Brand loyalty can be divisive.
One of the many pleasures of editing a magazine is responding to a litany of accusations of bias. Fact is, we are all biased. One benefit of free speech is we feel safer voicing our personal points of view. Let’s review a couple of older English words that have recently returned to the common vernacular: fanboy and hater.
A fanboy is overly enthusiastic about a product. The word may be applied in a derogatory manner against anyone whose allegiance is brand exclusive. Though fanboys can attach to any product, they are very common for both vehicles and technology. The love of style or performance even leads to consumers preaching about why “their” product is the best.
A hater has an intense dislike for something, and thrives on criticizing it, often unfairly. Haters make disparaging remarks about competitive products they did not choose, because those alternatives are considered substandard. Examples include PlayStation versus Xbox, iPhone versus Android, Ford versus Chevy and even Democrat versus Republican. Haters are often committed fanboys.
Fanboy and hater are quite antonymous, yet many people simultaneously opine from both sides of the spectrum, without examining the bigger picture. “This brand is best because I chose it, and that brand is not, because I didn’t.” Many heated online exchanges exist between fanboys and haters antagonizing one another. When did choice become a bad thing?
I am a fourth generation motorcyclist, and total fanboy. I’ll ride anything with two wheels, regardless of who makes it, when it was manufactured, whether it’s comfortable, how fast it will go, how far it might lean, or what hideous colors it comes in.
Growing older and wiser often leads to open-mindedly trying things shunned earlier in life. I was a longtime Harley-Davidson hater, despite three prior generations of my family being Harley-Davidson owners. I even told the Harley-Davidson press fleet manager, “I don’t like Harleys, but challenge you to change my mind.” She was up to the task.
Still, I was accused by readers of being a fanboy for a relatively positive review of a Harley-Davidson. Then accused of being a hater by the press manager for implying the bikes haven’t really changed in decades. Sometimes you can’t win, and shouldn’t expect to. My interpretation is guaranteed to be mine alone.
While not yet loving any Harley-Davidson enough to empty my wallet, I have been riding and reviewing them for close to a decade, and certainly understand the appeal. With nontraditional models like the ADV Pan America and EV LiveWire, Harley-Davidson will certainly create more fanboys, and haters.
My goal in reviewing products isn’t to pick them to pieces. Rather, it is an attempt to discuss positive aspects that will appeal to the target demographic, tempered by things that could use improvement. The aim is constructive criticism that states why something is inadequate, then explains how to make it better. However, buyers should never need to invest additional money in a brand-new product to make it functional or usable for its intent.
Manufacturers are striving to reach certain price points in a worldwide market, and it’s impossible to make one product that is right for everyone. Overall, modern vehicles are well manufactured, easy to operate and maintain, and just plain fun. It’s also thrilling to have so many great products from which to choose. Yet, it’s difficult to develop products or brands that persist through multiple generations—things change quickly, including the buyers.
Every company strives for brand loyalty in their product. Harley-Davidson has built a dominant, industry-leading empire on consumer commitment that every other motorcycle marque aspires to match. Every manufacturer believes it needs a cruiser, and enough parts and accessories to fill the Grand Canyon. They design boutique shopping experiences, without the clutter of competing brands. They mass-produce marketing collateral like T-shirts and coffee mugs.
One could easily draw more modern parallels to Apple computer. Every competitor becomes a copycat as industry becomes victim to its own self-perpetuating repetition.
Harley-Davidson embraces its owners, the press, aftermarket suppliers, and anyone who wants to jump on and go for a ride. The company markets feelings and heritage, instead of this performance improvement or that color change. Making it extremely easy to get involved and immersed is what other manufacturers should be doing. Harley-Davidson became a lifestyle because the company makes it easy to become a fanboy.
However, fanboys often don’t know what they are missing. Avoiding products based on lack of branding, market leadership or personal sentiments means ignoring many quality products, often with better value propositions. Maybe it’s time to give them a chance?
It’s great to be a fanboy, but don’t let it turn you into a hater.
First publication August 2016 — MCN