How to Drive Your Brand Forward With No Gas in the Tank

Elon Musk, in a 2006 blog post about the “Tesla Motors Master Plan,” ended-off with what seemed like a tongue-in-cheek summary of the electric car company’s advertising strategy: “Don’t tell anyone.”

Almost ten years after the date of that post, Tesla Motors has yet to spend a penny on advertising. In that time it has established itself as a star of the automobile industry, with a strong following of customers who are even willing to pay a deposit just to be on a waiting list for a new Model 3 they can’t touch, let alone test drive.

Is it a Marketing Communications Plan if There’s No Advertising Budget?

In another blog post attributed to The Tesla Team this month, the company says, “Unlike other major product launches, we haven’t advertised or paid for any endorsements. Instead, this has been a true grassroots effort.”

Lineup for Tesla Model 3
Customers line up in Montreal to make a deposit on the Tesla Model 3.   Phil Carpenter / Montreal Gazette

So, does a $0 ad budget mean Tesla Motors has no Marketing Communications strategy? Hardly.

Tesla in fact has a very robust marketing communications program—but the engine propelling it forward runs on content, not traditional ad dollars. In addition to its corporate blog (noted above) Tesla hosts a very active forum on its website, in which community members are encouraged to share their thoughts about clean technology, global warming… and of course, Tesla cars. As of today, April 6, 2016, there are over 70-thousand posts in the General Discussions category alone, and another 586-thousand on the cars themselves. That’s user-generated content, which is golden in the world of internet marketing. Another popular section of the Tesla website is the “Customer Stories” area, where owners can post photos along with personal stories of their relationship with the brand.

All of this is not to mention that Tesla also has a leading spokesperson who enjoys star status and high credibility within and beyond the Tesla community. When the in-house marketing team is not busy creating content, it is certainly busy setting up interviews and speaking opportunities for Tesla Co-Founder and CEO Mr. Musk, who has become the ubiquitous face of the brand.

The Binding Power of Community

What I have described above is both the oldest, and most modern, communications strategy there is. At Blade, we call it brand community-building; and although some may talk about it as the latest new trend in marketing, the binding power of community is actually as old as brands themselves. In our view, the fundamental nature of every brand is that it is a destination that like-minded people populate, based on the shared key values they experience with the brand, thus forming a brand community. It is the task of the wise marketer to embrace and grow that community, creating sustainable growth for the brand.Girl washing with Benzagel

One example that is closer to home for me is the Benzagel® brand of our own Blade client, Columbia Laboratories Canada Inc. Unlike Tesla, Benzagel does have an advertising budget. But a great portion of the marketing investment for Benzagel is in fact devoted to brand community-building through content marketing.

Like Tesla’s, the Benzagel website includes a Community section in which we invite and encourage personal stories from users—and anyone else who wants to share their thoughts or feelings. Benzagel is a family of over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatment products, so it’s easy to imagine that there are some strong feelings about the condition. Yet, most of the contributions are supportive and encouraging. Often they come in the form of video commentaries. The site also features a monthly Q&A with a licensed pharmacist; monthly blog posts on seasonal topics; and professional tips on skin care.

Does this strategy work? You bet. The ongoing activity of the community spills over into other social media channels like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It has made the Benzagel brand appear active, engaged, and present in the lives of its brand community members. And Nielsen data confirms that Benzagel has become the Canadian growth leader in its category nation-wide.

Having an advertising budget doesn’t hurt, of course. It, too, can be a powerful investment in the growth of your brand. Just remember the one fundamental is to focus on a strategy that keeps your brand community active and growing.

Will Tesla ever decide to invest in paid advertising? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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Blade Brain Trust

The Blade Brain Trust brings you relevant insights to help you build your brand community.

Blade Brain Trust has 126 posts and counting. See all posts by Blade Brain Trust