As most of the world has heard by now, Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk, launched Tesla Energy and its new battery system for homes and businesses. The event received international coverage from the media, social media, and the general public, so despite some last minute technical glitches, there’s no question that this launch was an absolute success.
But how did Tesla’s PR and marketing team pull it off? From my outsider’s perspective, let’s briefly deconstruct their launch plan and see if we can’t apply these tactics for solar company launches…or not.
What I’m calling the Elon Effect is nothing new. This kind of media power has been harnessed before by other notable business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, and Tesla’s namesake, Nikola Tesla.
The bottom line is that Elon Musk is a modern CEO tech celebrity brand, and he’s earned that celebrity status and all the positive (and negative) media power that goes with it. He’s earned it by having several radical visions and—so far—successfully executing on those visions.
So let’s state for the purposes of this PR launch deconstruction that the Elon Effect was significant to getting media attention. After all, Tesla’s not the first company to release a battery for the home, and they won’t be the last. The good news for all storage manufacturers is that this launch has brought attention to all energy storage and its potential.
Can you generate the same Elon Effect for your solar product or service? Potentially yes, but that’s a different topic. For the purpose of this product launch deconstruction, Tesla had it and used it.
Tesla (and Elon) Teased the News
About a month before the launch party, Elon teased his followers on Twitter with a mysterious Tweet that read:
Major new Tesla product line — not a car — will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2015
Elon’s done this before. He teases news from his companies before it’s announced to his huge social media following, organically building Twitter buzz in the tech and clean tech community. For solar companies, this tactic is yet another reason to invest in building a social media presence. Closer to the April 30th event, it appears that Tesla leaked the news that it was going to release its new battery line. That built another huge news cycle, with tech bloggers and news outlets wondering about the battery’s costs, design, and purpose. Then as we got closer to the April 30th, Elon Tweeted on April 28th:
For the future to be good, we need electric transport, solar power and (of course) … pic.twitter.com/8mwVWukQDL
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2015
“The Missing Piece” photo further promoted the non-mystery, but that didn’t mean that Tesla wouldn’t have some surprises at the actual launch.
The lesson here for solar companies is that mystery and hype gets attention, but only if it’s coming from someone with a track record of paying off the hype with something big. To do that, you need to already have credibility with the media—or you need to align yourself with someone or some partner who does.
Without earned media credibility, then you’ll be perceived as being just another crackpot inventor.
Have a Big Launch Party … with an Added Surprise
Launch parties are common PR tools, but Tesla didn’t just throw a big party with the press and Elon’s closest venture capitalist tech friends. Tesla invited everyone to the launch via a live video stream.
I’ve never seen that tactic before in the energy world, and I think that should be standard from now on. It allows everyone interested to be part of the event, regardless of where you are in the world. Plus, you can record the event, allowing uninvited media, bloggers, and anyone else to watch the next day and share the video. Nice. Oh, and if you think you need expensive equipment to live stream any event in 2015, think again.
Of course, when you’re doing a live event, stuff happens, and that’s the case here.
Number one, the 8pm PT big announcement actually happened over an hour later at around 9:10. It’s not clear why Elon was late to the stage, but many people (fans) expressed their frustration for the delay on Twitter
The delay was made worse by repeating clips of techno dance party music. If we’re going to delay that long, at least the DJ could have added some different tracks.
Another glitch was the streaming. Tesla apparently didn’t plan for enough bandwidth to handle the number of global viewers. As a result, the stream wouldn’t load or timed out several times for me. Eventually it worked, but Elon’s presentation was intermittent for me and other live viewers.
There were other small hiccups, but all in all, the mistakes were minor compared to the substance of the announcement, which ultimately did pay off for Tesla and Elon. Here it is:
“Just one last thing…”
Elon may have been nervous, but the messages in his presentation were sound. Using visuals and simple laymen’s language, he explained the value of batteries with solar and its importance to solving the world’s energy needs and climate change.
Businesswise, he revealed a lower than expected price point ($3000) for the smallest battery pack, and he also boldly announced the goal of installing the equivalent of 2 billion Powerpacks (200,000 GWh worth) around the world in order to replace fossil fuels, including our transportation needs.
That’s another good launch lesson for all solar marketers: Set big goals when you launch. They don’t have to be world changing, but put a stake in the ground for something that’s bigger than your company, even if the goal is only meaningful to your limited B2B customers and their needs—not yours.
As with all Tesla products, Elon also announced that he was releasing the battery patents and said that he couldn’t accomplish this 200,000 GWh goal without the help of other battery manufacturers joining him.
As you’ll see in the video, that invitation seems genuine. While he may have set a large goal, the purpose wasn’t to benefit Tesla as much as to heal the planet and replace fossil fuels.
Finally in our deconstruction, we see that Elon threw in a Steve Jobs presentation tactic. At the end of every Apple product presentation, Steve Jobs would say, “Oh, and one last thing…“ Musk did a similar move. Through a video feed, he revealed that the entire launch party had been off grid, powered by solar energy that had been stored in Tesla’s new battery system. It was a nice touch, relating to the launch product, and it was a great way to end the evening and to…UnThink Solar.
Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza is the Chief Marketing Officer of Impress Lab’s new Solar Lab, and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are his own. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the UnThink Solar newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.