Before 2004, the name Tesla was synonymous with a quirky genius inventor from the 1900s.
However, after the launch of Elon Musk’s third company SpaceX in 2002, the world was watching closely as he co-founded his fourth company that would launch a new brand of electric car.
The original vision of Tesla Motors was to build a sports car “as a catalyst to accelerate the day of electric vehicles.” A lofty goal, and interestingly, no mention of earning money.
It took another three years until 2006 when Tesla’s all-electric Roadster won Time’s Best Inventions award. In 2008, the Tesla Roadster went into full production. It was the first production electric vehicle to travel 200 miles per charge.
In June 2012 the company released the Model S, a vehicle aimed at the luxury end of the market costing between $50k up to $90k. By 2015 they had sold over 100,000 Model S cars. The Model X, a hybrid SUV with ‘falcon wing’ doors followed in 2015.
Not all of Tesla’s history has been smooth sailing. Over the years, and in the current media climate, Tesla has garnered criticism for being unable to follow through on promises. Yet they have shown that it is possible to keep growing amid challenges.
Here are four marketing lessons that can help any business wanting some of Tesla’s magic to work for them.
Start with a vision
In 2006, Elon Musk shared his ‘Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me)’ on the Tesla website. Keep in mind this was two years before the car was in production.
In his post, Elon said ‘the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.’
This is a very compelling and unique vision. Unlike most automotive companies operating then (and now) Tesla wasn’t about merely producing cars that were incrementally better than last years. In 2016, Elon updated the vision with ‘Master Plan Part Deux.’
The benefit of sharing this vision with the world is that it gave the brand a mission and a personality. It made the general public feel personally involved and encouraged them to watch the journey. It also made people want to own the products that Musk was talking about.
Face up to the problems
However, this inspiring beginning was not without problems. Over the years, the company has faced concerns over its finances, ability to build cars at scale, delivery delays and public comments from Musk.
However, one masterstroke that Tesla and Elon Musk often use is to acknowledge and address the issues via social media directly.
Musk is famous for replying to tweets from both reviewers and Tesla owners offering improvement suggestions. This shows that they are listening, and are humble enough to take on feedback. It grows consumer loyalty, and furthers the trust of the brand.
Create a point of difference
Tesla does not spend money on advertisements. This is incredible considering the $11 Billion dollars other car companies collectively spend on marketing every year.
One key point of difference that helps Tesla separate itself is how they sell the vehicles. Tesla does not offer cars for sale via dealerships. Instead, they set up showrooms in shopping malls. At each location, there is a variety of vehicles available for test drives. The innovation of each car is on full display inside the showrooms.
This is common sense marketing: go to where your customers already are. As people walk around purchasing other items at shopping malls, they notice the store and slowly start to grow awareness about the brand. Any company can do this by finding ways to go where their customers congregate. By being directly in their line of sight, the customers are more likely to want to know what is offered.
Show a little personality
The Tesla brand is indelibly linked with Elon Musk. The iconic persona of the ‘real life Tony Stark’ is a huge asset for the company. Similar to Steve Jobs with Apple, the public image of the leader has a big impact on the success of the company.
One way that Elon adds personality to the Tesla brand is via the humor that they inject into their marketing. When Tesla announced that they would release all patents to the public to further the development of electric vehicles, it wasn’t a stuffy corporate announcement. Instead, the headline featured a parody of an internet meme, entitled ‘All our patent are belong to you.’
This freedom to have some humor in marketing is an excellent way to engage trust with your customers. It shows that you are human and want to enjoy the time you spend working to help them.
At the core of the Tesla brand is innovation. They are pushing forward the possibility of what an electric car and transportation look like in the future. This is both inspiring and engaging to the public.
Ask anybody who owns a Tesla, and they will have a reason beyond the desire to drive somewhere. As a company that spends zero dollars on marketing, it is astounding to see how much public attention they receive.
These lessons can be incorporated into any business that wants to make an impact on the world, and the people they serve. All it takes is openness, consistency, and courage to push forward.