Ever heard of “brand intimacy”? Most people haven’t. It’s a marketing term used to describe the emotional attachment between individuals and brands. When it comes to brand intimacy, one industry, the automotive industry, takes up many of the top positions. Ironically, the leader in the automotive category is not an automobile brand at all.

According to MBLM’s Brand 2017 Intimacy Report, Harley-Davidson has moved to the top of the automotive heap after ranking third in 2015. When the sheer number of cars sold is compared to that of motorcycles, the fact that a motorcycle-only brand could top this category is significant. While number-two-ranked BMW and number-four-ranked Honda also make and sell motorcycles, the number is dwarfed by the volume of cars these companies sell in the U.S., making Harley’s accomplishment even more remarkable.

The demographic groups that put Harley on top are consumers 35 to 44 years-old and for 45 to 64 year-olds. (Interestingly, the top brand for millennials is Chevrolet.) Still, HD ranked in the top three across all age groups, which illustrates the incredible strength of the brand among more than just the demos considered to be the Harley faithful. Clearly, Harley-Davidson is doing something right.

To find the rankings of brands based on emotion, MBLM analyzed the responses of 6,000 consumers and 54,000 brand evaluations across 15 industries (ranging from apparel, beverages, consumer goods, luxury items, media/entertainment, and travel)  in the U.S., Mexico and UAE.

Read the press release below for more information.

Begin Press Release:

MBLM Announces Automotive Industry is #1 for Brand Intimacy

Brand Intimacy 2017 Report Reveals Harley-Davidson Ranks First in Category, Followed by BMW and Toyota               

NEW YORK — April 20, 2017 — MBLM, the Brand Intimacy Agency focused on strategy, design, creative and technology, today revealed that the automotive industry ranked first in its Brand Intimacy 2017 Report. The report, which is the largest study of brands based on emotions, found that Harley-Davidson placed first in the industry followed by BMW and Toyota. Brand Intimacy is defined as a new paradigm that leverages and strengthens the emotional bonds between a person and a brand. According to the 2017 report, top ranked intimate brands continued to outperform the S&P and Fortune 500 indices in both revenue and profit over the past 10 years.

Harley-Davidson ranked third in MBLM’s 2015 report but overtook BMW and Toyota this year. In addition to being the strongest intimate category overall, the automotive industry is also the top industry for males, those older than 35 and those with a higher income. The remaining brands in the top 10 for the industry are: Honda, Jeep, Chevrolet, Ford, Volvo, Mercedes and Chrysler.

“The auto industry leads all others in the degree of intimate brands. Car brands form powerful bonds with us because they are both significant purchases and an extension of our identity and values. Cars make a statement about who we want to be and what we admire,” stated Mario Natarelli, partner at MBLM. “As technology continues to disrupt the category in terms of car sharing, autonomous vehicles and electric/hybrids, it will be interesting to see which brands adapt best to the changing needs and priorities of their customers.”

Leading brands like BMW, Toyota and Honda form powerful bonds with their customers through better (more reliable) performing cars and better service, delivering high-quality products that assure customers that their money was well spent.

While ranking first, the category is showing some potential signs of slippage compared to the 2015 report. Auto recalls hit a record high of 53.2 million in 2016, topping the 51.1 million recalls in 2015.

Other notable automotive industry findings from the report in the U.S. include:

  • The archetype most associated with the industry is fulfillment –  exceeding expectations, delivering superior service, quality and efficacy – and it has the highest average fulfillment score of any industry
  • The top brand for millennials is Chevrolet, for consumers 35 to 44 years-old is Harley-Davidson and for 45 to 64 year-old consumers is Harley-Davidson as well
  • Harley-Davidson has had success in building and maintaining intimacy across multiple generations, placing in the top three for all age groups; although the brand appears to be less popular with millennials, its ability to appeal to all ages is a sign of its strength as a brand
  • Millennials have less intense feelings of intimacy for their top brands than the older groups; the average brand intimacy quotient for the top three automotive brands for millennials is 59.5, while the top brands of consumers ages 35 to 44 average a score of 62.3, and those of consumers over 45 average a score of 62.6
  • Millennials are more comfortable with fully self-driving vehicles than consumers of other generations (47 percent versus 31 percent) and would also be more willing to use car-sharing services if they were readily available (42 percent versus 28 percent)

This year’s report contains the most comprehensive rankings of brands based on emotion, analyzing the responses of 6,000 consumers and 54,000 brand evaluations across 15 industries in the U.S., Mexico and UAE. MBLM’s reports and interactive Brand Ranking Tool showcase the performance of almost 400 brands, revealing the characteristics and intensity of the consumer bonds.

