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How Tesla Became a Household Name With $0 Spent On Traditional Advertising

Nathan Grieve
Nathan Grieve

Everyone has heard of Tesla, but few will remember seeing a display ad from them. Elon does marketing differently. Instead of relying on paid ads - the go-to strategy for most well-funded startup - Musk relies on a different strategy, one that very few can pull off.

Take People On Your Journey

Elon has always been very clear about Tesla's mission. He openly shares his ideas on the Tesla blog, including his famous secret master plan from 2006 where he states he wants to create affordable, renewably powered car for around $40,000, something he would come through on 10 years later.

Become energy positive, they also manufactures a unique set of energy solutions, Powerwall, Powerpack and Solar Roof, enabling not only Tesla, but, individuals, businesses, and utilities to manage renewable energy generation, storage, and consumption.

We hear an update from Tesla seemingly every month. Whether it's new ideas, what they're working on and we hear about occasional failures. We feel involved with the company is doing, Musk is a master at letting us come on the journey. Let your clients/fans/customers know what you're working on and make sure you take them for the ride! They want to support you so give them a way to.

Product Marketing Itself

When Tesla started in 2003, the competition was ugly, literally. In the following years, all Tesla had to do was put out a few attractive mock-ups and people got excited. The alternative was a Toyota Prius hybrid (questionable whether it was better for the environment at all). There were other clunky prototypes and inefficient hybrids around but nothing that anyone looking at the expensive eco car market would really consider.

One of the major problems with electric power was the distance they could travel and the charging time. Most people want a car they can go for a weekend away in and drive a few hundred miles. Musk 'invented' supercharges that would be able to charge 50% of the battery in 20 minutes. He also wanted the range to be be 200 miles upon release

For every roadblock, Musk was able to create an attractive vision and have the Tesla engineers catch up and find a solution. Many time this took years from statement to reality.

Authenticity

Musk open sourced a huge number of Tesla patents to accelerate the mission to create sustainable, affordable electric vehicles.

"If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal."

There were terms on the release, they were not

In 2014 Musk released another post explaining that their patents would be released to anyone ("acting in good faith"

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology - Musk

Create a sense of purpose

Elon was explicit that early adopters would pay a high price for the first cars to fund the mass market product. Generally, being told you are going to pay for a companies research project would put off buyers but Musk made them feel like pioneers in the mission to save the planet. It is this vision that allowed him to effectively say to early customers that, you are paying more than double the price so you can fund me to create a half price and probably better model in a few years.

In keeping with a fast growing technology company, all free cash flow is plowed back into R&D to drive down the costs and bring the follow on products to market as fast as possible. When someone buys the Tesla Roadster sports car, they are actually helping pay for development of the low cost family car - Musk

Cross promotion

Sending Tesla Roadster into space (advanced). When you are one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world,  cross-promotion between the various companies you own will be available to you. In Musk's case, he also happens to own a space company and so he decided to send a Tesla into space on a rocket. The stunt went viral with the live steam peaking at 2.3 million concurrent viewers, with tens-to-hundreds of millions of people hearing about it in the news coverage in the days to follow. There is site tracking exactly were the roadster is now, which includes useful stats like location, distance travelled and how many times the car has exceeded the Tesla warranty (a lot!) here.

Controversy

Elon has encountered more than his fair share of heat since but always seems to roll with the punches, come out on top and generate tonnes of free press. Smoking weed on Joe Rogan, selling flamethrowers, getting in trouble with the SEC for tweets and naming Tesla Models to spell S3XY.

Perhaps my favourite stunt is the Short Short's. Since company's IPO in 2010, it has been hounded by short sellers and the SEC for claiming he had funding secured for taking Tesla private $420. In a two pronged attack he launched Short Shorts prices at $69.420.

Musk seems to subscribe to Barnum's "There's no such thing as bad publicity" philosophy when it comes to marketing and because he has noble intentions, he will always be defended by his loyal fans.

Musk never tries to pitch the company as perfect. You are not buying a finished product, you are buying into a vision, a vision that you will help the planet, that your car will be able to drive itself completely at some point in the future. The journey is never perfect and Musk does not try to play it off as such. He puts out SpaceX blooper reels and isn't afraid to laugh and learn from mistakes. I could not imagine any other billionaire CEO going on Meme Review.

Don't be afraid to upsell

One of Tesla's major USP's is it the Full-self driving feature. But don't think you'll get it for free. Even though self-driving has become synonymous with Tesla, you will be paying an additional ~$10,000 to make the most of it.

And unless you want a white car, you will be paying a couple of thousand extra for that too.

What can we learn?

It would be incredibly difficult to emulate Elon's style. Before Telsa he founded x.com which later became Paypal and exited for around $165 million. It gave him a unique platform to work on his next ideas. He retains significant control of both Tesla and SpaceX and as such will not be silenced by boards/investors allowing a lot more creative freedom in his approach.

We also see that when you have a vision that people can get behind and put your own money on the line to make it happen, people will want to support you. Musk has built a relationship with his customers and deservedly become a cult object in his field. Take people on your journey, be open and explain what you want to achieve and you might just have a chance too!

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