What do Google, Apple and Harley Davidson have in common?

Harley Davidson

Lets start with the last one. Someone who in 1986 invested $10,000 on Harley Davidson would find himself with almost $2 billion as of today. Quite astonishing for a motorcycle manufacturer right? Well, but are we really talking about a motorcycle manufacturer? I do not think so, in fact I would not say that Harley Davidson had such a success selling motorcycles but rather fulfilling dreams… a completely different business segment.

How did Harley Davidson manage to enter the “dreams” business? First and foremost by focusing on the user experience as opposed to just selling products. They do not want satisfied customers, that is not enough. Instead they want their customers to be successful and self-realized as human beings… (damn!) is that marketing or what?

As a top manager of Harley commented: “we don’t actually ‘create‘ loyalty. Our customers give us their loyalty. It’s their choice. They choose to show they have a belief in us and in the way we run our business and processes. Most companies see ‘brand’ as some connectivity to a badge. Harley goes far beyond that. The customer experience is the brand.”

No wonder Harley enthusiasts tattoo the company logo in their bare skins… they do not buy the brand, they live it!

Apple

Now, back to the central question, what does Apple have in common with Harley Davidson? By now you probably have already guessed. Most of Apple’s success derives from the focus on user experience.

Late in the 1990s the digital music scene was relatively scattered. There were many different MP3 players but the vast majority presented small flash memories (containing from 10 to 20 songs), complex user interfaces and ugly little displays.

The same can be said about online music distribution. The process of buying music online was complex, let alone getting your PC to talk with the MP3 player.

Since the introduction of the Apple-II computer in 1977 the Cupertino company paid a special attention to the user experience, considering carefully even the font that was to be used in their packages. Under the same approach Apple decided to take a shot at the digital music segment.

In 2001 they introduced the first iPod, a device that featured a huge memory, a liquid crystal display and a very simple user interface, all bundled under a sleek design. If that was not enough the iPod would also synchronize seamlessly with personal computers, making sure that users were able to purchase their favorite songs (individually) and automatically get them inside the MP3 player.

It is not a surprise, therefore, the huge market share that Apple holds on the MP3 players market (70% overall and almost 90% for hard-drive based players). In 2006 alone Apple is expected to sell more than 30 million units.

The customers are so attached to the company that they basically represent Apple’s main marketing force.

There are also many similarities between the Macworld events, a twice-a-year love fest for Apple fanatics, and the HOG (Harley Owners Group) meetings. Think about tens of thousands of customers gathered together to share experiences and celebrate your company and the impact it has on their lives. I bet a marketing director could have an orgasm on such occasions.

Google

It should be clear what Apple and Harley Davidson have in common, but what about Google? Arguably Google managed to completely dominate the search engine sector because it offered a superior user experience.

Back in 1994 Yahoo was created as a hierarchical directory of Web sites, organized into nested folders. The name, in fact, comes from “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”.

While this system was efficient during the early stages of the Internet, as soon as the number of pages started to grow it became cumbersome for people to navigate through the hierarchical folders.

That is exactly when Google appeared (1998). Instead of having the information organized into folders and directories Sergey Brin and Larry Page decided to use an indexed search, meaning that users would only need to type a small search query to find what they were looking for.

Google’s desire to offer a superior user experience goes beyond the search engine. Just think about Google Earth, Gmail, Google Reader or Google News. Even better, just take a look at Google’s home page… a clean, white page with a simple colored logo and a search box. Could the user experience get much better than that? Hardly.

Conclusion

Technology is changing the way people communicate, work and interact. It is also changing the relationship between companies and customers. As we move forward companies will realize that user experience makes (all) the difference. They need to aim for successful and not satisfied customers.

It is about living a brand against buying it. Loving against liking. It is about excellence. So please, if you can help, scrap the idea of selling products or offering services. Try, instead, to fulfil dreams.

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