Three Lessons From Deconstructing The Elon Musk Branding Juggernaut
When brand ideals and their representatives are not on the same page, the resulting mixed messages and confusing signals create an inherent distrust that no amount of PR can fix. Musk gets this.
As a modern-day tech entrepreneur and founder of futuristic and industry-disruptive organizations like Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company, among others, what Elon Musk says and does gets a fair bit of attention. Yet, it’s no secret that he holds a real, public disdain for “the whole idea of brands and branding.”
So, why is it that a single tweet from Elon Musk can influence stock markets, bitcoin, and even songs (Baby Shark)? In a world full of influential and leading entrepreneurs, what makes him -and dare I say, his brand- so impactful that even his unpredictability and eccentricity are a plus?
As the founder of a personal branding and PR agency, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Here are some of my thoughts on the Elon Musk brand, and what we all can learn from it for our own personal brands.
1. Elon Musk’s brand is his story Picture Steve Jobs, and you might see that the iPhone in your hands mimics the Apple founder’s lean aesthetic profile. We can’t think about Apple products without also thinking about Jobs. And that’s what Elon Musk has done with Tesla and SpaceX.
Musk’s aspirations for himself are synchronized with his ambitions for his companies. His imagination has been reaching for the stars since he was a child, and, now SpaceX is working to deliver on that dream with its exploits on the planet of Mars.
All of Musk’s social media interactions (think tweets), public appearances (think Saturday Night Live), and investments (think bitcoin) reinforce his personal desire to push humanity, and by extension, the world, forward. Even when his words move markets, they are underscored by a genuine desire to do good. Publicly admitting to having Asperger’s on Saturday Night Live, or owning up the fact that he posts “strange things” lends Musk a truth and authenticity that resonates with people in a way that even the most innovative branding does not.
When brand ideals and their representatives are not on the same page, the resulting mixed messages and confusing signals create an inherent distrust that no amount of PR can fix. Musk gets this. His consistency reinforces his brand and his products.
2. Elon Musk’s story is relatable No matter how good you are, you can’t sell something that doesn’t exist. Whether it’s Musk’s idiosyncratic humor (crowning himself “Technoking of Tesla," for instance), or his aggressive leaning into science fiction fandom, Elon Musk ascribes to no mental boundaries, physical restrictions, or societal norms. He is unabashedly a man unto himself- someone who doesn’t apologize for being untraditional in his ideas and methods.
His approach to industries is disruptive, but his theories, concepts, and ideas are admirable. They seek to do good, and that is something people can rally behind.
When we buy one of Elon Musk’s products, we forge a connection with his brand values. We become iconoclasts, who are simultaneously forward-thinking and environmentally conscious. And when we feel positive associating with a product, we automatically hold its brand ambassador in higher esteem.
3. Elon Musk’s brand is built on solid foundations Everyone likes a story with an upstanding protagonist and moral. Elon Musk has built his brand on hard work, commitment, and perseverance. He’s famous for his work ethic, and he is known to pull 100+-hour work weeks. When things go wrong with his cars or rockets, he takes responsibility for his mistakes. He is often firefighting issues on the frontlines, and he is committed to his vision even in the face of (repeat) failures. To top it all, he’s active on social media, talking in a relatable way about his businesses and enterprises. Whether he’s trying or not, Elon Musk works hard to take people on his journey, and this is why they become invested in what he represents.
With Tesla stock on an upward trend, bitcoin still holding, and the promise of interesting things to come through SpaceX and DeepMind, there’s a lot to like about Musk’s brand. Without a doubt, he’s got his flaws. But as someone who has worked the PR and branding end of the industry for a long time, you realize that aspiring for better, leading by example, taking ownership of your mistakes, and sharing that journey with people makes you relatable and likable. While there’s a lot of pressure on Elon Musk to stick to these ideals -disappointments and mistakes are not easily forgiven- but the holy trifecta of tenacity, perseverance, and resilience, combined with authenticity and just the right amount of spontaneity, always pays dividends.