Elon Musk might be the world’s biggest overachiever. He’s busy transforming energy storage, reinventing space travel, building electric cars, tunneling under Los Angeles and working towards colonising Mars. He has an impressive resume, but what’s even more amazing is that Elon Musk has built his global empire with only a tiny amount spent on advertising.
For example, on average, Tesla only spends $6 for each car on marketing, compared to $3,325 for Jaguar. How is this possible?
If you look closely at his product launches, media appearances and social media, you’ll see that he follows the same patterns time and time again to take advantage of free advertising, to self promote, to form connections with his audience and sell his products to millions of customers. Musk uses these advertising ‘hacks’ to transform miniscule advertising budgets into impressive marketing machines.
The good news is that if you’re a business owner or a marketer, you can take advantage of the same 7 strategies that Elon Musk uses. These strategies range from how to leverage the media to your advantage, to how to make your audience feel like they’re part of your brand. We’re going to take you through each of these strategies, showing you how Elon Musk applies them and giving you practical examples on how you can do the same.
1. Let the media do the marketing for you
If you give the media an interesting story to tell, they’ll reward you with free publicity.
After Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico within a couple of weeks of each other, the island countries’ electricity system was ruined.
After being asked if Tesla could help, Elon Musk replied with the following Tweet:
Elon Musk’s tweet on energy systems for Puerto Rico. Source – Twitter
A positive reply from Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sent Twitter into meltdown with Musk’s tweet being re-tweeted over ten thousand times, and the story being picked up by international news and parroted around the world.
A similar situation happened in the Australian city of Adelaide in early 2017 after the city experienced a series of crippling blackouts. Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes brought discussions on the solution to the public when he had the following Twitter exchange with Musk about Tesla stepping in to provide a solution and solidifying the challenge by turning it into a bet:
Mike Cannon-Brookes Twitter exchange with Elon musk – Source Twitter
Elon Musk’s reply tweet to Mike Cannon-Brookes – Source Twitter
In both of these examples, Elon Musk honorably stepped in at a time where people were vulnerable. Tesla was seen as the technological saviour to outdated energy providers, raking in countless dollars of free advertising as the stories spread.
Most importantly, in each of these situations Elon Musk was sincere with his offer. Tesla has started work on energy projects in Puerto Rico and they’ve completed the world’s biggest lithium ion battery to help fix Adelaide’s energy problems. Musk won his bet to build the battery in 100 days, taking only 63 days to complete the project.
Be like Elon – How can you let the media do the marketing for you?
- Offer free services or products to worthy charities, organisations or individuals in your community. Post about your experiences through social media and create content that shows how you provided assistance. Repost your content pieces on social media and content sites like Medium.
2. Hustle when it comes to self promotion
Type ‘Elon Musk interview’ into Youtube and you’ll have more video footage than you can shake a stick at.
Elon Musk interviews on Youtube. Source: Youtube
Musk isn’t the most charismatic person, but he makes up for this with effort, sincerity and brains. He openly discusses his fears and failures in his interviews and his passion for science and engineering is contagious.
But it’s not just professional interviews. Elon Musk also makes cameos on movies and shows like the Big Bang Theory and Iron Man. These cameos were carefully chosen to align Musk with futuristic engineering themes (think about the Iron Man suit) and reinforce the idea of Elon Musk as an intellectual and engineering super power.
Elon Musk’s cameo in the Iron Man 2 movie. Source: Iron Man 2
Musk has also aligned himself with the futuristic and quirky cartoon Rick and Morty, which is about a time-travelling scientist and his grandson. When asked by a fan if he watched the show, Musk had the following exchange with the Rick and Morty Twitter account.
Elon Musk’s Twitter exchange with Rick and Morty. Source: Twitter
I recommend you check out the full exchange of back and forth tweets between Musk and Rick and Morty. 😂
Not only do these cameos and interactions reinforce the idea of Elon Musk being the ultimate tech mind, they’re also TV shows and movies that his target market will likely watch.
Be like Elon – Self promote
- Start a Youtube channel in your niche. Interview interesting people whose appearance supports the idea of you being a thought leader in your area. Edit snippets from these videos and promote them on your Instagram channel to get even more reach.
3. Challenge the status quo
If your social media posts and content topics are limited to latest industry trends and motivational pieces, you’ll struggle to get much of a reaction from people. However, if you tell people that it’s likely that we may be living in a computer simulation and life as we know it could be fake, people are going to have a lot to say.
“Given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on any set top box or any PC, and there would probably be billions of computer or set top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds we are in base reality are one in billions.”
Yep, that’s right, Elon thinks we could already be living in a simulated reality like the Matrix.
Musk doesn’t shy away from big questions and loves to delve into specifics of a futuristic world he is helping to create. For example, Musk has thought far enough ahead to consider the government system best suited to a colonised Mars.
“I think most likely the form of government of Mars would be a direct democracy, not representative. So it would be people voting directly on issues. And I think that’s probably better because the potential for democracy is substantially diminished.”
It’s big calls like these that put Elon Musk in a category of his own, and ensure people are talking about him constantly.
Be like Elon – Challenge the status quo
- Review the content you’re posting on social media and in your blog articles, take a step back and ask ‘do I have an opportunity to discuss any scary or controversial topics in an intelligent way?’ Play devil’s advocate (my favourite thing to do), always question every process, strategy and output. Don’t be afraid to be a bit ‘out there’ with your content, social media and brand persona.
4. Sell people on the bigger picture
You’d think that with so many varied businesses, Elon Musk’s interests would get tangled and create conflict.
