Branding: Tesla’s Ultimate Power Move
Elon Musk revealed a new Tesla (TSLA) pickup called Cybertruck last week.
It went smashingly well.
Tesla is a unique company. As one of the first mass market electric vehicle manufacturers, it spends no money on advertising. Margins are so thin that the expenditure would be suicidal. That has not stopped managers from building huge brand awareness.
It begins with the spectacle. Say what you want about Elon Musk, he knows how to put on a show.
Tesla’s new truck is a cross between something out of “Blade Runner” and a tank. The design — a word used generously here — is aggressive. It’s angular and muscular. The bulletproof metal body panels are made from same steel SpaceX uses for rockets. The windows are also unusually strong, too.
Musk had his stage minions try to break glass samples. They dropped metal spheres the size of a baseballs onto sheets of glass. Nothing.
When Franz von Holzhausen, the lead designer at Tesla, grabbed a metal ball and marched over to the Cybertruck, the live audience was expecting a repeat. Except when von Holzhausen unloaded, the pane shattered. After an audible obscenity by Musk, followed by general laughter, the presentation continued.
If the Cybertruck had simply been Tesla’s take on Ford’s best-selling F-150 pickup, the presentation would have been forgotten moments later. It would have been dismissed as another me-too competitor.
The presentation fail changed everything.
Some claim that Musk planned for the window to shatter. The 10 seconds of video that followed got picked up for playback all over the world. Detractors and supporters alike got an opportunity to make jokes at the expense of Tesla’s showman chief executive.
Musk took it all in stride. After all, he could not buy this kind of free publicity.
A writer at Motor Trend put the Cybertruck reveal in his top three moments he will never forget.
The vehicle is full of cool technology. Musk promises that all Cybertrucks will get access to Autopilot, the company’s self-driving software.
The top of the line model will zip from standing still to 60 mph in a blazing 2.9 seconds while getting 500 miles of range on a full charge. There is also state-of-the-art air suspension which doubles as a compressor in a pinch. And the underside of the vehicle, 16 inches from the ground when fully raised, is armored.
Musk claims Tesla devotees have placed orders for 200,000 Cybertrucks. In comparison, Ford sold 909,000 F-series trucks in the United States during 2018.
It’s way too early to argue the newest Tesla will be a long-term hit. Musk has a history of overhyping new products. However, the relative success of Cybertruck is proof that polarizing design can be a powerful marketing tool. It’s another data point for savvy technology companies.
When the Apple (AAPL) AirPods debuted in September 2016, many people scoffed. When inserted, the wireless headphones looked like a golf tee dangling from the wearer’s ear. And the sound was no better than the regular wired units that used to come free in the box with new iPhones.
Today, AirPods are a cultural phenomenon. An analyst at Above Avalon predicts Apple will sell 40 million units in 2019.
We are living in an era where simply having the best technology is not enough. Managers must understand the power of marketing and brand building. And Tesla understands this better than most.
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While Tesla isn’t in our Power Elite portfolio, it shows a lot of the characteristics of a Power Elite pick: It does one thing exceptionally well. That quality allows Power Elite companies to succeed where others fail, even in tough markets.
To find out more about what makes a company a Power Elite pick and which ones we currently have in our portfolio, click here.
Jon D. Markman