Do you remember the Brady Bunch episode when Jan complained that all everyone talked about was “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia?” Well, substitute BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac for Jan to Tesla’s Marcia and you have the brand of the year, decade and possibly century.
Hyperbole? Absolutely. But when you crush earnings, become the third biggest-selling luxury car behind only the Mercedes E Class and the BMW 5 Series, stoke Apple M&A rumors, boast a $25B valuation, have CEO Elon Musk named Fortune’s man of the year (and the next Steve Jobs), get named one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies and push Mercedes and BMW to launch Olympic-size ads featuring their defensive Tesla killers, the hyperbole may be well deserved.
Just this week, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote, “We believe we are witnessing the most disruptive intersection of manufacturing, innovation and capital experienced by the auto industry in more than a century. Tesla may be in position to disrupt industries well beyond the realm of traditional auto manufacturing. It’s not just cars.” The stock soared to over $200 this past week, gaining traction on Tesla’s 225-mile range even as Tesla deals with the ongoing effects of a handful of Model S fires and equipment “recalls.”
However, behind all of the news, there are some tremendous brand-building principles that all brands (large and small) should pay heed to. Whether intentional or not, Tesla is building a powerful new brand in unconventional ways in order to combat and align with the hyper-connected, over-saturated, chaotic, peer-influenced world we live in. Below, a few lessons to be learned:
Be clear on your purpose, bold on your promise
Tesla is less about a car than it is about a revolution; it’s a true disruptor in a category of incremental-ism and boredom. Elon Musk, like Jobs before him, wanted to change the way the world saw and used automobiles—much like he did with PayPal and is trying to do with the space program. Musk wanted to help do something about the environmental issues dogging the category and truly shift the frame of reference when we each think about buying our next car. Musk’s vision for making electric cars competitive in luxury and accessibility is bold, but it is hard to bet against him. Think about companies like Coke and Dove and Zappos: They all have a higher-order purpose beyond the products or services they are pitching. When you think about Coke and connections, Dove and empowerment, and Zappos and unconditional service, you would be wise to add Tesla and world-changing to that list.
Become famous, but let others do the talking for you
This one seems a little too obvious, but the amount of buzz Tesla has gotten over the last year has blown away any traditional mass-media “campaign” in recent memory. Of course, you have to start with a killer product. Tesla ranked above any other luxury brand in Consumer Reports magazine’s measurement of “brand perceptions” by American consumers, and Consumer Reports declared last year that Tesla was the best car it had ever tested when Model S owners gave the vehicle 99 points out of 100 possible in a survey.
Watch The Bachelor on ABC and get a firsthand glance of why Tesla is the new king in town. Check out any one of these Tesla communities that have been built. Tesla is one of the most posted, liked, followed, tweeted and buzz-worthy brands on the Internet, with a widely variant (but successful) engagement strategy. Think about newer brands such as the Cosmopolitan, Dollar Shave Club or AirBnB—powerful, category-changing brands that are being built on the backs of the communities and buzz they are generate…and earn.
Create an experience that “almost” outshines the product
Tesla’s real genius is its unique showrooms (most often found in somewhat ordinary shopping malls) with a magnetic appeal that draws in as many casual observers as they do serious car buyers. Most showrooms can only fit one Tesla, but imagine having thousands of people walking by your car every day—even the casual shopper picking up a pair of shoes at Clarkes is drawn in! If you haven’t visited a showroom yet, you need to. Much like the first time you walked into Nike Town or an Apple store, you’ll find that the attention to detail, the technology on display and the knowledge and insight (but lack of sales aggressiveness) you receive will disarm you. There is an Apple-like attention to detail in every aspect of the car (those M&A rumors didn’t appear out of thin air). From the door handles to the cup holders to the high-tech dash, to the unparalleled levels of customer service following the sale, every part of the experience oozes personalized, innovative technology. All this for a brand that just so happens to be doing good for the world.
Pervasively innovate, drive relevance, surprise and delight
When you try to launch the first large-scale automotive startup in decades and concurrently lead an electric car revolution, you may think that you’ve done enough innovation and relevance work for awhile. But Tesla continues to break barriers. A perfect example of this is in Tesla’s door handle, mentioned above. Like Jobs’s obsession with getting the iPod’s scrolling wheel just right, Musk was equally obsessed with innovating the door handles from the norm to the totally unexpected. Tesla’s Model S senses when a driver is walking up to the car, and the door handle extends for an easy reach and open. Imagine the engineering nightmare of making that a reality, in all climates. Musk didn’t care, because he was creating a new-to-the-world experience. Like Google, which was just named Fast Company’s most innovative company of the year or Electrolux, which continues to push the boundaries of what we should expect from our appliances, Tesla continues to pervasively innovate, which drives relevance, which drives the brand.
Finally, in a move that deserves its own article, Musk recently announced his plans to build the world’s largest battery factory, which would conceivably cut down on costs while allowing the company to generate more revenue through selling batteries to other companies. Imagine an Intel-inside, Tesla-branded battery in your standard car. The real deal here is that Musk and Tesla envision lithium batteries beyond autos, storing solar electricity and ultimately solving electrical grid needs for cities. It all goes right back to Tesla’s true purpose.
Elon Musk is building an ecosystem where Tesla could literally influence the entire automotive industry and win all the battles across all of the classes of cars. As I type, Tesla engineers are working on Tesla’s Model X, an affordable electric vehicle at half the price tag of the Model S.
Maybe Jan should just let Marcia have all the glory and be happy she wasn’t forgotten altogether.