Conspiracy theories on the failure of a viable, electric car have abounded for years. Indeed, a number of Hollywood’s elite felt so strongly about it that a documentary titled Who Killed the Electric Car debuted to wide acclaim back in 2006. Depending on whom you asked, those that contributed to the death of the electric car ranged from U.S. car manufacturers to self-centered oil barons to upper echelons of Congress and, eventually, the White House. Move ahead 10 or so years and it seems difficult to believe that Tesla is not only manufacturing electric cars, but those vehicles are now in mass production.
The power of brand has played a fundamental role in the seismic shift that has occurred in the global car industry. Most automotive products have an inherently functional feel about them. Brand adds the zing that triggers a deep-seated emotional connection for the consumer.
Think of the Nissan Micra and the Fiat 500. Similar power to weight ratios. Little difference in chassis length, and for both cars you’d be nervous going above 130 kmh! But here is the power of brand. The Fiat commands a higher price and has consistently achieved higher awareness than the Micra. The Fiat’s history, cute styling, and retro features all give it an allure that the Micra can only dream of.
Environmentally friendly cars have struggled to become mainstream. When considering a car with green credentials, the consumer has been forced to make trade-offs. Toyota did an outstanding job with the release of the Prius in 1997. The compact-size hybrid was the first of its kind to be mass-produced. Other companies have tap-danced around the parameters of “green motoring,” but their success has been varied. Despite noble efforts, being green has been more of an afterthought for most manufacturers. The prevailing hope is that a single product may provide environmental credentials that halo back favorably to the masterbrand.
Enter Tesla. It is a prime example of an agile brand. Designed for speed, beauty, and the environment, the Tesla is geared to revolutionize the car industry through a unique approach. Not only does this car not require a combustion engine, it has managed to achieve something other green products have not: It looks cool and it is fast. Really fast. The Tesla Roadster can go from 0 to 100 kmh in 3.7 seconds. Previously, this type of performance from a hybrid, fuel-efficient diesel or fully electric car was a pipe dream.
The bespoke offer of both the Tesla Roadster and Model S should not be underestimated. Tesla is a pioneer. The company’s recent actions dramatically shifted perceptions of clean motoring. For too long, consumers have had to forgo something when choosing low-emission vehicles. The sleek styling and high performance of Tesla will change this.
A principled approach
Agile brands must be clear in what they stand for. They find areas of relevance with their target audience and are guided by an overarching promise. When a brand promise fuses with a desire to do something good for the planet, that can be quite compelling. Furthermore, when the consumer does not need to sacrifice something for that brand, then its appeal will only heighten.
It is interesting to compare car brands’ approaches to doing good for the planet. Mercedes is quietly offering models with the Blue Efficiency option. Lexus is now offering long wheelbase with V8 hybrid technology. BMW went one step further with the release of its i3 and i8 models. However, Tesla put considerable distance between its brand and those of other green contenders, thanks to its unequivocal focus on what the brand stands for.
Leading the way
Some brands are simply reacting to changing consumer perceptions of an environmentally friendly offer. Indeed, much of the behavior of well-known vehicle manufacturers reflects a hedging strategy: We will offer our normal range, but we will have a green offer, too. Not Tesla. New possibilities were identified and priorities refined in order to deliver a car genuinely reflecting what one would expect from an agile brand. Proactivity became a core philosophy for the teams working on the brand.
Tesla’s brand custodians have not stopped there, though. They are still leading the way. The biggest criticism of Tesla was that the electricity the car uses comes from dirty, coal-burning power stations. So priorities were refined further by Tesla’s R&D team in order to develop home batteries capable of storing photovoltaic energy for up to three days. Tesla consumers can now put solar panels on the roof of their homes, store the power, and then transfer it to the Tesla sitting in their garage. Not only has the brand led the way with emission-free motoring, but the running cost of a Tesla Model S or Roadster is significantly lower than vehicles running on petrol or diesel.
Landor believes a brand experience takes place whenever and wherever a brand delivers unique value. Brand experiences that resonate most with the target audience occur when a series of actions ladder up to deliver a brand promise. Tesla’s single-minded ambition to bring the world emission-free motoring is rapidly becoming a brand experience that comfortably delivers its promise to the consumer.
© 2015 The BrandLaureate. All rights reserved.
This article was first published in BrandLaureate Business World Review (July 2015). thebrandlaureate.com