What Tesla's car in orbit can teach us about digital marketing


In case you’ve been living in a bunker for the past month, Tesla’s eccentric founder, Elon Musk, successfully launched the first car into orbit via his own rocket, Falcon Heavy. The car, a Tesla Roadster, is being “driven” by a dummy called Starman, and you can see the live stream here.

SpaceX, Musk’s privately owned space-flight company, developed and launched the Falcon Heavy for a modest investment of $500 million. Unfortunately, the half billion dollars didn’t ensure that Starman would reach - and stay within - Mars’ orbit to eventually reach the Red Planet, which was the original goal. But what can ya do.

There are several angles we could take to analyze Musk’s unconventional advertising tactics, but today we’ll dive into what the roadster in orbit can teach us about our own digital marketing efforts.


The Launch

SpaceX launched its most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, from the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Merritt Island on Tuesday, February 6 thanks to the company’s $500 million budget. However, even with buku bucks backing up the launch, Musk nonchalantly claimed he would “consider it a win” if the explosion of his rocket did not damage the launch pad. Not only did Musk openly admit that the launch of his cherry-red roadster into orbit may not be successful, but his company’s rocket very well could combust into a fireball of failure.

But, even if the launch ended in failure, Musk’s brands would still be winning at exponential speeds, mostly due to his outlandish marketing endeavors. If the Falcon Heavy were to have blown up upon launch, there still would be significant numbers of people who had followed the story - people who had never heard of Tesla, SpaceX, or Elon Musk before. That’s some serious brand awareness that will keep people coming back for more.

The launch of Falcon Heavy teaches digital marketers that narratives are one of the most effective ways to communicate a brand’s personality. Storytelling will get the consumer involved, and can oftentimes result in a lifelong customer. Humans are relational beings, so building a relationship between the public and your business is crucial to gaining dedicated customers who believe in your mission. Never doubt the power of a good story!


The Live Stream

Whether he actually cared or not, the Tesla founder’s roadster was launched into orbit successfully, with Starman as its guide. Musk’s announcement of the successful launch was tweeted as follows: “Apparently, there is a car in orbit around the Earth.” Profound.

While he may not be saying much, Musk’s actions have conveyed more than words ever could. His healthy relationship with social media has allowed his personal brand to transcend industries, but it’s not because he’s blasting out philosophical tweets (he writes all his own tweets, by the way). It’s because of the PR feats - like the free live stream of the orbiting roadster - that Musk has been able to spread his own name, and therefore the Tesla and SpaceX names. Plus, keeping the space roadster conversation going with the live stream has prevented the story from going stale. It could’ve been the one moment in time when a car was launched into orbit via a big rocket, the end. Now, the public can be distracted by the live stream until Musk thinks up the next big thing.

The live stream can teach marketers about the importance of keeping the conversation going. On a smaller scale, this could mean sending a follow-up email with a blog post that your lead would find interesting or helpful. It could also mean using positive reviews on Facebook as a drawing, and sending the winner some swag.

The key to keeping a conversation going is making sure responses are reciprocal. If your responses aren’t benefiting the customer in any way, they will become uninterested. The more you learn about the customer through dialogue, the more you will know about their goals and how you can help them achieve those goals.


The Zero-Dollar Ad Budget

How has Musk made such a mammoth splash in the car and space-flight industries with no budget dedicated to advertising? Similar to Red Bull’s Stratos mission where skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from a big balloon 24 miles up in the earth’s stratosphere, the space car stunt naturally conjured up a ton of attention. However, while Red Bull plastered its logo on every surface of its PR stunt, Tesla’s escapade was less branded, but possibly more influential.

In the past, hype has not been in Tesla’s favor, resulting in failure to fulfill production demands on several occasions. Fortunately for Musk, there has been loads of positive feedback on his less-hyped stunt, with many followers excited to see an American company pierce the thermosphere once again.

Tesla may have a $0 advertising budget, but with a little creativity, a YouTube channel, and some serious investors, an astute PR stunt can be just as effective. The lesson for digital marketers can be equally simple: doing something good - or at least interesting - as a company can muster up some positive attention. Donating your services to another business or individual in need is a great way to earn positive coverage. Your office could also try donating its time to a local charity; then, post the day’s photos to your social accounts. Or, you know, just launch a car into space.

Elon Musk is an extreme marketing example from which to take lessons. But, after scaling down the eccentricity, there are a few tried-and-true methods that any digital marketer should be taking advantage of. Check out these other tips on marketing your brand successfully!


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