Elon Musk’s Controversial Leadership Marketing Tactics: 5 Takeaways

Brook Zimmatore
Aug 20 · 6 min read

The attention economy is a hard beast to master. Everyone from the biggest brands to your 12-year-old cousin is fighting for space on social media feeds. Now more than ever, it seems to be true that, “all publicity is good publicity.” The most controversial and outlandish personalities succeed in the attention economy not in spite of, but because they’re controversial and outlandish.

Elon Musk is a master of this type of publicity. His companies, Tesla and SpaceX, do amazing things, but often it’s his eccentric claims on Twitter that bring him the most attention. Every time he makes grand claims to solve the world’s problems, all his supporters and detractors follow in his wake, and the media can’t help but follow too. There are marketing teams of hundreds that can’t manage the publicity Musk manages with one tweet.

It’s harder and harder to rise above the chatter online. Businesses willing to take the risk might find that controversy and outlandish antics offer more bang for their buck, assuming they sell a good product, and that they don’t tread too far into socially unacceptable territory. Do things right and customers will say, “well, their CEO is a bit weird, but they make great products!”

Elon Musk’s Keyboard Warriors

There’s no denying that Elon Musk has been very successful. With his car company, Tesla, he not only intends to upend the car industry with electric propulsion, but he wants bring down the costs of batteries and make fossil fuels obsolete. And Musk’s space company, SpaceX, has made great advancements towards low-cost space travel, such as landing a reusable rocket upright on earth. For these achievements, Musk has a whole legion of online fans who worship him with cult-like obsession.

Still, Musk sometimes seems to be losing the thread, promising increasingly eccentric ideas that seem to be out of line with his priorities. First he started building giant batteries in areas such as Puerto Rico and Australia that were having energy trouble, and they were partially successful. But then Musk started promising to fix everything in sight.

Musk promised to save the Thai soccer team that was trapped in a narrow cave system with a coffin-like tube that was just as likely to get stuck as to save anyone. Thai authorities diplomatically called Musk’s plan “not practical,” reported The Verge, and they proceeded to save the boys without Musk’s help. Then Musk promised to fix Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, but as Wired noted, he seemed to have no idea how to do it.

But Musk’s cultish online followers still hang on his every word. To them he is their god. They would probably sacrifice their children to him on the steps of the Roman senate if he asked them to. And they spread the gospel of Musk throughout social media, whether others want to hear it or not.

Why bother with a big marketing team when your CEO is all you need? Musk is permanently trending. Everyone rushes to make articles about him, and maybe that’s the point. Even when his companies run into trouble, Musk’s rabid followers keep pushing the cult of Elon Musk, helping keep investors and customers interested.

Is All Press Always Good Press?

Even in the attention economy, there is a limit to good controversy, online drama and free press. Like most truisms, “all publicity is good publicity” isn’t actually always true. Being a bit of an oddball, like Musk, remains socially acceptable if customers want what you sell. But as Roseanne Barr found out when she was fired from her own TV show and John Schnatter of Papa John’s found out when he was forced out of his own company, being bigoted brings more outrage than interest. There is still a line and they crossed it.

As a cost-effective way to grab the attention of customers, creating online drama, making outlandish claims or playing off the offbeat personality of your CEO is a great way to do it, but only up to a point. It won’t work if the product a company sells doesn’t offer better value in price and benefits to customers, and it doesn’t work when people step over the line into socially unacceptable areas.

All publicity is not good publicity, but much of it is. The attention economy is a crowded place, but by making waves, businesses can carve out a spot without breaking the bank on their marketing budget.

5 Takeaways for your Executive Leadership Branding

Growing a thriving business as an entrepreneur isn’t just about outlandish marketing of your product or service. If you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, you must also develop a strong leadership brand. Entrepreneurs with exceptional personal brands can accelerate the growth rate of their companies thanks to opportunities like giving keynote speeches, appearing as podcast guests, or even mentoring other up-and-coming entrepreneurs. If you’re a business builder who wants to grow a network of your own, here are five ferocious ways to improve your brand marketing as an entrepreneur.

Strength Swagger

Building a personal brand based upon your strengths is vital if you want your branding to be authentic. Trying to develop a brand around a false persona or in an area in which you’re weak isn’t going to work. Develop a plan-of-action to discover where your strengths are and then create a strategic game-plan to optimize your branding based on those strengths. Make sure you focus on delivering value to your audience, not just tooting your own horn or becoming a social media superstar. A flash-in-the-pan entrepreneur doesn’t have staying power; one with strong and authentic personal branding is likely to be more successful over the long haul.

Search Engine Optimization is Crucial

Did you know that applying SEO (search engine optimization) tactics to your personal brand is essential if you want to get discovered online? Just like webmasters apply SEO tactics to their online content to rank higher on search engines, entrepreneurs also need to incorporate search engine optimization into their personal branding strategy. Savvy entrepreneurs wanting to build a strong reputation in their industry should consider guest posting on online publications their target audience and peers ready. Becoming active on social media is also crucial. Understand who you need to impress with your branding and then make it your mission to connect with those individuals and companies in a variety of ways (blogging, social networking, etc.).

Align Your Values

If you want personal branding to work for you as an entrepreneur, then you need to develop a statement of values. Create your branding around your personal statement of values and then make sure all your online profiles reflect your values statement. Nothing spotlights you as a phony more than portraying yourself one way on your LinkedIn profile, and then behaving the opposite on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Authenticity in personal branding is critical for long-term ROI (return on investment).

Develop a Growth Strategy for Your Brand

Just like regular advertising and marketing, personal branding can grow stale if it doesn’t get tweaked occasionally. For entrepreneurs developing a personal brand, creating a growth strategy for your branding is vital for success. Understand who you want to be in 10 years, what sort of opportunities you want to come your way, and tweak your branding strategy to help you reach your goals.

Analyze Your Audience

Personal branding failures are often the result of an entrepreneur not understanding their target audience. Are you building a personal brand to impress angel investors and venture capitalists? Do you want your customers to think highly of you as an entrepreneur? The more specific you are in targeting your audience correctly, the likelier it is your brand marketing will work. Analyze your target audience, understand the factors that are likely to influence their opinions, and then hone your brand strategy, so your values align with theirs.

Final Thoughts

Incorporate these five personal brand marketing tips into your entrepreneurial career, and your chances of long-term success are likely to grow. As an entrepreneur, who you are matters. Your personal brand strategy reflects your inner values to an outside audience. Will you be developing a personal brand strategy as an entrepreneur this year?

Brook Zimmatore

Written by

Brook Zimmatore is the CEO of Massive Alliance https://www.massive.pr, a Brand Reputation and Corporate Intelligence company.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade