Elon, Here’s How I Would Market the Tesla PowerWall Differently
Last month Elon Musk launched the Tesla Energy PowerWall. Likely the lynchpin of future generations, this device — effectively a Duracell on an array of performance enhancing drugs— is truly innovative innovation designed to change the world. Despite selling nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars worth in just its first month, the PowerWall’s ascent up the innovation diffusion curve will be limited if it continues on its current path. Seeing as my future is impacted by the battery’s adoption rates, here are my thoughts on how I would market it differently.
From back-up power to everyday power, how the PowerWall changes everything
In an era where technological innovation has widdled down to 140-characters, thinner-this, and faster-that, the PowerWall stands for more. It’s innovation with a purpose, and that purpose is enabling people to think differently about their energy use.
The impact that the PowerWall will have on society is dramatic — not just to Westerners as a rich man’s toy, but more importantly in developing nations. Elon’s team has managed to build a reliable, contained, eventually-affordable, and smart home battery that overcomes solar’s greatest constraint: that current battery technology sucks.
The PowerWall’s potential impact is huge. It has the power to leap-frog traditional powergrids in undeveloped countries and re-shape existing energy management dynamics at home. In developing nations, building and maintaining expensive energy grids with dependancy on unreliable power sources can be eliminated — instead replaced by a simple solar panel and a light-weight PowerWall per home. In developed nations, the PowerWall will make utilities and consumers think differently as it can store electricity when it’s cheapest, and expend when it’s most expensive (not mention make going off-grid more realistic).
Gone are the days when home batteries were viewed only for back-up power, Elon has perfected the home battery for everyday power — and this unlocks tremendous opportunity to mass solar adoption, amongst other things.
The antidote of success: a toy for the rich
The launch of the PowerWall was deeply remeniscent of an Apple-style product party housed in a stylish LA venue with dimmed-lighting. The room was full of cheers from a crowd of early adopters, likely rich white men dreaming of power independence for their yachts.
But here in lies my speckle of doubt that will hold the PowerWall back from success: it remains a device for the priveledged few. This fact alone stands to take the device from being a hopeful game-changer, to a niche product mounted only above its owner’s Model S in the garage. If the PowerWall is limited to rich westerners, then we will see significant issues arrise. Notably, the already rapidly decaying energy infrastructure will decay faster as these PowerWall customers go off the grid, leaving the balance left to pay for the aging equipment.
To live-in to it’s potential, the PowerWall needs to do more for the world. It needs to work with local energy infrastructure to make the transition effective and broad reaching. Tesla’s core consumers should be governments and power utilities who can make this happen en masse. They can finance them, control them, plan around them and manage them. A direct-to-consumer model may not be best here. My fear is that anything else will turn into an us vs them situation— something remeniscent of the current Tesla Model S situation, or more applicably, current low solar power adoption.
The PowerWall also needs to do something more for the world. I say, for every PowerWall sold in a developed nation that a hospital, government or NGO in a developing country should recieve one for free, or an extreme discount at least. Call it wealth redistribution or what you may, but in this situation the PowerWall is standing for more —it’s purpose-based marketing and elevates the device from under-the-christmas-tree status, to that of global game-changer.
To elaborate, think of WarbyParker and Tom’s Shoes. They are moderately well designed products but come with a powerful brand statement: buy one, and we will donate another one to someone in need. They stand for more than merely making plastic glasses and shoes for people who can well afford them. Yes, the dollar ring of a PowerWall is much greater than a pair of shoes, but so are the margins that could enable this.
For Elon and Tesla to harness the power of the PowerWall, big moves are needed. By following an Apple-inspired approach, a necessary device is being treated as a luxury. Fan fare is needed to build traction, investors and a brand — but the PowerWall is more than that, and an atypical institutional selling model and CSR focus is needed to ensure adoption en masse.
Becoming an enabler of change
A lot of ink has been spilled since the PowerWall launch over how it is actually only one of many players in the space. Some tech writers actually claim it is a subpar product compared with what else is on the market. But this is exactly why the PowerWall is a game-changer: it gets people talking. The reason it is an enabler of change is because it has a brand, a big brand promise, and people who know about it (or at least know about Tesla).
There is no doubt that the celebrity of Musk, the beauty of the design and the metoric raise of Tesla helps to raise its profile. People now know that a clear option exist for home batteries, and that is the first big step. And to keep enabling change, the PowerWall needs to stand for societal progress — it needs to act like a lynchpin. And to do this, my suggestions above — as radical as they seem, should inspire a different approach.
My generation needs this to be a success. And, Elon, as your number one fan, I am here to help it become a reality. If you are reading this, I’m a professional marketer and I would love to talk further: I am at @jwgregorymurray on twitter.