Typically, for the most part, the relationship between a customer and a company is almost purely transactional. But that’s not the case when it comes to Tesla and its customers. Just as Tesla is fully invested in creating the best electric cars on the planet, Tesla owners are truly invested in the success of the company.
Tesla’s target audience is rallied by the company’s mission and genuinely believes Tesla is capable of the best. In fact, in less than two decades, it has become the most valuable car company in the United States and one of the most sought-after car brands with an astounding fan base.
Does Tesla Motors have a great marketing department? Not really, there’s no marketing team or a chief marketing officer (CMO). What’s more, Tesla’s advertising budget is zero.
So, how does Tesla do its marketing on a limited budget? What is Tesla’s marketing strategy? While nobody outside Tesla has concrete answers for these questions, there’s certainly a lot we can learn from the way Tesla has stood itself apart as a car brand.
TL;DR: Lessons to Learn from Tesla’s Branding Strategy
For high performance digital marketing on a limited budget, you must have a strong focus on rendering an outstanding customer experience. Facilitate word of mouth marketing by creating compelling referral programs. Don’t rely too heavily on paid advertising campaigns, instead help your company’s leadership leverage their social media influence and position yourself as an authentic brand with a sense of humor.
Moreover, have a strong vision and mission statement that you can incorporate into all your digital marketing and promotions. Provide first-class customer service after the sale is complete, be transparent about your problems, and be bold enough to create some controversial content. Next, have consistent company messaging across the board, keep your audience in the loop about all updates, and reply to as many followers as you can.
Finally, for holistic branding, do more than just direct selling of your products or services by maybe supporting a cause or doing something for the greater good of the people. Also, don’t be afraid of your competitors’ success but instead, focus on becoming the best in your industry while achieving your company’s long-term objectives and vision.
Now, to dive deeper into these points, here are fifteen lessons we can learn from the apparent marketing strategy of Tesla:
- Create the Best Possible Customer Experience
- Build a Strong Referral Program
- Don’t Rely on Paid Advertising
- Leverage Your CEO’s Social Media Influence
- Be as Authentic (and Fun) as You Can
- Champion Your Mission and Vision in All Marketing Efforts
- Provide Top-Notch Customer Support Post Purchase
- Be Transparent
- Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Bit Controversial
- Focus Your Efforts Online
- Allow Self-Service Options
- Have Consistent Company Messaging
- Keep Your Audience in the Know
- Generate Brand Exposure Through Multiple Paths
- Embrace the Competition
1. Create the Best Possible Customer Experience
One of the biggest drivers of Tesla’s success is its focus on providing the best possible customer experience. Ordinarily, when you go to a car dealership, you have to deal with a sleazy salesman trying to earn as much commission as possible from your purchase. You haggle about the price, take the car for a test drive, and talk some numbers – overall, it’s a time-consuming and not a very pleasant experience.
Tesla, on the other hand, is totally different. It doesn’t have any retail dealerships where you need to negotiate with tedious salesmen. All information is conveniently made available on their website, you order and configure your car online, and schedule the pickup. The price listed is the final price. The entire car buying process is seamless and time-efficient.
No wonder Tesla has the highest customer loyalty of all car brands with an overall satisfaction rating of 90%. From the very outset of your buyer’s journey, you’ll realize Tesla is different. The company controls everything (from the initial test drive to follow-up maintenance) about the journey and isn’t pushy with its sales, which makes for an outstanding car buying experience.
An excellent experience builds a sense of exclusivity and makes you want to spread the word about the company, which leads us to the next point…
2. Build a Strong Referral Program
People trust recommendations from friends and family more than they could ever trust ads of a brand promoting itself. That is, word of mouth is one of the most effective forms of marketing and Tesla knows this well.
And so, from the beginning, Tesla has had a solid referral program that further motivates customers to share their great experiences with the company and its products. If you haven’t already, consider creating an exciting referral program for your company that motivates your customers to spread the word amongst their friends and family.
While touching on the topic of ads…
3. Don’t Rely on Paid Advertising
Whether you’re scrolling through social media or cruising along the highway, ads are a nuisance you can’t escape. Apart from people in the marketing and advertising industry, there may only be a handful of people on the planet who actually enjoy ads.
