The favourite Ken Schmidt’s question: What is your story?

Marketing guru Ken Schmidt usually talks motorcycles, the art of branding, and why your customers should be spreading and talking about your praise. You can quote Ken Schmidt on that: he was a key piece in the Harley-Davidson motor Co.’s ascent from bankruptcy in the mid-1980s and knows what it’s like to get people talking – and buying.

Schmidt’s formal relationship with Harley-Davidson began in 1985, when he was a specialist in corporate positioning and media relations. After the company reached out to him to help restore the then-struggling brand, it took him a few short years to make the Harley-Davidson brand cool and respected by motorcyclists, media, investors, and, most important, potential new customers. In 1990, he became director of corporate and financial communications, serving as its primary media and financial spokesperson. Ken Schmidt’s passionate and magical touch was cemented into marketing folklore.

Today, a much sought-after speaker, the semi-retired Schmidt is widely known and respected as one of the business world’s most outspoken and provocative thought leaders. And, if you want to talk marketing, pull up a chair, because Schmidt has plenty to say. Some of his insights we would like to share here on our blog and don’t miss your chance to hear Ken speaking live in FORUM ONE 2014!


On unique voice

It could be summed in two sentences: Have a unique story based on emotion, engage your prospects/clients/community with passion and individual attention. Do that and you will separate your company/school/department/service and you will build a strong brand.

Ken: “I see entirely too much time and capital devoted to message delivery and only a small fraction of that devoted to message creation. That’s just nuts! Messaging is everything! It’s the verbal essence of your brand. It’s the bait that’s going to attract me and get me to bite. It’s what separates you from your competitors. It’s your religion. And you really want to tell me about your “quality,” as if that’s some sort of new and differentiating concept?

Make your message unpredictable. Own it exclusively. It’s an approach that works – for your own marketing and for your customers’ marketing programs, too. I’ve run a lot of direct marketing programs, and I can tell you from experience that if your competition is doing something, you should be doing something completely different.”


What is your story?

If no one shares with others that they worked with you, it might as well as never happened. You might have had a transaction, but the long term value is the testimonials and experiences being told by others. Brands are built person by person through experiences, marketing and personal testimonials. Have a story, tell it and create positive experiences where it will be retold.

Ken: “How do you know when your messaging is working? Simple. When your customers are repeating it. In printing circles, or small businesses in general, I bet that if you would ask five or six employees what your company stands for you’d get five or six different explanations. There’s often no strategy, because there’s often nobody directing this. If your employees can’t do this, what would happen if you put 40 or 50 of your customers in a room and asked them? Create a position and defend it. Create reasons for why people would want to do business with you. And then build your brand around that. It’s not about the equipment you have. That’s what you do. It’s about the language you communicate and connect to your customers with. Remember, by and large, your customers are marketing people. So when you speak to them, speak their language. The faster you can do this, the easier success will come.”


On working with media people

He who had the opportunity to work with so many media people, has some harsh and enthusiasm cooling things to tell.

Ken: “It’s great to be loved, of course, and for a few years in the late 80s and early 90s, the media world seemed to be madly in love with HD. I pushed their buttons hard with stuff they couldn’t turn down: drama, suddenly winning underdogs, great personalities, superb visuals and a whole lotta noise. We typically benefitted from the coverage – and it sold a lot of bikes — but the massive egos and the “drop everything and do precisely what we tell you to do” attitudes common among producers and household name media personalities soon made any excitement I felt toward working with them wane. Truth is, I’d learned to loathe quite a lot of them. I’ll say it here: In general, media people are some the least-informed, careless, vain-glorious folks on the planet. Oops. I forgot. And lazy, too. The good ones are really good – too bad there are so few of them.”


On today’s business climate

Ken: “We are in an environment where businesses are super cautious about everything they do. They’re not spending money on marketing. They’re not investing in their people or processes. Everybody is being asked to do more with less. We just don’t have that “go to” model that the internet gave us 20 years ago. And because we don’t, businesses are grasping at straws – they’re grasping at things like social media. Businesses have to work harder and smarter. And, unfortunately, a lot of them don’t know what to do right now. So they chase things like social media, because they think it’s a cheaper way to do business. But they soon find that it’s not for everyone.”


On action without delay

Ken: “You have to do something. Whether you’re a large business or small one, it seems that people are waiting around for something to happen. They figure somebody will do something and are happy to wait for somebody to somehow solve their problems. You have to jump in with both feet and start running. Don’t sit around and wait. The market is never going to evolve to the point at which where people just pick up the phone and call you.”


And at last:

Ken: “Three traits every marketer should have: You should be obsessively inquisitive about everything business and pop culture related. You should have a contagious passion. And you have to be a superb storyteller. Human behaviour is what moves markets.”



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