Brand story, not the Model 3, is killing the gasoline car. — 8-Point Arc

Everyone talks about Tesla's innovation, however its powerful brand storytelling and commitment to social good are their secret weapons.


On the cusp of the launch of Tesla’s affordable electric car - the Model 3 - futurists, the media and Wall Street alike are predicting the end of the gasoline powered car.  


While electricity or something else may (will) eventually replace gasoline, there is another dynamic driving the death of the gasoline car: brand story.


Yes, brand story.  It is no secret that consumers buy cars on emotion.  From ultimate driving machine to little deuce coup, people buy cars because they are excited.   And brand affinity is the sum of many things, not the least of which is what the brand says about itself.


Millennials are the future of car-buying and they believe brands should have a purpose


Millennials are one of the fastest growing segments of car purchasers.  According to data from J.D. Power and Associates’ Power Information Network, millennials in 2016 accounted for 29 percent of the car-buying market. Millennials will account for 40 percent of new-car purchases by 2020.


Psychologically, a higher order brand benefit is significantly important to the millennial.    According to Cone Communications, 70 percent of millennials are willing to spend more on brands that support causes they care about.   In fact, 83 percent of millennials said they  “strongly believe that businesses should be more active in solving the world’s biggest problems.”


From broken dealerships to mixed-messaging, auto manufacturers will have difficulty delivering on a relevant brand story to millennials


As long as as GM, BWM, Chrysler, Mercedes, - the historical stewards of the gasoline engine -   deliver even just one global-warming causing, pollution generating vehicle, they may have difficulty delivering on a relevant brand purpose to the young car buyer.


Perhaps this is why Volvo recently announced that they, too, are going all electric, years before they go all electric.  After all, a car brand can't own the safety position when its cars are inherently not safe (to the environment).


Furthermore, traditional auto manufacturers rely too much on broken dealerships as a chain in their content distribution.  Consider the storytelling balance (above) in the content for the Lincoln MKZ.  The content is unapologetic about it's singular and explicit purpose; to generate leads and sales.  This is not what millennial want.


Even a well executed, aspirational content campaign which drives consideration can be decimated by a sales rep hammering the wrong message and - even worse - a business manager pushing an extended warranty.  


Tesla (vis-a-vis Elon, SpaceX, Solar City, The Boring Company) is delivering a masterfully relevant and differentiated story


From Testla to Solar City to Model X falcon doors, Elon Musk is weaving cousin-companies and ultra-innovation into a story of a better future through a better company.  Just take a look at this recent Elon Musk TED interview:  Musk communicates an altruistic, high-science narrative that Mary Barra, Mark Fields or virtually any other CEO would be unable to credibly replicate.  


Tesla's story seems to be working. In a recent study by Google, Tesla was ranked as the “coolest”  auto manufacturer amongst teens and millennials.  Furthermore, this success has been achieved with near zero advertising.


Can auto manufacturers build relevant content with continuity and electric cars?


To retaliate, the auto manufacturers need to re-think their brand stories.  Simply announcing a new electric model or an electrified version of an old model may not be enough.  

Nevertheless, where Tesla may have a brand advantage, it is has a long way to go in creating awareness and generating sales volume, as Tesla shipments account for approximately 1/10 of 1 percent of US auto sales.

The likes of Toyota and Honda will not go down without a fight.  They have years of marketing expertise behind them and billions of miles served.  But this deep product and marketing history may be just the thing that makes it so difficult to concurrently build electric cars and manufacture a new brand story.


Mike Zeinfeld

Sales & Marketing Contributor


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