But if you think about it from a broad view, they are all pieces in a puzzle working towards the same end goal.
This is confirmed by Elon Musk’s ‘Master plans’.
In 2006, Elon Musk published his first ‘Master Plan’ for Tesla Motors. The plan set out how he would use the ‘high end’ Tesla Roadster car to fund research, development and execution of lower priced and more easily accessible Tesla car models. The plan also talks about developing zero emissions options to power the cars from people’s homes, rather than relying on fossil fuels.
Musk signs off the master plan with the following:
“So, in short, the master plan is:
- Build sports car
- Use that money to build an affordable car
- Use that money to build an even more affordable car
- While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
Don’t tell anyone.”
From a marketing perspective, the genius of publicising this plan (and cheekily telling readers ‘Don’t tell anyone’) is that anyone who buys a Tesla car is now part of this plan to help achieve a better world through scientific advancement.
After smashing the goals in his first Master Plan, Musk released a Master Plan, Part Deux for Tesla in 2016, which broadens his goals further to include:
- Further developing energy generation and storage
- Self driving cars and trucks
- Creating a sharing economy for vehicles
No doubt the Tesla plans plug into an overarching plan that includes all of Musk’s business interests, including safe artificial intelligence and populating Mars. Unfortunately, no official Master-Master plan has been released yet.
Be like Elon – Sell people on the bigger picture
- Release a yearly review on what your business’s goals are and how you are going to achieve them. This will not only set a clear direction for your business, it will also bring people along for the ride and make them feel like they are part of your journey.
5. Hype up your products before they’re launched
A Tesla car launch is more like a rock concert than a car launch.
Elon Musk’s hype man gets the crowd warmed up before Elon drives on stage. In typical Elon Musk style, he stutters his way through his delivery, but the crowd loves it.
With so many product launches under his belt over the years, Musk is a pro at dropping hints and building hype. Leading up to a recent Tesla product launch, Musk built up hype by acting very coy.
Elon Musk playing coy on Twitter. Source: Twitter
People didn’t know what was actually being announced, so speculation ran wild on what exactly was being launched. The launch turned out to be news that all Tesla cars will now include self driving hardware, but the volume of posts on social media and forums speculating on what the announcement could have been again generated tonnes of free marketing exposure for Tesla.
Fans are so trained to get hyped up about product launches that something as simple as this hat becomes a big deal:
The ‘Boring’ hat from the Boring Company.
The $20 one size fits all hat was launched as a fundraising effort for Musk’s Boring Company, which develops technology to bore under the ground to work in conjunction with his hyperloop travel technology. The hats sold like hot cakes, generating 6,400 orders in the first 2 days it was launched.
The team at the Boring Company have stepped up their game again, now offering a $500 flamethrower.
This is no joke. The flamethrowers are currently on pre-order and if you’d like to get one I’d act fast as these will sell quick.
Be like Elon – Tease before launching
- Do you have a new product or service? Instead of simply launching the product, consider feeding snippets of information on the product to your audience over a period of time. This will create hype and get people hungry to find out more information.
6. Let your biggest fans be your advocates
Elon Musk’s fans are on another level.
His impressive engineering feats and quirkiness have given him a cult following of ‘Musketeers’ (yes, that’s actually what they call themselves) who closely follow everything he does.
Elon Musk Fan Club on Google +
Even better than having fans promote your brands is having customers become brand advocates. Nobody sells a product or service better than an existing customer, as they have experienced what you have to offer and therefore appear more trustworthy.
Turning customers into advocates isn’t easy, but it’s obviously much easier when you have products that people love. But Musk does more than just provide amazing products, he engages with his customers and values their input.
Elon Musk values his customers. Source: Twitter
This is similar to bringing people along for the journey and making them part of the bigger picture. If you value your customers and engage with them, they’ll become your biggest promoters.
Be like Elon – Get to know your audience
- Engage with your customers and try to turn them into brand advocates. Ask for feedback on your products and services and use this information to continuously improve. Consider using a program like Yotpo to entice reviews and customer interaction and remember that sometimes it’s better to have 1,000 hardcore fans rather than a million ‘kind of’ fans.
7. Help your competitors
Competition in business can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. Elon Musk embraces competition and even fuels it.
In 2014, Tesla opened up all of their electric car patents, promising not to sue anyone who uses them.
“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.” Elon Musk.
Musk realises the value of propelling the entire electric vehicle industry forward and the marketing value of embracing competition. With such a bold move, Musk is clearly showing that he is not worried about his competitors. He has a premium product that everyone wants. By helping his competitors, he is reinforcing the perception of Tesla being better than all the other electric car manufacturers.
Be like Elon – Help out a competitor
- Don’t be afraid to help competitors. If a prospect comes across your path that’s not right for you, pass it onto a better suited competitor. This builds trust and shows that you’re confident enough to not have to scrounge for business.
Elon Musk – Superhero?
Elon Musk is a master at building free press, aligning his brands with flattering media opportunities and turning customers into advocates who do the selling for him. Importantly, when Musk offers to solve energy problems after a natural disaster or help out competitors by releasing patents, he is doing so with sincerity and the means to follow through on his ambitious statements. This is a key point, because if you try to artificially recreate these methods yourself without this sincerity, people will see through you and it will backfire.
How often these strategies happen organically for Elon Musk and how often they are a calculated effort, we will never know. But they are absolutely effective and can be applied to almost any business if you are creative with your approach and put in the effort.
Be like Elon.