The Future Is Now — An Interview with Lars Thomsen

We spoke with fu­tur­ist Lars Thom­sen about Tesla’s con­tro­ver­sial mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy, the pow­er of in­flu­encers and, of course, the fu­ture.

Mr Thomsen, you’re considered to be one of the most influential futurists in German-speaking countries as well as a much sought-after international keynote speaker on issues of future mobility and energy. To what do you owe your success? Do you pursue a self-marketing strategy?

Look­ing back, I would say that hav­ing the “courage to close the gaps” was an im­por­tant foun­da­tion for my ca­reer. While still a Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion stu­dent, I no­ticed that man­agers of­ten had in­suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion about trends and so-called dis­rup­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties. I was cu­ri­ous and be­gan to in­ves­ti­gate fu­tur­ol­o­gy meth­ods in great depth. Back then, fu­tur­ol­o­gy was large­ly un­known.  Over the next two years, I spoke to al­most every­one in Eu­rope and the US in­volved with this is­sue in one way or an­oth­er and learned more from them than I did dur­ing my stud­ies.  I set up my com­pa­ny aged 22 and start­ed small; but over time, more and more com­pa­nies came to me want­i­ng to know more about the fu­ture and its op­por­tu­ni­ties. So far, we’ve nev­er re­al­ly need­ed to ad­ver­tise or ac­tive­ly mar­ket our ser­vices. Most con­tracts are re­ceived as a re­sult of re­fer­rals or from our net­work.

You were one of the first people to drive the Tesla Model S and also imported the first Model 3 from the US, when most people here had never even heard of the Model 3. What impresses you most about the Tesla brand?

As a fu­tur­ist, I first vis­it­ed Tes­la and its man­age­ment team back in 2006 in Pa­lo Al­to and was very im­pressed by the pro­to­type of the first road­ster, which was sub­se­quent­ly launched in 2008. And I was par­tic­u­lar­ly im­pressed by Elon Musk: I’ve yet to meet any­one else who thinks so clear­ly and holis­ti­cal­ly as he does and is al­so a gift­ed in­ven­tor, en­tre­pre­neur and en­gi­neer. So far, how­ev­er, the Tes­la brand has func­tioned very dif­fer­ent­ly to oth­er brands: it al­most en­tire­ly re­frains from ad­ver­tis­ing, turns its cus­tomers in­to fans and sales peo­ple, while its prod­ucts and con­cepts have rev­o­lu­tionised al­most the en­tire es­tab­lished car in­dus­try with­in just un­der 300 weeks and are now gain­ing ground. I’m well aware that the Tes­la brand is arous­ing high­ly con­tro­ver­sial pub­lic de­bate, but that’s still an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment.

How do you explain the phenomenon that Tesla has received over 500,000 reservations for a new car, without anyone having seen it in person?

Tes­la of­fers a prod­uct that makes sense for many peo­ple: cli­mate change is re­al and the sus­tain­able use of en­er­gy and re­sources is the or­der of the day for every de­cent, for­ward-think­ing per­son. A Tes­la car pro­vides the op­por­tu­ni­ty to be part of the so­lu­tion, in­stead of part of the prob­lem, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing com­fort, per­for­mance or fun – on the con­trary: it’s the bet­ter prod­uct in every re­spect com­pared to a com­bus­tion-dri­ven mod­el. Any­one spend­ing just 20 min­utes with this ve­hi­cle and im­par­tial­ly con­sid­er­ing the ideas be­hind it will recog­nise its ge­nius and be­come a fan. This is the on­ly way to ex­plain the his­tor­i­cal­ly un­prece­dent­ed suc­cess of over half a mil­lion ad­vance or­ders for the Mod­el 3. Plus, the prod­uct meets ex­pec­ta­tions: no oth­er car en­joys such high cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion in the US and al­most none of them are avail­able on the used car mar­ket, even though over 300,000 units have al­ready been de­liv­ered. And here too, the Mod­el 3 was by far the best-sell­ing car in Switzer­land in its first full month of de­liv­er­ies. 

How important do you think inside-out communication is for a company? Are Apple and Tesla so successful because they apply this principle? Or how do you think Tesla’s brand communication differs from that of other car manufacturers?

Brand com­mu­ni­ca­tion is un­der­go­ing ma­jor trans­for­ma­tion: with­in just a few years, the term “ad­ver­tis­ing” will be like a rel­ic from the last cen­tu­ry. In fu­ture, it will be more about val­ues, at­ti­tudes and re­spon­si­bil­i­ty – in­clud­ing in cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Con­sumers no longer want to sim­ply be pre­sent­ed with clum­sy ad­ver­tis­ing – they want to be “part of a brand” and be in­spired by this. In the past, this may well have been about race vic­to­ries or prod­uct place­ment in a spy film, but more and more peo­ple are now see­ing through these mech­a­nisms and seek­ing the essence and val­ues of a brand and the com­pa­ny be­hind it. This in­cludes the per­son­al­i­ties, con­cepts and sto­ries of the peo­ple be­hind the com­pa­ny. A busi­ness or brand with­out a face, in­di­vid­ual val­ues or its own char­ac­ter and/or sto­ry is not sus­tain­able.

