Since its founding in 2003, Tesla has grown from an ambitious start-up into the world’s most valuable car company. Despite not being a pioneer in the electric vehicle niche, Tesla managed to transform how people viewed electric cars and broke sales records worldwide along the way.
The quality of its products notwithstanding, a lot of Tesla’s success has to do with its unique and gutsy approach to branding, and its digital marketing strategies. Led by CEO Elon Musk, Tesla disrupted not only the automotive industry but also the marketing world.
Why You Should Be Inspired by the Tesla Marketing Plan
Unlike other automotive companies that focus most of their marketing spend on traditional mediums like print, TV and radio, Tesla famously has a $0 traditional marketing budget. Even before the pandemic-fueled eCommerce boom, Tesla was leveraging user-generated content (UGC) to promote its vehicles online. In 2017, inspired by a letter from a 10-year-old fan, Musk announced an ad contest: Project Loveday. Countless hopefuls sent in their videos for a chance to win a trip to a Tesla product launch.
Meanwhile, that same year, car companies like Buick, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Kia and Lexus purchased 2017 Super Bowl ad spots for at least $7 million each, not including the cost of filming the ads and hiring celebrities to star in them. While these ads are entertaining and do a lot to boost brand perception, research by Communicus shows that they don’t really deliver in terms of return on investment (ROI). In contrast, Tesla’s contest most likely cost them very little, but it was a piece of marketing genius. Thanks to Project Lovejoy, Tesla:
• Received a large amount of free UGC to use in its digital marketing efforts (in fact, some of the best videos were played during the live stream of the first Tesla Model 3 deliveries).
• Showcased how much they value its customers’ opinion.
• Cultivated the Tesla community and fanbase.
• Enhanced its digital presence and brand image.
• Experienced massive engagement on its website and social media channels.
Read on to learn more about the Tesla marketing strategy, the lessons you can apply to your own digital marketing campaign and other digital marketing tips.
Digital Marketing Ideas From Tesla
Leadership Style Matters
The co-founder and CEO of Tesla is more than just the head honcho; he’s also the face of the company and an integral part of Tesla branding.
If you stop a stranger on the street and ask them if they know who the CEO of Dodge, Buick or Toyota is, they’d probably give you a blank stare. However, probably everyone with access to the Internet knows Elon Musk and his position at Tesla.
That name recall is something enjoyed by very few members of the C-suite, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Richard Branson. However, contrary to what some glossy magazines might have you think, Musk’s fame has more to do with his achievements and distinctive transformational leadership style than his often-controversial personal life.
One of the things Musk and these famous CEOs have in common, and one of the reasons Musk is not just recognized but admired by many, is charisma. Like many leaders, Musk is obviously passionate about his businesses and driven by a vision that aligns with Tesla’s branding. However, what’s remarkable about Musk is his ability to get others, both employees and Tesla customers, to believe in and work toward his vision.
Practice Charismatic Leadership
The charismatic leadership style has more to do with personality than processes or technical knowledge. Charismatic leaders like Musk motivate their workers, listen to dissenting opinions, encourage sharing ideas and create a positive work environment. In addition, charismatic leaders can calm and reassure workers when difficulties arise, whether a product recall or supply chain problems, getting them back on track toward the company’s goals.
While charismatic leadership has downsides, there’s no doubt that it’s effective in situations that require strength of personality, persuasiveness and passion, such as running a business.
How is this part of the company’s digital marketing plan? While Tesla or Musk might not have consciously incorporated charismatic leadership into the Tesla marketing plan, there’s no denying that it helps with Tesla branding.
How you market yourself or your business online significantly affects public perception of not just you but also your company. If you consistently display passion, confidence and capability, you get your workers, customers and potential investors to believe in you and the solutions you offer.
Support Your Competitors
While this might sound like the most counterintuitive of digital marketing tips, helping your competitors can actually be good for your business. This has been proven true by Tesla, which, back in 2014, opened all its patents.
