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The Tesla Brand Selection or Using The Full PR Potential

Many start-up companies "kill" their PR and thus often also their brand and market potential because they rely far too early on paid advertising, which they neither can nor should afford. How to do it perfectly from a brand perspective was and is shown by Elon Musk with Tesla. He used and still uses the full PR and thus also word-of-mouth potential to build up the brand and the market.

Most valuable global electric car brand in the world

According to Interbrand (as of October 2022), Tesla is not only the most valuable electric car brand in the world with a brand value of 48 billion US dollars but also the third most valuable car brand. Only Toyota (59.8 billion US dollars) and Mercedes-Benz (56.1) are ahead of Tesla. In addition, Tesla was the only Western brand in the top 10 in terms of electric car models sold in 2022 in Europe, the USA, and China. In Europe and in the U.S., they were even in first place in terms of models, and in China, they were the only non-Chinese brand in second place behind BYD.

From a communications perspective, Musk achieved all of this with word of mouth and PR alone. All the more reason why it also attracted global media attention when he recently made the following statement at the last shareholder meeting in Austin, Texas: "We're going to try some advertising and see how it goes." Notable here, too: He wasn't announcing a big hyper-creative advertising campaign, as is usually the case with large corporations. Rather, with this kind of announcement, he's likely to ensure that even "little advertising" will again generate a disproportionate amount of media interest, PR, and word-of-mouth. (Moreover, this way he can always announce the first real big global campaign at a later date).

Three key success factors

Elon Musk is not alone. This "first PR, then advertising" pattern has built countless brands, including Amazon, Dyson, Ebay, Facebook, iPhone, Netflix, Spotify, TikTok, and Ryanair. However, three points are decisive for success:

(1) New category: It is not enough to launch a new product or a new brand. You really have to succeed in establishing a new first category in the minds of customers and then occupying it. For example, in the perception of customers, Amazon stands for online retailing, Facebook for social networking, Spotify for music streaming, Ryanair for discount airlines in Europe, and TikTok for short videos on the Internet.

(2) Controversy: Media loves controversy, and especially loves it when someone challenges and questions the status quo. This is exactly what Elon Musk did perfectly for the Tesla brand. And it's no problem if a controversial idea is initially ridiculed and talked down by experts. Quite the opposite: This can also massively increase the excitement and thus lay the foundation for further PR and word of mouth. Steve Jobs did it perfectly at the first iPhone presentation in 2007 when he showed a picture of four conventional smartphones with keyboards and then presented the iPhone as the alternative without a keyboard but with a touchscreen.

(3) Spokesperson function: Since you can't interview products or services, ideally there is a person behind it who actively takes on this spokesperson role for the brand and the entire category behind it. In doing so, this person can and may very well polarize. No one summed this up better than Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary, who once said, "If I step down, I'm sure our marketing budget will grow because we'll get less attention without my sayings - but we'll save that in legal costs because fewer people will sue us for my sayings." With that, he hit the nail on the head, even if he certainly meant it somewhat ironically.

First word of mouth and PR, then advertising

Conclusion: At first glance, this formula "first analog and digital word of mouth and PR, then advertising" sounds simple. Only the supposed simple is often the most difficult. Because this formula requires a rethink in the development of the general brand strategy. This means: one should develop the entire basic brand strategy, but especially the basic positioning from a PR and word-of-mouth perspective. The best way and the best basis for this: A new product or service category that you can position against the status quo.

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