To download the full Brand Intimacy 2017 Report or explore the Ranking Tool please visit: http://mblm.com/brandintimacy/.



    Marketing is mind control.

    • spiff

      PBS ran a special that was called something like “Marketing to our youth”. It will totally bum you out.

      If anyone has the time I encourage them to search it out. I took marketing in college (and stayed at a holiday inn last night), this is more powerful than a nuke.

      I could go on, I’ve got a good one about how “almost sad people” will spend 3 times as much for a product as happy people. There are people out there studying this sort of thing. Unless you concisely drop out you’re in.

      Sorry I went there, but look around, do the research, it’s true.

      Spell check messed with me. I meant consciously.

      • JMDGT

        If you market a product honestly and truthfully that is one thing. It is all too often done fraudulently. It is a lot easier to sell something (it could be anything) when you are supported in the knowledge that it is without a doubt the best thing available. Those products sell themselves. Selling involves addressing concerns. How those concerns are addressed is what is important. Marketing can be the groundwork for clouding the truth and hiding any possible issues. It is all about manipulation. Marketing when done honestly is a good thing.

        • spiff

          Marketing in a good way would be all Dale Carnegie like.

          • JMDGT

            Not only would you win friends you would influence people.

    • gjw1992

      Bit like smoking. Once started difficult to stop.

      But there are good aspects of HD like giving people what they want that the Japanese in particular are fairly poor at doing. Kawa aren’t too bad, and Yamaha might be getting idea with the way they’re growing the fz07/fz09 lines but Honda are terrible at doing something, then being incredibly slow at ‘improving’ it. Looking at that reposted old tourer review brought to mind the way the st1100/st1300 is just fading into obsolescence.

      • JMDGT

        Giving the people what they want is the way it should be. No tastes are the same. The product offerings across all the manufactures benefit from today’s modern technologies. How they are implemented are what makes good products great. The best bike coming out of Honda in the last few years is the Africa Twin. Hopefully the will sell enough of them to develop it properly. So many of their bikes had great potential but they were not developed as they should have been. The ST1300 being a prime example. As consumers we need to find the truth in the products and not allow ourselves to be bamboozled by the marketing fluff.

      • spiff

        You bring up an interesting point. Everyone was trying to beat Harley at THEIR game. It is hard to pass a stronger competitor while on a single track trail. While you can’t desert the cruiser market maybe better to put resources into areas with more potential. In other word find another trail.

        First you want to sell someone their first bike, brand loyalty starts there. I guess that is why the sub 600cc bikes are thriving. In addition to that the current demographic is getting old. If you can convince the new generation coming in that the FZ line (as an example) is a great way to enjoy a Sunday ride then you win. No longer are you trying build a more desirable cruiser, you are building a more desirable motorcycle. The new rider has only committed to two wheels, they still looking for the one that speaks to them.

        Maybe they choose a Harley cruiser.
        Maybe they realize that Guzzis are freaking cool. Maybe they realize that there are a lot of Triumph models that are as easy to ride as a cruiser with a different emotion.

        Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          People go through phases: crotch rockets when young, standards as they get older, finally adventure bikes and cruisers as they mature. There should be bikes for each segment. Harleys are comfortable and well built and keep their value and last a long time and are easy to work on. Plus dealerships and service shops are on every corner. You can never get stranded. What’s not to like?

          • mikstr

            “What’s not to like?” You serious?

            Let’s see: overweight, underpowered, ill handling and braking, overpriced, uncomfortable (tourings excepted),…

            Need more?

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Have you ever owned a Harley? If not, you are not qualified to comment on them, even if you think you are.