“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform,” Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, said.
While not a Tesla promotion, this statement gave the company and its CEO a lot of press time. Giving competitors access to previously patented technologies was virtually unheard of at the time. This move may or may not have been part of the overarching Tesla marketing plan. Nevertheless, it accomplished many great things for the company.
It encouraged other automotive makers to join the push for electric vehicles, pushing the industry forward. After releasing its patents, all Tesla has to do is work for market share. This is a task made easier by the fact that making its technology accessible at no cost helped establish the company as the authority on electric vehicles.
“We have had a number of inquiries from other car companies, and we’ve told them to go ahead and use them,” Musk said, in a 2014 interview with USA Today.
While Musk did not name specific automotive manufacturers, his statement implied that other companies followed Tesla’s lead. Likely part of the Tesla marketing strategy, this move further helped build its brand authority.
Focus on Customer Experience
The best digital marketing ideas involve identifying the target audience’s pain point and addressing it. This is what Tesla does with its approach to vehicle sales.
Unlike other carmakers, Tesla does not sell through dealerships. Instead, it sells directly to customers via Tesla stores, galleries and showrooms, often located within malls, shopping areas and other easily accessible spaces.
Direct sales are another Tesla marketing strategy highlighting how much the company values customer experience. By selling direct, Tesla makes it unnecessary for customers to haggle over car prices. Unlike traditional dealerships, which often charge over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) when certain models are in high demand, Tesla prices are the same wherever you go.
To improve customer experience, you should seek the help of a digital marketing strategist. They will help you:
• Understand your target audience, its needs and its expectations.
• Improve interactions between your brand and customers through a streamlined omnichannel experience.
A digital marketing strategist will also assist you with creating digital experiences that are simple, intuitive and user-friendly.
Much has already been written about the importance of authenticity in online marketing tactics. You’d find mentions of it in many articles on digital marketing tips. Generally, a brand that is perceived to be authentic is more likely to earn the trust, and therefore the business, of its target audiences.
Brands across all industries are incorporating authenticity into their digital marketing strategies in a number of ways, such as:
• Utilizing brand storytelling
• Ensuring consistent messaging
• Communicating and engaging with customers and prospects via social media channels
• Having company values and abiding by them
• Being transparent about mistakes
Getting authenticity right is tricky, as consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are quick to spot brands that are “faking it” or trying too hard to seem relatable and genuine. Hence, the enduring popularity of meme catchphrases such as “Shut up, brand” and “How are you doing, fellow kids?”
Tesla, once again, makes it seem easy, thanks in great part to Musk’s social media savvy coupled with his charismatic personality. Musk is ever-present on Twitter, making jokes and talking about his personal life in between posts about Tesla.
Musk showcased his, and, by extension, Tesla’s, authenticity during one memorable occasion. At a 2019 Tesla promotion in Las Vegas, Musk attempted to showcase the durability of the Cybertruck. However, things didn’t go as planned. When he had the company’s chief designer throw a metal ball at the window, it unexpectedly shattered. The design head tried again, but the results were the same.
Musk’s reaction was honest and human, ticking all the boxes: He expressed shock and embarrassment, admitted he didn’t know why the glass shattered and promised to address the issue. While more than one digital marketing expert predicted that the incident would negatively impact Cybertruck sales, Tesla once again proved naysayers wrong. In 2021, the Cybertruck had more than 1.27 million pre-orders two years before the official release.
“Authenticity leads to many benefits for your brand. Being authentic to your brand’s core values is key to building a community and trust. Building a community is key to building engagement, brand loyalty and word of mouth,” Alyssa Tear, Thrive’s Senior Manager of Organic Social Media, said.
Bringing authenticity through your brand’s social media efforts can even increase your ROI.
“Ninety-one percent of consumers say they are willing to reward a brand for its authenticity with a purchase, investment or endorsement, while 62 percent would purchase from a brand they regard as authentic,” Tear said.
