Among the world’s superbrands is the famed electric car manufacturer, Tesla. Founded in 2003, the company aims to prove to drivers that electric vehicles can be superior to their traditional, gasoline-dependent counterparts in every sense, whilst driving the global effort towards a zero-emissions future along the way.
Synonymous with luxury, innovation, and sustainability – not to mention its eccentric founder Elon Musk – Tesla is now the world’s leading electric car manufacturer, with over 367,000 of its vehicles sold last year alone, boasting a mammoth amount of $24.6 billion in global revenue.
There can be no denying that Tesla’s distinctive marketing methods have supported the company’s impressive path to success. For this reason, emerging businesses could take a page out of Tesla’s book on building an impeccable marketing strategy.
Tesla’s Marketing Approach
Tesla has adopted an incredibly unique approach to its marketing and advertising, which has allowed it to stand out among its automotive competitors in terms of both promotional creativity and budget.
The company notoriously invests just a fraction of the industry average on paid marketing, preferring instead to generate organic interest and consumer audience spectatorship through a combination of genuine product innovation, shocking PR stunts and controversial statements released by its famous founder.
Although the company does not release information regarding its marketing and advertising spend, a BrandTotal report examining the social marketing campaigns of top car makers in the US found that Tesla spent zero dollars on advertising during the 30-day period of its investigation. Though this does not mean that the company doesn’t invest in its promotional approach at all, it’s an impressive feat in comparison to the whopping budgets spent by its competitors.
Regardless of their budget, Tesla’s marketing strategies have supported its astronomical growth which has led to it becoming the most valuable US car manufacturer of all time, with a market valuation estimated at $100 billion in January 2020.
Tesla owners are more likely to be males in their 50s. Meanwhile, according to research by Cox Automotive, Tesla’s customers tend to work in tech-related industries. Buyers also tend to have a higher than average income, with 65% of customers having an annual income of over $125,000.
Aiming to broaden its customer profile, Tesla launched Model 3 in 2017, its least expensive vehicle to date. This addition to the company’s automotive portfolio has succeeded in attracting younger buyers with a greater passion for an environmentally conscious lifestyle, compared to their older counterparts.
Although Tesla customers are mostly concentrated in the United States, an increasing number of European and Chinese drivers are adopting electric vehicles.
Though Tesla has access to detailed demographic data of its buyers, the brand does not fastidiously invest time in monitoring these details, as its marketing efforts are mostly aimed towards a global audience, rather than a highly segmented consumer group.
Tesla’s operations all serve to meet its company mission, to ‘accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.’ Ultimately, Tesla aims to be a leader in the transition to a zero-emission future and works to meet this through its development of electric cars, clean energy generation and storage products.
This purpose-driven, ambitious style facilitates an emotional connection between the brand and its spectators, regardless of whether they drive Tesla cars or own its energy products. It forms a strong foundation for the company’s marketing and communications efforts, ensuring consistent brand awareness.
This technique has proven to be immensely successful in growing Tesla’s reputation and establishing the company’s identity so firmly that its small selection of advertising activities alone are enough to maintain its position in the market.
The brand adopts marketing mediums that suit its fast-paced, out-of-the-box image, forgoing many traditional and digital methods. Instead, it utilises a combination of techniques aimed at shocking and inspiring not only its customers but also general audiences around the world.
Instead of leveraging paid social media advertising, TV ad spots, billboards and the likes, Tesla prefers to take advantage of free media attention.
Tesla turns the experimental projects of Elon Musk’s various business entities, including aerospace company SpaceX, into PR events, garnering millions of dollars in earned media across the globe.
An example of this is the successful SpaceX test flight of Falcon Heavy launch vehicle in 2018, which operated as an alternative advertising campaign. Understanding that the space exploration mission would attract worldwide attention, Elon Musk included a secret mission payload to the rocket’s centre – the new electric Tesla Roadster sports car. This was revealed 4 minutes into the launch, which was broadcast live the world over, showcasing the new car while in orbit with a backdrop of the Earth disappearing below.
The ensuing media frenzy around this stunt skyrocketed the brand recognition and reputation of both Tesla and SpaceX, as well as their founder, expertly leveraging free media promotion.
This explains the company’s non-existent social media advertising budget, which bears a stark contrast to that of Tesla’s greatest automotive competitors.
As a brand driven by electrical innovation as a means to resolve modern social and environmental challenges, Tesla often embarks upon charitable projects.
One such project is the company’s response to 2018 natural disaster Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which left 3.5 million civilians without power or running water. Tesla stepped in to offer its Powerwall home batteries, that connect to solar panels to store energy to the affected region.
Often, Elon’s own Twitter profile - which boasts 39 million followers – is the sole communication channel adopted to announce and discuss such initiatives, constituting yet another free communication approach that leads to significant media coverage.
These charitable efforts capture the genuine interest of global audiences and spark organic conversations around topics that the brand wishes to be associated with, including sustainable energy, innovative design and more.
Tesla adopts exemplary advocacy marketing, encouraging its satisfied customers to share the mission and products of the brand with their own audience.
Although the vast community of Tesla enthusiasts spread positive word of mouth purely because they believe in the company’s vision and the ability of its clean energy products to do good, Tesla decided to launch its first official referral programme in 2015. The scheme offers rewards in exchange for successful recommendations for its cars and solar products, using unique links to track purchases made because of these efforts.
Customers can secure attractive rewards through the programme, ranging from holiday getaways, exclusive tickets to attend company launch events, cash prizes, and even the chance to win Tesla cars.
The scheme is consistently updated to ensure better alignment with international referral trends, as well as maintain momentum and excitement among Tesla drivers by introducing new, exclusive rewards.
Burgeoning businesses should take note of this advocacy tactic, which supports customer retention, as well as effective word-of-mouth marketing to new buyers. The former is significant for any business, as re-engaging existing customers is considered to be five times cheaper than acquiring new ones, while the latter is essential for the continued expansion of a brand.
Tesla’s unique marketing approach is undoubtedly among the main reasons for its global recognition. Its inspiring, and often unexpected, promotional material goes a long way in capturing the imagination of broad audiences, either by earning the attention of spectators who fall within the company’s core buyer profile or by raising awareness of significant social and environmental issues.
Indeed, its unusual take on advertising is consistent with the company’s attitude towards its industry: always leading the way and disregarding the status quo. Entrepreneurs can certainly learn from this megabrand and gain the courage to craft a singular promotional strategy that will set it apart from its competitors by design.