The longtime motorcycle enthusiast’s formal association with Harley-Davidson began in 1985. As a specialist in corporate positioning and media relations, he was asked to work with the then-struggling Harley-Davidson to help restore the company’s image, improve its competitiveness and create demand for its motorcycles. Within a few short years, as sales of its motorcycles rocketed upward, Harley-Davidson became one of the most respected, competitively dominant, profitable, and frequently reported-on companies in the world.
In 1990, Schmidt became director of Harley-Davidson’s corporate and financial communications, and served as its primary spokesperson to the media and the financial communities. He appeared numerous times on network news programs and was frequently called upon by business media to share his insights on nontraditional communications, customer attraction and brand-building. Speaking engagements around the world soon followed.
In 1997, Schmidt left Harley-Davidson to take an ownership position with a highly successful Chicago-based marketing firm, VSA Partners. In addition to Harley-Davidson, VSA serves a virtual who’s who of the world’s best-known brands. In 1999, he sold his portion of VSA to start his own business, Ken Schmidt Company, to combine two of his greatest passions, motorcycling and speaking.
Traveling for speaking engagements provides opportunities for him to further explore the world on two wheels, often with leaders of businesses he works with or attendees of his speeches. “I love to startle people by exposing them to proven ideas and concepts they’ve never imagined, and I often use motorcycles to do that, because they lend themselves to great, memorable imagery,” he said. “I always find that when hearts and minds are in perfect synch, real learning happens.” Whether he’s speaking, consulting, being interviewed by media or riding, Schmidt practices what he preaches and never follows a predictable course.
Today, Schmidt happily admits that he’s “semi-retired,” which allows him to pursue all of his life’s passions and discover new ones. He calls working with the grandson of one of Harley-Davidson’s founders to create “100 Years of Harley-Davidson,” the best-selling motor sports book of all time, one of the greatest highs of his life. He calls his current book, Make Some Noise: The Unconventional Road to Dominance a different kind of high – the one that comes from, “sharing my passion for what I do and what I’ve learned with others and knowing they’re immediately benefiting from it.” After all he has accomplished, his philosophy of life and business hasn’t changed: “Never do what’s expected, make yourself as noticeably different as possible, and have a lot more fun than you’re supposed to.”
- Fierce Loyalty: Dominating In A Commoditized Market
When customers care more about what they’re paying than who they’re buying from, businesses lower prices to stay in the mix, which breeds commoditization and kills loyalty. While leaders in every industry are focusing inward to improve efficiencies—when they should be focusing outward to improve their competitiveness—the passing lane’s wide open for small players to make a run to the front of the pack. Ken Schmidt can show you how to do that. As a major player in one of the world’s most celebrated turnarounds, he helped transform Harley-Davidson from a laggard in a me-too market into one of the world’s most beloved and dominant competitors. In this hands-on, how-to session, he teaches how to position your business to ensure that it’s memorably different than competitors and how to strengthen your reputation so your customers stay fiercely loyal and refer you to others, even when your prices are higher. This is a natural follow-up to any of Ken’s presentations.
- Thrive Among Thorns: Untapped Growth Opportunities For Financial Services
A startling presentation designed specifically for banks, investment firms, credit unions, and insurance companies that is now Schmidt’s second-most requested topic. With little differentiation among competitors and media-fueled erosion of trust in financial services providers, it’s no wonder potential clients opt to work with “whoever’s closest to my house,” instead of “whoever can best serve my needs.” Or stay away altogether. Where others see futility, Schmidt sees unprecedented opportunities for growth. He’ll show you how to change the culture of your financial services business to stand out, create demand in your local markets, fuel client referrals, and take advantage of the look-alike/act-alike competitive environment.
- Building Tattoo-Worthy Customer Relationships
We’re not wired to be loyal to products or services, no matter how well they perform. We’re only capable of being loyal to people and to well-managed brands that successfully humanize their presence by creating emotional resonance with us. It’s time for your customers to evolve from “folks who buy from us,” into “loyal friends who recommend us without being asked,” which means your relationships with them have to evolve from superficial to meaningfully permanent. Customers come and go. But loyalists, like Harley-Davidson tattoos, become part of you and never leave. Building tattoo-worthy customer relationships isn’t the marketing department’s job; it’s yours. This is how it’s done.
- Leading Winning Teams
As Director of Communications Strategy for Harley-Davidson, Ken Schmidt helped maneuver one of the biggest corporate turnarounds in history. With this talk, he looks at the major role company leadership must play in building a cohesive vision and company culture, as well as energizing employees to see it through. Sharing personal stories of his time at Harley-Davidson—during which time he helped lead a brand in flux through a time of great cultural change—Ken levels with executives and CEOs and raises important questions about the role of leadership in 2017, creating and cultivating behaviors that turn “noise” into profits.
- Building A Great Corporate Culture That Leads To Revenue
Why does Chick-fil-A always top customer satisfaction surveys even though its employees are paid the same as other fast food chains? According to Ken, it all comes down to expectations set by a solid corporate culture. Here, Ken examines the relationship between revenue and corporate culture, exploring:
-Why dominant market share is a culture-driven result, rather than a marketing function
-Why culture is the answer to growth challenges, employee turnover, and customer advocacy
-Why a focus on "selling product" ultimately destroys competitiveness
-Why loyalty to a company's product means the business is at risk while loyalty to its people means it’s thriving
Ken’s talks are very high-energy, customized, and full of motivating examples of businesses getting it right and wrong. Pin-pointing how corporate culture either helps or hurts performance and customer experience, he offers an honest look at what we can all do better infused with his trademark business genius, solid strategic takeaways, and hilarious way of saying what everyone else is thinking. You will leave wanting to better your individual performance as well as that of your team and company. And you'll know where to start.
- Make Some Noise: Open The Throttle & Dominate Your Marketplace
Ken Schmidt’s business keynote speech is a fascinating story of how businesses of any size and scope can—by focusing on understanding and harnessing the most basic drivers of human behavior—improve their competitiveness and avoid margin-killing commoditization in even the most difficult marketing environments. The road to building a fanatically vocal customer base, creating a passionately loyal corporate culture, and developing leaders who inspire and motivate starts here. Schmidt challenges audiences to consider what they are willing to do today that is different than what they did yesterday, for the people who can put them out of business tomorrow.