You Don’t Have To Reinvent the Wheel – Just Make It Cooler
Tesla was not the first company to make electric vehicles. Several innovations led to the rise of the first battery-powered vehicles in the late 1800s. By 1899, most of New York’s taxis were electric vehicles. However, multiple factors, such as the steep price, especially when compared to Henry Ford’s machine-assembled, gas-powered cars, led to the electric vehicle’s decreased popularity.
In 2008, Tesla, under founder and then-CEO Martin Eberhard, jump started the electric car revolution with the Roadster. Marketed as a luxury vehicle, the first-generation Roadster was powered by lithium-ion batteries and could travel more than 240 miles on a single charge. However, it wasn’t until Musk took the helm in 2008 that Tesla vehicles began to enjoy the widespread popularity it does today.
Tesla sold 2,450 Roadsters. In contrast, the Tesla Model 3, released in 2021, sold 262,557 units in just six months. To put that number in perspective, BMW, one of the leading traditional automotive manufacturers specializing in luxury vehicles, sold just 24,523 units of its similarly priced 2021 BMW 5 Series in one year.
Tesla managed to make the once-forgotten electric cars into must-have vehicles for car lovers worldwide. It did so through digital marketing strategies. The company didn’t invent the electric vehicle, but it made sure that its version met its target audience’s pain points. Tesla vehicles are:
• Sustainable and eco-friendly, compared to gas-powered vehicles.
• High-tech, packed with features that made driving safer and more convenient.
• Sexy, thanks to their sleek, stylish and customizable auto design.
Tesla’s branding didn’t happen overnight, and it took a lot more than one Tesla promotion to cement its vehicles’ reputation as the ideal cars for sophisticated and eco-conscious people.
First, Tesla shared its vision: to drive the world’s transition toward electric vehicles. Musk then updated the vision to describe Tesla’s journey: to build expensive electric vehicles so that one day, it can make more affordable ones. This mission gave the company a purpose and made customers feel that more than just buying a car, it’s part of a movement that will make the world a better place, free from the financial and environmental costs of fuel-powered vehicles.
The takeaway from this Tesla marketing strategy is that you don’t have to be the best or the first in your industry. Instead, your business should strive to identify what your target audience is looking for, make sure they know you have it and deliver.
Is a Tesla-Inspired Digital Marketing Campaign Right for Your Brand?
Many of Tesla’s digital marketing tactics can be tailored to meet the needs and goals of businesses in any niche. For instance, companies that sell luxury products can take a page out of Tesla’s handbook when creating a branding strategy. However, some of them, such as charismatic leadership, might not be suitable or possible for certain organizations. A full-service digital marketing agency can help you create the right mix of digital marketing tactics that will work as well for you as Tesla’s did for itself.
You can carve out your place in the marketplace and achieve success by capitalizing on the ease and affordability of digital marketing strategies. With digital marketing services such as search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing, you can showcase your brand’s authority and thought leadership, your product or service’s unique selling propositions (USPs) and your mission. Then, inspire your customers to share your vision by inviting them along for the ride, emphasizing how their purchases contribute to a greater goal that benefits many.
Digital Marketing Strategies Customized for Your Business
At Thrive Internet Marketing Agency, we understand that all businesses are unique. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to creating and deploying a digital marketing plan. When you partner with us for your digital marketing campaign, you can expect us to take the time to get to know your business and what makes it special. We’ll help you identify your goals and outline a digital marketing plan to help you achieve them.
Thrive is a full-service digital marketing agency that specializes in helping businesses stand out and cut through the noise of a cluttered and highly competitive online marketplace. Our solutions include social media marketing, PPC and SEO. You can count on us for online marketing tactics that will take your business to the next level and digital marketing services that deliver measurable results.
To speak to a Thrive digital marketing expert, contact us at 866-434-4748. You may also take a look at our case studies for more digital marketing ideas.