In other words, nearly everyone hates ads. And yet it seems like a necessity for companies to promote their products. Every year, in the auto industry alone, billions of dollars are spent on advertising alone. But Tesla spends $0 on ads.
Instead, they focus on creating a customer experience that automatically turns customers into fans. And, of course, also on building exciting products that you can’t help but crave. Essentially, Tesla shapes its brand with innovation and simplistic minimalism – it sets itself apart by doing things differently without compromising on quality.
This is not to say that you must completely ignore paid advertising, but your ad spend should be minimal. Your focus should be on providing amazing customer experience and creating the best possible products in your niche which, with the help of content marketing, sell themselves.
Also, honest tweets from your company’s CEO likely hold far greater value than 30-second paid ads on YouTube, which brings us to the next point…
4. Leverage Your CEO’s Social Media Influence
As needless to say as it is, Tesla Motors won’t be where it is today without the influence of its charismatic and rather audacious CEO, Elon Musk.
Usually, CEOs are somewhat hesitant when it comes to going all out on social media. And that’s quite understandable – they have to be extremely cautious about what they’re posting as they’re the face of the company, so to speak. One wrong post can seriously damage the brand’s reputation, or even invite lawsuits.
But not Elon Musk. In fact, you might say that his social media influence has contributed to Tesla’s success more than any money they spent on marketing. With over 34 million followers and 11,000 tweets, calling him a mere “influencer” would be an understatement.
Twitter thought I got hacked & locked my account haha
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 23, 2018
He’s straightforward (about failures too) and engages with his followers almost daily. Tweeting about new business ideas on the commute home, ranting about Twitter locking his account, live broadcasting rocket launches – you name it, he tweets it. He speaks what’s on his mind, unlike other CEOs who use social media just to share rather uninteresting corporate updates and latest product information.
What’s the lesson here? Put a face to the name. You, or your CEO, can take a bit more personal approach, and freely engage with the audience. It could work wonders for your branding and you won’t be spending a dime on ads.
Of course, your company’s CEO won’t be nearly as popular as Musk, but their personal brand can contribute substantially to the company’s growth, probably more so than a paid advert. Thus, it is a good idea to let the marketing team dedicate a part of their social media marketing strategy to work on improving the company leadership’s social media presence and authority.
5. Be as Authentic (and Fun) as You Can
Continuing along the same lines of authenticity, Tesla as a company are blatantly themselves. They add features like “fart noises” to their cars, while the CEO shares memes on Twitter. At the same time, they have the most talented engineers building vehicles that help tackle the fossil fuel crisis.
They appear to be nonchalant and fun-loving while also being one of the most ambitious brands on the planet. Simply put, Tesla’s branding strategy is more “human”, relatable, and fun – something that you can emulate for your own branding.
6. Champion Your Mission and Vision in All Marketing Efforts
As such, any company or brand must have a strong vision statement. Not only does it help guide the company in a forward direction during testing times, but when used strategically, it can greatly support all marketing efforts.
Now, vision statements don’t get much stronger than that of Tesla:
“To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.”
And Tesla’s mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
Customers can easily appreciate that Tesla Motors exists to do more than just sell cars. Of course, most companies can’t match this level of ambition in their mission and vision statements – but you sure can emulate the strategy of using your statement to build a brand with a faithful following.
Companies that wholeheartedly believe in what they sell and stand behind their beliefs are the ones that stand out. If your company has a clear vision that resonates with the target audience, you should integrate that message in every piece of marketing material. This is how you’ll rally a staunch fan following, and in turn, a loyal customer base.
7. Provide Top-Notch Customer Support Post Purchase
Customer experience doesn’t end once the purchase is complete. Customers regularly engage with your product after the purchase, which affects their outlook of the company and its service.
Tesla steps into the shoes of its customers by thinking through the entire journey. For instance, Tesla built a massive network of supercharging stations across the United States and Europe to make it convenient for customers to charge their cars on the move. The lesson here is that companies that consider post-purchase customer needs are the ones that win big in the long run.
8. Be Transparent
Being completely honest and transparent with your customers is extremely important. If there’s an issue that you’re working to fix, one that’s going to cause customer disappointment, it’s crucial to be transparent about it instead of hiding it – and your customers would appreciate it.