          • mikstr

            Typical prop-hog-anda…pathetic, yet so predictable… lol

            To answer your question, I have never owned one and will, for the aforementioned reasons (unless they dramatically redesign their offerings, which they will likely never do as their customer base will never stand for it, as has been proven every time they have attempted it). Using your pseudo-logic, because I don’t smoke I can’t comment on it being a filthy and harmful habit? Similarly, I don’t need to stick my hand on a red hot stove element to know that it burns…

            Perhaps you have been on Hogs too long, to the point that you lost touch with reality, with what a real motorcycle, not some mobile piece of art designed for the mid-life crisis afflicted, is supposed to be able to do…

          • Sayyed Bashir

            I have owned Harleys for 32 years and have put 225,000 miles on them. I also own a 150 hp KTM 1190 R and a 100 hp Suzuki Bandit GSF-1250S. I don’t comment on stuff I know nothing about.

          • mikstr

            A Harley guy who rides further than the local Show and Shine… congrats! I have met a few of your ilk over the years (including a few buddies), real riders, and most are good folk. My problem lay with the poser crowd, which comprise the vast majority of today`s Hog-o-philes. I have been riding for just shy of 40 years and have covered over 400,000 miles astride bikes, so I`ve had plenty of time to make observations. So, I`ve not owned a Harley, but I have been around them, and their owners, enough to be able to make some deductions. Sorry if these bother you, but I call it as I have seen it.

            I have ridden various cruisers over the years (never owned one), enough to know it`s not my bag. I value function over form, which flies in the face of the whole design premise of cruisers (touring bikes semi-excepted). Too heavy, too underperforming (in all senses of the word). If they float your boat, more power to you, but to claim that Harley ownership has not evolved into a modern-day religion is to be detached from reality. Take the posers out of the equations and there are significantly fewer Harley owners left. Sad, but true.

            In finishing, your other steeds are nice (the Bandit in particular being one of the nicest bikes I have ridden).

    • SerSamsquamsh

      Perhaps also an irrational and destabilizing economic force. The invisible hand controlled by a magpie’s brain.

  • mikstr

    is this really a surprise to anyone? Harley ownership is akin to joining a cult… As repugnant as I find this to be, from a strictly academic perspective, their marketing department has done an amazing job…

    • Chuck Smith

      No different than the hard core BMW or Ducati enthusiasts. I just bought a Harley to go with my Triumph and Gas Gas. I ride what I want and don’t really care what someone else wants to ride or who they choose to associate with. While I’m not to interested in Harley-only events I stopped by a couple so I could at least have an opinion based on something other than the internet. I had a good time, and the people I met were enthusiastic motorcyclists, not people I have a desire to anonymously shit on from the safety of my computer.

      • mikstr

        Congratulations for being one of the Harley owners who have escaped the Grand Scheme. I have to vociferously disagree with you about the Ducati and BMW owners, however. While their owners are indeed loyal, as an example, ask yourself how many cars you see with Ducati and BMW bumper stickers compared to Harley? This is but a micro-indicator of the cultish-like status developed by HD. Need another, ever notice how most Harley riders are dressed with Harley gear from head to toe, and this is not the exception but the norm. Too many examples to name, but please feel free to disagree, we do live in free countries after all… Again, great marketing effort by Harley, they are the envy of numerous manufacturers, I am simply not at all interested in what they are trying to portray and sell.

        • JohnnyS

          I did go out and buy a “Ducati Scrambler” coffee mug to go with my Icon, but I have avoided the rest of the tchotchkas. It’s a fun bike and a good coffee mug, too.

          • mikstr

            well, it is said that Ducati makes a good mug…..

          • spiff

            It is a delicate balance. Having cool swag vs being farkled up.

          • Born to Ride

            I love my “Ducati Meccanica” Dianese jacket. I wear it to the races and to Ducati sponsored events, but seldom else do I wear it because in the day to day it feels exactly that. “Farkled Up”.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          And Mr. mikstr, what is wrong with that? It only shows that Harley riders really love their bikes. It is a shame that other motorcycle riders don’t feel the same way about their bikes. Of course there is no other bike like a Harley.

          • mikstr

            well, again, agree to disagree. I find the whole idea of people surrendering themselves to a false idol somewhat disturbing… Being a brand enthusiast is one thing,but what I have observed among Hog owners is somethign else entirely…

            as for your final statement: and thank God for that!

        • SerSamsquamsh

          Apple is another example. You are not what you own!

      • Born to Ride

        I have shown up to Harley events at the local dealerships on my Ducati’s plenty of times. I eat their food, chat it up with old dudes about the ride, and generally enjoy myself. Never had anyone tell me my bike was a piece of shit, just that when I grow up that they’ll be waiting to take my money. Too bad my cruiser taste lies elsewhere…

  • Buzz

    Harley is making bikes for its customers instead of moto-journos and message board posters.

