Mark-Hans RicherBMA Chicago kicked off the 2016–2017 season with a luncheon featuring Mark-Hans Richer, the former CMO of Harley-Davidson. The format was part Ted-style talk and part interactive discussion with BMA Chicago President Andrew Miller of Aon.

Mark made it clear from the beginning of his talk that he believes in the power of customer perspective. Even when reviewing business performance with the management team, he made sure that a discussion of “units sold” was reframed as “customers gained.” He shared how everything from the development of the product to the experience in the showroom must be filtered through the eyes and desires of the customer.

While B2B and B2C have their differences, the one common element is the customer. Mark-Hans spoke of the variety of marketing tactics Harley-Davidson employed to position and promote the brand. He added that while the marketing mix may vary in the B2B sale, it is optimally defined by the needs of the customer. During Mark’s tenure at Harley-Davidson, he broadened market appeal with a new generation of young adults as well as women, African-Americans and Hispanics by carefully listening to the market and giving prospects what they wanted. He gave a telling example of how important it is to do so: If a new Harley-Davidson prospect walks into the dealership and is not engaged within the first five minutes (an acceptable wait for a long-time customer), the chances of them buying anything drops by around 75%. Seems simple, but the experience of being engaged on a human and emotional level is very powerful, whether the purchase in question is B2C or B2B.

When an attendee asked a question about Harley’s electric motorcycle, the conversation turned to brand management. Mark-Hans admitted that Harley-Davidson was worried about the difference in the sound of the engine — a “trademark” sound for Harley. (Well, almost trademarked … but that’s another story.) But he was amazed to find that fans still accepted the electric motorcycle’s unique sound.

Mark-Hans ended the discussion with some iconic stories from the past decade at Harley-Davidson, including giving a bike to Pope Francis. Harley-Davidson is a brand that transcends boundaries, symbolizing freedom from Texas to Tibet — a great marketing lesson in the power of being customer-centric in all things.