Tesla brand strategy / positioning case study

BrandStruck
Tesla Brand Strategy Analysis
Tesla
ABOUT

Category:
Automotive – cars, luxury carsEnergy – energy storage systems

Owner of the brand:
Tesla Motors

Key competitors:
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Shell, ExxonMobil, BP

Brand essence

Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

Brand values

Sustainability, innovation, performance, accessibility.

Brand character

Pioneering, high-tech, innovative, daring, aspirational, caring.

Dominating archetype
EVIDENCE
Comments
1

Although Elon Musk has a legal right to call himself Tesla’s cofounder and is widely perceived as the mastermind behind the brand, he is not the original creator of the company. Tesla (initially Tesla Motors) was set up in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, two engineers with a bold vision that electric cars could be more powerful than traditional sport cars. Today this statement is indisputable, but back then it was revolutionary.
Elon Musk got involved in Tesla in 2004 by investing ca. $6.5m and thus becoming the biggest shareholder as well as Chairman of the Board. He got the title of Tesla CEO in 2008 and took the company public in 2010.
The name Tesla is a tribute to Nikola Tesla, an inventor and scientist living at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. The company executives acquired rights to this name from a Sacramento-based entrepreneur for $75,000[1].

2

Tesla is mostly associated with electric vehicles. However, its scope of business, as well as its ambition, is much wider. Tesla’s higher purpose is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”[2], which the company implements by building not only electric cars but also energy storage systems. To be even more effective in delivering on this mission, in 2016 Tesla merged with SolarCity, a solar energy production company[3] so that it can own all stages of clean energy manufacturing processes.

3

Tesla’s master plan[4] as a car maker was put together in 2006 and has been thoroughly executed (though not without delays) until the present day. The strategy assumed that it would first launch a relatively expensive, low-volume sports car (Tesla “Roadster”), which would finance the production of more affordable cars (Tesla’s key focus). The second car that was launched was the “Model S”, a luxury sedan, while the third was the “Model X”, a crossover SUV. The latest additions to the Tesla portfolio are “Model 3”, a premium sedan, which is the most accessible Tesla car to date and “Model Y”, a smaller and cheaper crossover SUV. Another model in the pipeline, yet to hit the market, is “Cybertruck”, a futuristic-looking pickup truck. In the future, the Tesla range is planned to include compact SUVs, heavy-duty trucks, high passenger-density urban transport vehicles and self-driving cars[5].

4

The two strongest pillars of the Tesla brand strategy are sustainability and innovation, which the company promotes with a famously limited marketing budget. Tesla is known for not advertising its products in a traditional marketing fashion (or, more accurately, for not paying for its advertising). However, time and again, it has managed to create a massive buzz around its product developments, mostly due to a cult following of its controversial but highly charismatic CEO, Elon Musk, and his communication on Twitter[6](Elon Musk is also the CEO of SpaceX and was previously the CEO and co-founder of PayPal, and he has more Twitter followers than Tesla and SpaceX combined). 

5

Tesla is a Magician brand, given that the dominating associations with the company are built by Elon Musk, one of the biggest visionaries of our era, who is believed to be transforming the world we live in (not without controversies though). However, in its brand equity, there are also elements that are characteristic of the Outlaw archetype: Tesla is about a revolution in the automotive category; it is a true industry disruptor.

Tagline
Most important campaigns

1. Tesla Megapack (2022)

2. “Cybertruck” (2020)

3. “Tesla 2018”

4. “Revolutionize Your Commute” (2016)

5. “A Clean Future” (2016)

6. “Better Over Time” (2016)

 

Official brand statement:

Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Tesla was founded in 2003 by a group of engineers who wanted to prove that people didn’t need to compromise to drive electric – that electric vehicles can be better, quicker and more fun to drive than gasoline cars. Today, Tesla builds not only all-electric vehicles but also infinitely scalable clean energy generation and storage products. Tesla believes the faster the world stops relying on fossil fuels and moves towards a zero-emission future, the better.
Launched in 2008, the Roadster unveiled Tesla’s cutting-edge battery technology and electric powertrain. From there, Tesla designed the world’s first ever premium all-electric sedan from the ground up – Model S – which has become the best car in its class in every category. Combining safety, performance, and efficiency, Model S has reset the world’s expectations for the car of the 21st century with the longest range of any electric vehicle, over-the-air software updates that make it better over time, and a record 0-60 mph acceleration time of 2.28 seconds as measured by Motor Trend. In 2015, Tesla expanded its product line with Model X, the safest, quickest and most capable sport utility vehicle in history that holds 5-star safety ratings across every category from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Completing CEO Elon Musk’s “Secret Master Plan,” in 2016, Tesla introduced Model 3, a low-priced, high-volume electric vehicle that began production in 2017. Soon after, Tesla unveiled the safest, most comfortable truck ever – Tesla Semi – which is designed to save owners at least $200,000 over a million miles based on fuel costs alone.[7]

Interesting facts:

Tesla is only the second carmaker in American history that hasn’t gone bankrupt (the first is Ford).[8]

In 2021, Tesla announced the change of the job titles of Elon Musk and Zach Kirkhorn (previously CFO) to Technoking of Tesla and Master of Coin, respectively.[9]

Must-reads

1. The Drum on Tesla’s stance on advertising
D. Binns, “Time Is Up On Tesla’s Anti-Advertising Strategy”, The Drum, May 2022,
https://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2022/05/12/time-up-tesla-s-anti-advertising-strategy 

2. The New York Times on Tesla’s performance
N. Chokshi, “Tesla Reports Record Output As Elon Musk Achieves Goal”, The New York Times, Jan 2020,
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/business/tesla-sales.html

3. Interview with Elon Musk
L. Stahl, “Tesla CEO Elon Musk: The 60 Minutes Interview”, CBS News, Dec 2018,
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tesla-ceo-elon-musk-the-2018-60-minutes-interview/

4. Elon Musk’s blog post about the long term plan for Tesla
E. Musk, “Master Plan, Part Deux”, Tesla, Jul 2016,
https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/blog/master-plan-part-deux

5. Wired on Tesla’s energy ambitions
J. Stewart, “Tesla’s Done Being An Automaker—It’s Now An Energy Company”, Wired, Jun 2016,
https://www.wired.com/2016/06/tesla-solar-city-elon-musk/

Sources:
References:
  1. E. Corbett, “The Name ‘Tesla’ Was Taken. Elon Musk And His Co-Founders Bought It For $75,000”, Yahoo! Finance, Dec 2018, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/name-apos-tesla-apos-taken-162501023.html
  2. https://www.tesla.com/blog/tesla-and-solarcity
  3. D. Hull, C. Martin, “Tesla Seals $2 Billion SolarCity Deal”, Bloomberg, Nov 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-17/tesla-seals-2-billion-solarcity-deal-set-to-test-musk-s-vision
  4. E. Musk, “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (Just Between You And Me), Tesla, Aug 2006, https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/blog/secret-tesla-motors-master-plan-just-between-you-and-me?redirect=no
  5. E. Musk, “Master Plan, Part Deux”, Tesla, Jul 2016, https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/blog/master-plan-part-deux
  6. https://twitter.com/elonmusk
  7. https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/about
  8. E. Musk, “Master Plan, Part Deux”, Tesla, Jul 2016, https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/blog/master-plan-part-deux
  9. S. Shead, “Elon Musk Has Officially Been Made The ‘Technoking Of Tesla’”, CNBC, Mar 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/15/elon-musk-officially-made-the-technoking-of-tesla.html
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