    I’m not surprised.

    • spiff

      I’m not their customer, but you are correct.

    • Born to Ride

      Harley Davidson is the very best at giving their core customers what they want. Like Apple, they understand that their customer is buying something other than the actual product that is delivered. There are intangible factors that appeal to a large audience and create a form of utility that drives demand for their product. Moto-journalists and message board posters are interested in what bike is the best on factors that can be empirically compared. Harley sells a product that is objectively inferior to its competitors on nearly every quantifiable measurement, and charge more for it, yet they are the most successful company in their industry. This is because they treat their brand and product exactly as they should in order to bolster their innate appeal. There are far far fewer MOrons than there are aspiring 1%ers.

    • RMP52

      “Harley is making bikes for it’s customers”, Agreed. And they are getter better at finding new customers.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Finally some good news about Harley! They are even above all premium automotive brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Rolls Royce and Bentley. And HD is popular with both 35-44 and 45-64 year olds. None of that nonsense about old geezers and biker types. How do commenters now feel about the high price of Harleys compared to other bikes?

    • DickRuble

      Highly priced turds are still turds.. that’s how we feel about Harley.

    • Jon Jones

      Very pleased I’m brainwash-resistant!

  • SRMark

    Who thinks this crap up? Some twist to pump cash into the Boston Consulting Group or a ploy to get published in the Harvard Business Review? Go out and do something useful with your life. I gotta go check to see if I have the proper intimate apparel to go for a ride on my Buell. I guess I suffer from dangling intimacy now that Buell has folded yet again.

    • Douglas

      You’ll be okay…..take a deep breath and know you’re not a conformist….

      • Sayyed Bashir

        And have nothing to ride.

        • Douglas

          Nah….find a Buell, any Buell, and pull into a bike gathering….you’ll find some like-minded folks there and they’ll be interested and will have ?’s and admire (if they’re in the know about bikes at all.)

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Yes, but being a non-conformist means not having a bike to ride. The remaining Buells will be gone soon. What will he ride next? A Victory? A EBR 1190RX? It is not easy to be a non-conformist unless you build your own bike.

          • Douglas

            Oh, MV Augusta, Royal Enfield, Ural, Motus, et al…..

    • E-Nonymouse A

      Don’t get caught dangling your intimacy in public, that tends to cause some frowns and a very embarrassing court trial.

  • blansky

    Since marketing is mainly about image over everything else, Harley’s rating is easy to believe. Whether they make a good product is only one aspect of the game. But image is most of the game ,and Harley succeeded on a major scale due to a lot of factors.

    Look at some other image leaders, McDonalds, Coca Cola, Budweiser, Rolex, etc, and all are marketing masters at selling the sizzle and not the steak. How good the steak is is an entirely different matter.

    Lets face it all marketing is manipulation and how successful it is is really due to how easy it is to manipulate people. And in the case of Harley it’s pretty obvious when you consider their sales in their clothing lines. Because when a person decided to be a human billboard for any product they’ve bought in hook line and sinker.

    People spend billions of dollars on fashion, cars, etc every year so they can be viewed as hip or important or worthy, and marketing just cashes in on our insecurities.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      It can also be something that people just like to wear. What t-shirts do you like to wear? Most people like to show off the brand of motorcycle they ride. What is wrong with that?

      • blansky

        Not a question of right and wrong. It’s merely an observation of human behavior. Why do some people have a need to belong to a “club” and advertise that with “colors” to declare their membership. Some people even show off their “colors” that don’t even own the products but think it makes them a part of the tribe just by owning a t-shirt or a decal.

        It’s not just Harley, there are a lot of people who wear advertisement for product they don’t own so they can be considered a “player” or a member.

        It’s merely a testament to the fact that humans with all their vaneers of civilization, are still basically tribal beings that feel the need to be in a tribe for relevance or survival.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          It is not a tribe. It is a group of people with similar interests. Why does it bother you so much?

          • blansky

            You’re the one who seems bothered here. You’ve responded to a lot of posts. I’m merely fascinated by human behavior.

