Harley-Davidson, mean but green – “Matt Levatich is in town!” I say to Anouk who is sitting across from me at the breakfast table at the Belagio Hotel. She’s staring straight ahead, emotionless, at the black coffee in front of her. She looks exhausted. We spent the day before cruising Route 66 and discovering the Las Vegas nightlife. “He’s here as a speaker at a business conference. Look. Here,” I say, pointing at the Las Vegas Tribune.
“Who’s Matt Levatich?” Anouk asks, without so much as a glance up from her coffee.
Without answering her question, I continue “There is a meet and greet at the Harley-Davidson café in one hour. I want to ask him why Harley-Davidson does so well on the list of most sustainable companies? Finish your coffee and let’s get over there.”
“Who’s Matt Levatich?” Anouk asks again.
I look up from my newspaper to see whether she’s joking or not. But something in the way she’s staring into space tells me she’s not – she’s normally really excited by this sort of thing. “Matt is the President and CEO of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. This is the perfect opportunity to find out how a company like Harley can produce ‘sustainable’ bikes. The café is just across the street… I mean strip. So let’s go.”
Fifteen minutes later we enter the Harley-Davidson café. The wall opposite the entrance is covered with stars and stripes. There are tables and chairs in the centre and along the sides. At the far end of the room a group of about 50 people is gathered around a table. We approach and see Matt, surrounded by brand fans, both men and women and younger than I would have imagined.
“Our sustainability focus is driven by our customers’ appreciation of nature and their experiences with it on the open road. Harley owners thrive on freedom and are looking to escape to beautiful places. And that means we have to try and protect and preserve that nature,” we hear Matt saying.
“Excellent!” I think to myself and lean over to Anouk. “They’re already talking about sustainability.”
”On the other hand,” Matt continues, “we’re really conscious of our image at Harley-Davidson. We have to balance our existing image – which is somewhat rebel-like – with a more conscious, caring approach to the environment. It’s not easy, but if you think about it, they do actually go together. We are individuals. We do things our way. And so we want to look after ourselves and our world.”
There’s a moment of silence as people absorb this new perspective, followed by Matt’s “anyone else?” Here’s my chance to ask my question about Harley-Davidson and sustainability, I think to myself. But before I can ask open my mouth, a journalist asks him something about Community-Based Marketing.
“Every brand community must be part of a business strategy not just a marketing strategy,” I hear Matt saying. “Brand communities exist to serve the people in the community, not the business.”
Silence again, I raise my hand in order to attract Matt’s attention. At the same time I see the journalist of Bikers magazine raising his hand, probably with a question about some new bike or another technical innovation.
“Yes Jeff?” Matt says to the man from Bikers magazine. “Matt, can you tell us something about the latest innovations, like the anti-lock-braking-systems, and the fly-by-wire throttle control?” the man asks.
“You know Jeff”, Matt says, “we employ cutting-edge technology to keep our motorcycles ahead of the chasing pack, but when you have a heritage as rich as ours, one of the greatest challenges is to continue improving your motorcycles with the latest technology while retaining the classic look and feel of a Harley.”
Judging by the sound the audience is making, the crowd agrees. Time for my question, I think, while raising my hand again. Matt is looking into the crowd to select the next question. I raise my hand even higher. Matt is pointing into the crowd behind me. ”Yes, ma’am, what is your question?”
“Damn,” I think to myself. “I’ll never get to ask my question about the Harley-Davidson sustainability programme now.”
I look over my shoulder and see Anouk with her hand raised. “Hi Matt. I’m Anouk from CoolBrands. We’d like to know how Harley-Davidson made it into the top of the Dow Jones sustainability index?”
“Hi Anouk. Welcome. Thanks for that question – it’s a good one if you think about the amount of raw materials we use. But our bikes are really sustainable precisely because we use the good stuff. I challenge you to say you’ve ever seen a Harley in a skip. That’s because they’re so recyclable.
Secondly, 70% of the pollution is in the production process. And we’ve changed a lot of things in our manufacturing over recent years – a lot of small things that, put together, have really cut our environmental impact. In some manufacturing processes by as much as 99%. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in everything we’re doing to reduce our footprint on the world. We have high-level teams across all our sites that focus only on ‘greening’ our company. If you want the nitty gritty, you can check out our sustainability reports. Does that answer your question?”
“Yes, that all makes a lot of sense,” Anouk says to Matt, before turning to me. “Can we go now, I’m dying for another coffee,” she whispers.
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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Tags: Global Storytelling Campaign, Anouk Pappers, Maarten Schäfer, Around the World in 80 Brands, Around the World, 80 Brands, Around the World in 80 days, CoolBrands Storytelling, Storytelling, CoolBrands, cool storytelling, third party storytelling, creating talk value, storytelling, people planet profit, brands with a purpose, harley-davidson, harley, matt levatich, matt, levatich, meeting matt levatich, meeting harley-davidson, harley Davidson, sustainability index, dow jones sustainability index, top 10 dow jones sustainability index, meeting harley
By Maarten Schäfer – By Maarten Schafer