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