American automaker, energy storage company, and solar panel manufacturer Tesla is – at the heart of it – a tech company.

That’s why it’s so cool that Elon Musk and his team have managed to do the unthinkable: make the electric car – once the vehicle of choice for vegans and eco-warriors – mainstream.

Best of all, it wasn’t done with a tonne of marketing budget – just some old-school customer service. Oh, and a great product. Let’s talk about that first.

Testosterone and granola

In 2006, The Washington Post said:

“This is not your father’s electric car. The $100,000 vehicle, with its sports car looks, is more Ferrari than Prius — and more about testosterone than granola.”

Turns out, over a decade later, it’s about both.

Case in point, Wolf of Wall Street Leonardo DiCaprio toured Tesla’s massive Gigafactory in Nevada for his eco film Before the Flood. The latest Tesla SUV is green-friendly but has falcon wings; will rocket to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds; and can support fully autonomous driving with its advanced radars, cameras and sensors.

The brand has made it less about tech and more about how you use it. - Highlight to share -

But we’re ready to bet that it’s neither the granola nor the testosterone that’ll get the general public to buy into the car.

So how has Tesla managed it?

It’s certainly not through big budget ad campaigns. Tesla’s low marketing spend is well documented. And it’s not just about the flashy innovations within the cars themselves.

Tesla has made it less about tech and more about how you use it.

Power is definitely an issue for electric cars. Tesla knows it. The brand is investing heavily into lithium-ion batteries that will allow people to drive faster for longer (and potentially revolutionise how we store energy). Dyson, fascinatingly enough, is setting itself up as a competitor, as the company invests research into solid-state battery cells.

But this isn’t tech for tech’s sake.

Improving battery power allows Tesla to function as a service: people are starting to see how an electric car would fit into their lives. No one wants to be looking for a charging point while one of the children is late for school and the other one needs the loo. Tesla is a successful tech company because it realises it’s not about the tech at all.

Elon Musk knows this too. He recently won plaudits for responding on Twitter to a customer complaint personally and implementing change within six days. Loic Le Meur tweeted to Musk: “The San Mateo supercharger is always full with idiots who leave their tesla for hours even if already charged.” Musk’s reply?

Technology needs to be embedded in the architecture of where you are - Highlight to share -

Turns out Tesla had already taken action and were just waiting to implement: within six days, an ‘idle fee’ was put in place. Tesla owners would be charged for leaving their cars in the docks once they were fully juiced up.

Le Meur’s tweet was a nice way to herald the change… almost like Tesla’s marketing company had planned it.

Elon Musk’s been copying Reevoo (probably)

There are other examples where it feels like Elon Musk has been studying how we do it at Reevoo.

For one, he’s started championing UGC. One way you can show potential customers how they can use your product is by showing them how other customers are using it.

Again Tesla seems to be ahead of the game – and again has used a Tesla fan to suggest how they might do it.

10-year-old Bria Loveday wrote a letter suggesting that they use customer videos to advertise their cars.

Musk replied:

Tesla then announced the “Project Loveday” video contest asking Tesla fans to submit short videos. We’re looking forward to seeing who wins.

People don’t buy into tech per se

This echoes what John Vary, innovation manager at John Lewis, said to us in a recent podcast:

“Technology needs to be embedded in the architecture of where you are. People need to see it and believe it and want to go and explore. Because if they see all of these cables on the table, or there are electronics on the desk, people are more sceptical … ‘I might break it’, or ‘I’m not digital’.”

And this is what Tesla is so good at.

Elon Musk and his team know that the best expressions of technology are often not very ‘techy’ at all. Very clever tech companies manage to hide the complicated stuff so deep that people don’t even realise it’s there.

Tesla’s marketing department is acing it because it realises that people don’t buy into tech per se; they buy into how it might help them.

Tesla is revolutionising service, not tech