argue with the interest in Indian over a couple pictures with words :)

  33. 33 barney fife Apr 25th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Well I ride Triumph although my next bike is going to be a Road King. I get a bad vibe from the Indian advertisements shown above as they try to tar all riders of H-D bikes as being cut from the same cloth (they all trailer their bikes). Which of course is a load of horse shit and rather insults me as a consumer.

    If Indian wanted to really stomp H-D they need only build their bikes out of 100% American made parts and advertise that fact which would then really make them “America’s Bike”… can you imagine how powerful that would be.

    Plus they need a Scout. They’ll never make it past being a novelty act without a Sportster killing Scout.

    I’m buyiing the Road King and not the Indian because of the ugly oil cooler hanging off the front of the engine…..bad design decision.

  34. 34 hedstroem Jun 8th, 2013 at 11:22 am

    let me tell you as an ousider (from the us) , but nevertheless big admirer of the real story (1901-1953) – so far (new start with polaris) they did all a 100% right.
    the old bottle cap was a copy of a tendencial HDmarket, nevertheless it had even a state-of-the-art valvesystem. the new thunder-stroke 111 is more the ever could expect.
    and remember: the outfit is not the content ! his engine had (..) to resemble the old fin-type side-valve engine of (till) 53′.
    the valves are even adjustable, this has not even been discussed. the engineering has been made by a swiss, polaris owned company.
    this is “rocket”science.
    think HD = they have since the 80s a porsche engine (be it “evolution” or their new, last one). HD is not able to market . their engine consists out of failure but , apparently people wanted it.
    they sold the “dream”, 3 oils needed, every screw needs a workshop and overhaul cost you a “new bike”.
    but let’s stick with the good news:
    indian did their first compact engine back in 16′ (powerplus) and the 20’scout revealed the beauty of a realy new, compact engine ! no separed gearbox, no fancy & useless knucklehead/flathead/
    shovel name it.
    cut the sh..: in a nutshell : the choice is coming to you – there’s no excuse to go for any other bike anymore: US = yes, history= first USbike, reliability =more then others…. – the only question to ask yourself = what about is it ?
    hobby ?
    …you go for others and….have fun!

  35. 35 KENWORTH Jun 28th, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    My favorite commercial is the one with the HD anniversary springer, I own that bike, one of 3k made for the 2003 year,….mine is black on Black, one of 1200 in that color combination….. and at the end they slap a for sale sign on it??? Let me know where it is?……it has all the extras on it!……and I know a pile of guys who would line up for one.!, lol

    Seriously, I think Polaris has their work cut out for them, but they have DEEP pockets to pull this off. I hope they build a 4 cyl. springer version, it would make a classy second ride in the stable…..

  36. 36 nightrider Aug 27th, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Polaris is looking to put too many dealers in a region. That will result in failed dealers who can’t sustain the overhead and leary consumers seeing dealers closing up after 2 years. Bad mistake on behalf of management.
    They are too desperate for sales and over dealing will hurt them

  1. 1 Indian Motorcycle Marketing Strategy | eBikerLeather Official Blog Pingback on Apr 23rd, 2013 at 10:44 am
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