As a futurist, you’ve intensively studied the “tipping point”. Do you see a future “tipping point” in brand communication? How do you regard the position of influencers in this context?

In­flu­encers are as­sum­ing the role and reach of tra­di­tion­al print ti­tles and TV chan­nels. How­ev­er, cut-throat com­pe­ti­tion and qual­i­ty pres­sure are al­so in­creas­ing – and in the medi­um-term, a few, yet good in­flu­encers will be able to sus­tain suf­fi­cient au­di­ences to turn this in­to a sus­tain­able busi­ness. But I think that in today’s mar­ket­ing mix, the mon­ey for in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing can make an ex­cel­lent prof­it con­tri­bu­tion. Tra­di­tion­al me­dia are now even copy­ing the in­flu­encer mod­el, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. I wouldn’t say there’s a tip­ping point in this con­text, how­ev­er, but rather an ex­pan­sion of and shift in brand com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools. Val­ues, qual­i­ty, sto­ry, prod­uct and au­then­tic­i­ty – every­thing has to fit to­geth­er and be holis­ti­cal­ly im­ple­ment­ed by means of in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

How does communication need to change in order to reach tomorrow’s audience?

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is be­com­ing more com­plex and bi-di­rec­tion­al. There are no more “one-size-fits-all” com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­cepts. Rather, it’s about the skill of be­ing able to use the wide range of chan­nels, plat­forms and lev­els, on which com­mu­ni­ca­tion will take place be­tween com­pa­nies, con­sumers, em­ploy­ees, stake­hold­ers and the pub­lic in fu­ture. But one thing will re­main the same: peo­ple will be con­stant­ly seek­ing sto­ries and mo­ments that in­spire them. Some­thing that touch­es their heart and soul. They want to be in­volved in and in­spired by a com­mu­ni­ty, con­cept or com­mon goals and val­ues. This needs to be the cen­tral con­sid­er­a­tion, in or­der for com­mu­ni­ca­tion to be suc­cess­ful in the fu­ture.

Of course, we and our readers are very curious to hear what “the next big thing” will be in all our lives. Will we have robots as butlers at home in future, find solar panel floors in cities or even fly to work by air taxi?

At fu­ture mat­ters, we’re cur­rent­ly ob­serv­ing more trends as well as pos­si­ble break­throughs and up­heaval than pre­vi­ous­ly wit­nessed dur­ing the last 28 years of our work. The com­ing decade will prob­a­bly make many of the above-men­tioned in­no­va­tions rather com­mon­place in our lives. 

The im­por­tant thing is how we man­age our at­ti­tude to in­no­va­tion and the fu­ture: name­ly, whether we re­gard change as a threat or as an op­por­tu­ni­ty. In the past, in­no­va­tions have al­ways pre­vailed when they’ve made our lives eas­i­er, safer and bet­ter. Al­though some doubters like to ar­gue that “every­thing was bet­ter in the good old days” – a the­o­ry that in my opin­ion is dif­fi­cult to main­tain on clos­er in­spec­tion. How­ev­er, we hu­mans have an in­cred­i­ble abil­i­ty to use our cre­ativ­i­ty and imag­i­na­tion to pro­duce in­no­va­tions and goals that we’d like to achieve in fu­ture. It was these ideas, hopes and dreams that helped us to im­prove our lives in the past and dis­cov­er what we re­al­ly want and where we want to go. For those who find the space and time to use this abil­i­ty and their cu­rios­i­ty on a dai­ly ba­sis, this is one of the most ex­cit­ing times imag­in­able.

Lars Thom­sen is one of the world’s lead­ing fu­tur­ists. Born in 1968 in Ham­burg, this trend scout and fu­tur­ist is con­sid­ered to be one of the most in­flu­en­tial ex­perts on the fu­ture of en­er­gy, mo­bil­i­ty and smart net­works. Since the age of 22, he has been a self-made en­tre­pre­neur, ad­vis­ing com­pa­nies, cor­po­ra­tions, in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ment-re­lat­ed agen­cies in Eu­rope on the de­vel­op­ment of fu­ture strate­gies and busi­ness mod­els.

Published 28.03.2019 © Brandsoul AG


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Francesca Kleinstück


Part of Generation Z and amateur-influencer. Doesn't only like to drink coffee - she has to.

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