            Do you wear clothes advertising your Kenmore Range and Dishwasher, or you Sealy Posturpedic bed. How about your Samsung TV, or your Apple computer, Rolex watch or Nikon Camera.

            Lots of people have similar interests, but they rarely all dress the same while pronouncing their individuality with the name of a commercial product branded all over them.

  • BDan75

    I’m more of a standard/sportbike guy in general, but I really enjoyed the Harley I owned for a while. Just appreciated it for what it was, didn’t try to glom on to the “culture.” I’m sure the same is true for lots of Harley people. Too bad, I think, that “HD vs. Crotch Rocket” has become a proxy battle in the larger culture war, at least online. Can we all just ride what we like and try not to be jerks?

    PS – Crotch rocket, cruiser, or giant diesel pickup: If you run an open exhaust and blip the throttle all the time, you’re being a jerk, and I hope you someday discover the true meaning of “brand intimacy” by accidentally sitting on your GSX-R/H-D/Duramax badge.


    Without Harley fat old men would just be fat old men.

    • Born to Ride

      They’d still have their cool muscle cars at least.

  • kenneth_moore

    “Brand Intimacy is defined as a new paradigm that leverages and strengthens the emotional bonds between a person and a brand.”

    Sweet Jesus that’s a mouthful of crap. It annoys the hell out of me to think that someone got paid, probably very well paid, to write that.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You can simplify it by saying how strongly a person feels about a brand.

  • ADB

    “brand intimacy”……

  • Ray Sipka

    lots of people have harley tattoos,not me but,alot

  • Ray Sipka

    about the customization,they are coming around


    Old news. Everybody knows that Harley Davidson is a marketing company that sells an illusion of a lifestyle and yes, motorcycles too.

  • Dirk Lehew

    I have ridden at least 15-20 different Harleys over the years, trying in vain to find what it is that makes them so desirable to so many. I REALLY wanted to like at least one, so I could be open minded and add a totally different bike to the large stable I’ve owned over my 47 years of riding. But no, their goodness to me is superficial: beautiful to look at and be seen on but anachronistic on the inside. And I always came back to this question: If Harley built an airplane, would you fly in it?

  • JohnnyS

    The thing to bear in mind while reading this is that this is NOTHING to do about motorcycles: It’s all about finding a “brand” that is loved by a group and then exploiting that brand for profit, running it into the ground.

    Remember Cadillac? Pre-WW2 it was a very high end car with extremely good build quality and reputation. Post-war until the late 1950s, it was a technology leader: Many of the stock car racers of the day wanted to run Cadillac engines because they had the
    highest level of technology. But in the 1960s, GM started to build Cadillac cars that weren’t special: They were the same stamped steel, overweight and clumsy cars as the cheaper Chevys with a little more stuffing in the seats and a bigger but still inefficient 1950s-tech V8, but GM loved charging extra for the “brand”. Exploit that “brand intimacy” and make money!

    These days, the Europeans and Japanese have shown that Caddy is no longer the high end “luxury car” it once was, and they have leapfrogged Cadillac to be the most respected brands. All because GM decided to sell the sizzle of “Cadillac” and failed to keep the improvements and development going to KEEP Cadillac at the top of the heap.

    GM used up all the brand recognition on Cadillac, and made as much money as they could. Now they’ve sucked all the profit out and the Cadillac brand isn’t worth much any more. That’s how you exploit “brand intimacy”.

    So if the advertising parasites are circling around Harley, saying that it has “great brand intimacy”, you better be ready for someone to come along, take HD and peddle lots of crap under the HD brand while only continuing to produce old bikes and failing to design successful new bikes because they won’t invest enough money or effort to do a good job. Oh, wait…

    HD needs to have “Easy Rider” remade so the young people today have SOME reason to like their bikes.

    • Born to Ride

      They don’t need to remake easy rider to be successful with young people. Their social media campaigns sell the freedom and carefree lifestyle that resonates with my peers. Pretty girls, campfires, lakeside beers, and cliff jumping all with the trusty sportster in the background of the frame. They are marketing geniuses, the iron 883 is one of the most common bikes I see people my age riding. Hell, I even considered buying one when I was about 19 or 20 and all I had was my SV650. One test ride was all I needed to be violently jerked from the romanticism that I was sold. I think it happened when I was rocketed from the seat when I went over a bump that I hardly felt every day on my Suzuki…