Man has a tendency to repeat the mistakes of history, and without delving too deeply into politics, the less educated we are as a nation and as inhabitants of this robust, but fragile planet, the more likely we are to keep making the same mistakes. The last quarter of 2015 saw 33% year-on-year growth as reported by the IAB and I can’t help but think there’s a lesson that marketers have learned from their predecessors.
Tesla finally made inroads to the Australian market last year selling 200 of the 100,000 cars sold worldwide. Truly remarkable when you think it’s only been three years since the company launched the Tesla Roadster. Remarkable, too, because in 1948, not so long ago in the scheme of things, but a lifetime in advertising, Preston Tucker manufactured and marketed the Tucker 48. The Tucker 48 was a car ahead of its time for the safety features and technological advances that became standard in cars that followed: disc brakes, independent suspension, fuel injection, seat belts and instruments that were located within easy reach of the driver. It’s hard to believe that more than 40 years after cars became commonplace on roads throughout the United States that seat belts weren’t an option in cars produced by Chrysler, Ford or General Motors. If you’ve never heard of the Tucker, it’s probably because only 51 cars were manufactured.
And this is where Preston Tucker, the man behind the “Tucker Torpedo” came unstuck: whilst market demand existed, market forces were dictated by a powerful troika of automotive manufacturers commonly referred to as The Big Three. Whilst Chrysler, Ford and GM dominated global car sales in the years after WWII, today the top three spots belong to manufacturers in Japan, Korea and China who had the benefit of building a market onshore before exporting a product with greater economical viability – the sticker price and running costs – than anything The Big Three could come up with.
In a relatively short timeframe, companies like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen and particularly Mercedes Benz, have contributed to a significant shift in the accessibility of quality cars at all price points. So how come Tesla and to a lesser degree Fisker have been able to crack the US market, dominated by a cabal of manufacturers so powerful that the federal government bailed them out for fear of losing the “ingenuity” they help foster? Tesla took a history lesson and shook up the industry not just with an ingenious product, but by deploying a marketing strategy that Americans and the rest of the world can’t help but succumb to: the ultimate celebrity endorsement.
Elon Musk is a marketer’s dream: he’s a glamorous genius, a highly successful CEO, and dreamer with the deep pockets necessary to indulge a dream or two. He brought PayPal to the world, still the most trusted way to purchase online after almost 17 years in existence, need I say again, that’s a lifetime in the online world. He’s also bankrolling research into space travel and batteries that store solar power. Tesla isn’t a company that plays by the same rule book as The Big Three; Tesla is an energy company.
And here’s what marketers are learning at every level of consumer engagement: the rules are changing faster than ever before, and quality can be a differentiator if you know how to communicate this in a world where a bad review can tank a movie in less time than it takes to get a pizza delivered. A complaint on Whirlpool can be the undoing of an otherwise perfectly executed launch of a mobile phone and a car manufacturer with faulty airbags can continue to be #1 if they communicate honestly and with integrity to the purchasers of almost 9 million cars in 2015.
The Schaefer Group has also experienced growth as clients in niche categories that consider themselves excluded from the dynamics of a fast-changing world realise that a brand stands for something more than the product or service it provides – it’s the symbol of a relationship with the customer and the feelings they’re willing to share with their friends (Facebook or otherwise) and the trust they place in you meeting their expectations.
Preston Tucker could have used Social Media. He could have learned a thing or two from the Japanese and even the Germans. Maybe if he’d moved to Canada, or even Mexico, I’d be pining after the latest Tucker, and not the Model S.