Elon Musk is changing the nature of transportation both on earth and in the cosmos. His aerospace manufacturing and space transportation company, SpaceX, ferries supplies and soon astronauts (and maybe even private passengers) into Earth’s orbit. Back home where gravity is king, his motor vehicle company, Tesla, has transformed fully electric cars from novelty items for idealistic environmentalists into a luxury vehicle with power and handling that rival any high-end gas-guzzler.
The strongest evidence of Musk’s genius, however, might be found
not in his batteries or rockets, but in his branding.
Musk has made Tesla a household name and a Wall Street darling
with a marketing budget of exactly zero dollars and, as marketing industry
publication Ad Age put it, “no
advertising, no ad agency, no CMO, no dealer network.” Although his brand
recognition wasn’t purchased, it was certainly earned. Musk has gambled on bold
and innovative marketing strategies that most people don’t even recognize as
advertising or branding campaigns.
Those strategies have proven to work, and not only for Musk’s
space-age cars and space-bound rockets. Hot tub manufacturers and retailers are
also successfully employing some of Musk’s best marketing ideas — regardless of
whether they realize it.
The Traditional Showroom, Reimagined
Michigan is one of eight states that allows only franchised
dealerships to sell cars, yet Tesla wanted to open up shop in a suburb of
Detroit. The company’s strategy for getting around those laws would go on to
become one of its defining marketing moments.
Since Tesla couldn’t sell cars directly, it began putting them on display in high-end malls and even inside of stores: The Detroit gallery is inside a Nordstrom. There, a shopping mall’s worth of daily foot traffic meets Tesla inside a bright, high-tech and neatly decorated gallery where just a single Tesla is on display. Although they can’t make a purchase, visitors can ask questions, learn about the brand and imagine themselves in a Tesla without ever encountering a high-pressure salesperson.
This in-store gallery model, it turns out, is perfect for another
big-ticket item: hot tubs.
“In a mall
atmosphere, you wouldn’t expect people to be shopping for hot tubs,” says Ryan
Sessler, vice president of sales at Jacuzzi Group Worldwide. “Tesla didn’t think that either, but look
at them now.”
In 2018, Jacuzzi teamed with one of its most prominent dealers,
Seattle-based Aqua Quip, to open its own Tesla-style gallery at Southcenter
Mall in downtown Seattle, which hosts about 1 million customers per month.
“What we were
looking for was how to do things a little bit outside the box from a
traditional retail setting,” Sessler says. “Like most dealers, Aqua Quip has traditional showrooms, but what
can we do to drive more traffic?”
The two companies partnered to strip out a Claire’s jewelry store
and convert it into a miniature Jacuzzi meet-and-greet showroom hosted by Aqua
we’d do a test in a mall with big branding and big exposure, and set up a store
that was very high-end looking,” Sessler says.
Jacuzzi put up the resources to build out the space with
flooring, lighting, decor, artwork, branding, signs, logos, banners and images.
Aqua-Quip staffed the gallery, which displayed three or four Jacuzzi hot tubs.
They did make a few sales and Aqua Quip even hired an additional
employee, but the experiment was always about branding and the exploration of
alternative marketing strategies.
people’s interest and gets them to go do more research,” Sessler says. “A customer comes in and sees the
tubs, and a rep is there to greet them.”
As with Tesla’s car galleries, the idea was to plant a seed in
window shoppers who displayed customer potential. “The point was to get information from them
to try to turn them into leads and drive them into an Aqua Quip location,”
Both Jacuzzi and Aqua Quip learned a lot along the way.
“If we were to
do it again, we would make sure the mall promoted us and put us on their maps,”
says Scott Johnson, director of marketing for Aqua Quip. “Only about 25 to 35 percent of mall
visitors are ever going to walk past your location. We found it difficult to
inform everyone that we were there. So next time, we would be more visible with
an aisle display and directions to our store. We would negotiate differently
with the mall. We sold some and got a lot of people interested, but we believe
there was a lot of opportunity that we didn’t take advantage of.”
They also would have liked to use social media tagging and
geofencing to ping the mobile devices of distracted mall shoppers strolling
past. “Most people walking in
a mall have their heads down looking at their phones,” Johnson says.
Although they used a tablet to record as much customer data as
possible, it proved difficult to attribute any future business to interactions
at the gallery. “If someone
came through the mall showroom and didn’t fill out a lead form but later went
into Aqua Quip and made a purchase because of it, we don’t know that,” Sessler
Both Sessler and Johnson feel good about the experiment, whether
or not it led to increased sales. “Either
way, lots of eyes on the product,” Sessler says.
Let Your Strengths Define Your Brand
Tesla has done so well, in part, by positioning itself not as a
car company, but as a battery company. Since limited battery power and short
charge life has plagued so many automakers entering the electric car space,
Tesla’s relentless focus on its advanced batteries separated the company from
the pack while also highlighting the weakness of its competitors.
The company’s exclusive SpaBoy technology solves a problem that plagues many spa owners. The chlorine generator automatically monitors and regulates water quality without any testing or application required from the user.
“There are lots
of chlorine generators out there,” Gamracy says, “but I haven’t seen any with sensors that
detect the chlorine level and that then turn the chlorine generator on and off
depending on the set point of the sensor. You don’t have to go test your water
with a test strip or drops. It tests it every few minutes.”
You can get a hot tub anywhere, so Arctic Spas used Spa Boy to
bill itself as a company that’s in the clean, automated water business, just as
Tesla promoted itself not as a car manufacturer, but as a leader in the battery
The move has worked.
“It’s by far
our most popular option,” Gamracy says of Spa Boy. “Our dealers tell us it’s the No. 1 thing
that helps them edge out the competition.”
Highlight the Big Projects to Make the Regular Stuff Look Easy
In 2018, SpaceX wowed the world with the successful launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket. The rocket contained very special cargo, but not the supplies that NASA often contracts SpaceX to shuttle to the International Space Station. On board was Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster, occupied by a dummy driver named Starman in astronaut gear. The Roadster, with Starman behind the wheel, now orbits Earth in perpetuity while blasting David Bowie.
Since anyone in the market for an electric car is likely not
planning to drive into space, why was the stunt hailed as a stroke of marketing
Because it put on display for all to see a level of technical,
mechanical and strategic prowess that no other automaker could possibly match.
If they can successfully build a rocket and use it to launch a vehicle into
space, the logic goes, they can certainly knock together an electric car for my
commute to work.
Robert Guarino, president of South Shore Gunite Pools & Spas in New England, knows a thing or two about using other-worldy projects to flex his company’s muscles, although his supersized builds take place here on Earth.
“It’s a shame
that we have ‘pools’ in our name because we do an awful lot of different
things,” Guarino says.
Among the projects featured prominently on Guarino’s Facebook
page is a $700,000 music hall that South Shore was contracted to fill with
shotcrete. Like Starman’s space mission does for Tesla cars, the music hall
project makes building a gunite spa look like child’s play.
There’s also the projects Guarino has done at Brown University,
WPI University, more than 60 YMCA’s in New England, as well as numerous
municipal and school pools.
None of these big, important projects are anything the average
New Englander wants in the backyard, so why put them on display? For the same
reason Musk put so much publicity behind his Roadster space launch, a concept
Guarino summed up neatly:
both to prospective customers and employees, that we’re the real deal.”