For example, many customers who pre-ordered the Tesla Model 3 were discouraged to have their delivery dates delayed due to manufacturing problems. Soon, customers witnessed backlogs of Model 3s sitting at assembly plants and wondered why they hadn’t received their cars.
Instead of hiding the problem, Tesla was candid about its challenges. Many customers who tweeted at the company received personal responses from Elon Musk who gave honest updates on the situation.
Long story short, customers are more inclined to bear with delays and issues if they understand what’s really happening behind the scenes. So, transparency should be integral to your digital strategy.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Bit Controversial
Authenticity is how you correctly connect with your audience, and controversy is how you expand your audience. And Tesla, with Musk as its CEO, does a great job at it.
He smokes marijuana with Joe Rogan, sells flamethrowers for fun, and sends a Tesla into space – pretty controversial stuff that completely captures and keeps your attention for when there’s a product launch.
So while competitors shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a 30-second commercial to play during a sports event, Tesla sits back and lets their fans (many of whom are extremely influential) make (and promote) these videos for them.
That being said, don’t go overboard with being too controversial or you might have to face a lot of backlash, something that could be counterproductive for your brand image.
10. Focus Your Efforts Online
The modern customer starts their buyer journey online. So, the internet provides potential customers with their first impressions of the brand.
Tesla distinguishes itself with a strong online presence, with countless press mentions and millions of followers across the social web. This social proof is pivotal to creating a brand that’s head and shoulders above the competition.
Furthermore, on their website, customers can comfortably get all the information in one place and are empowered through a seamless digital experience. Rather than being pushed into a sale, they are given information to make their own decisions, which leads us to the next point…
11. Allow Self-Service Options
Modern customers are an impatient bunch. They don’t want to wait to get in touch with brands. They want the ability to get instant answers to any doubts they may have.
Tesla recognizes this fact very well. So, after test driving a car, potential customers are sent a link so they can configure their car and know the pricing of their exact configuration. Rather than wasting time with unnecessary sales pitches, Tesla empowers customers to make their own decisions. And this is appreciated by the customers – 73% of customers say valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide great service.
12. Have Consistent Company Messaging
Amazing customer experience is also about being able to provide the same information in the same positive tone regardless of how a customer contacts the company. This hasn’t been a strong point of Tesla as some of the major complaints of new car owners come from Tesla’s distribution strategy and delivery process.
Many customers reported receiving conflicting information from different Tesla employees. Some customers were given outdated contact information. You must make sure this is not the case with your company.
Consistent messaging from every department and employee helps customers stay confident in the company and have a smoother buying experience.
13. Keep Your Audience in the Know
Tesla and Elon share just about everything with their followers – mostly via Twitter or the company’s blog. In this way, their audience knows where to turn to for the latest updates. In fact, most of the company’s announcements are made casually in response to Twitter fans.
The lesson here is to maintain continuous and open two-way communication with your audience. Also, responding to comments and complaints in a timely manner on social media is crucial to building a loyal fan base.
14. Generate Brand Exposure Through Multiple Paths
Apart from your core products or services that you’re selling, what else do you have to offer? Are you doing anything interesting or helping the world?
Sometimes, standing out from your competition doesn’t have to just be about your business offerings, but your involvement in other important things in the world.
Supporting a cause, raising funds to help someone in need, and being present at public events also gets people to check your business out for reasons other than just the products or services you offer. People will see you as a friend, not just a corporate trying to sell as much as you can.
The tweet below from Elon conveys this point perfectly.
The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 5, 2017
Simply put, all these things generate positive brand awareness which ultimately translates into more sales in the long run.
15. Embrace the Competition
If you didn’t already know, Elon Musk, in good faith, famously open-sourced all of Tesla’s patents and praised Tesla’s rivals for their progress on electric vehicles.
After thinking of other companies as a competition for about a decade, the company simply decided it was ‘’silly’’ to think like that. Their mission as a company is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, and so, they thought it would be best if other companies use their concepts so long as they help in making that transition happen.
This shows Tesla’s ability to embrace competition. It proves that instead of worrying about your competitors’ success, your focus should be to become the best at what you do while realizing your company’s mission – which, usually, is meant for the greater good of your target audience.
Ultimately, people would appreciate that fact and prefer your brand over competitors.