Tesla shows the critical marriage of story and technology

Tesla shows the critical marriage of story and technology
Courtesy Ben_Kerckx

Tesla unveiled its Model 3 sedan on March 31 to much fanfare. Over 325,000 customers pre-ordered the car, by making a $1,000 (refundable) deposit. An incredible feat, no doubt.

But why Tesla? And why now?

There have been other electric cars available at similar price points. The Nissan Leaf comes to mind. Chevy announced the Bolt to a lot less fanfare than the Model 3.

What gives? Clearly the all-electric drivetrain doesn’t explain the Model 3’s disproportionate popularity. What does?

Story. Specifically the marriage of story and technology. Here’s how Elon Musk describes the mission of Tesla:

Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.

The all-electric element of course couples into the “sustainable transport” part of the mission. It’s easier for a customer to buy into this sustainability message when it’s coming from Tesla, a company that isn’t tied to the petroleum-based transportation economy. That message isn’t quite so clear when it comes from Nissan or Chevrolet.

Still, I don’t think the sustainability message explains the enthusiastic customer response either. One part of the story is what Tesla says about itself, how it describes its own mission. Another part of the story is what you, as a consumer, say about yourself. And buying a Tesla says something very different than buying a Leaf or Bolt.

Buying a Tesla means you’re hip. You’re tethering yourself to a billionaire founder and CEO. You’re buying into a brand with cars that have earned some of the best reviews of all time. You’ll join the team that made a car that accelerates faster than a Lamborghini and a Bugatti.

Tesla owners, or prospective owners, have a preferred story. In this sense, it’s similar to what fans of Apple devices tell themselves. They’re on a winning team. They’re aligned with leaders who “get it”. They’re paying a premium to get the best performance and highest acclaim in class.

The marriage between story and technology runs deep. The all-electric framework feeds into the sustainability message. The top-rated drive train enables the raw performance that earns rave reviews. The message and the reviews can support the story that customers want to tell about themselves.

Nissan and Chevy don’t have the performance angle. Think about all the grief that Toyota Prius drivers get. Existing hybrid or electric cars are seen as slow and clunky. Supportive of environmental health? Sure. An envy-inducing status symbol for their owners? Not really.

Keep the Tesla situation in mind, as you develop technology. This anecdote is more immediately relevant in a business-to-consumer environment, but business-to-business environments aren’t immune.

Who are you selling to? Your boss? Another leader in your organization? A supplier? A customer?

That person will tell themselves several stories as they engage with your work. Guide, and engage, those stories. What is the value they get from your work? Are you informing them? Are you helping them mitigate risk? Are you helping them attack cost or scheduling inefficiencies?

Don’t just sell your work on the merits of the work itself. That’s like trying to sell a Tesla only by appealing to its technology. Capture the story. Help your stakeholder become the person he or she wants to be, even if it’s something as simple as helping them look just a little smarter in front of their peers or their boss.

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