Has brand magician Elon Musk gone too far?

Elon Musk has a pretty decent resume. He has built two high-tech mega brands in Tesla and SpaceX. He zigs when the others zag. He makes outrageous statements and then backs them up. I admire his branding of Tesla in particular. Instead of talking standard electric car language with echoes of being green, the Tesla brand assumes those messages are already known and instead positions its products as high-tech and stylish. You can find the e-car specs on their website if you look hard enough, but the Tesla brand is already a level ahead of its competition and the gap isn’t closing. Traditional auto brands are launching e-cars left and right, but they’re cannibalizing their own sales more than they’re taking a bite out of Tesla.  

Musk has created several other successful brands, including Neuralink, OpenAI, and The Boring Company, which actually bores large holes for tunnels, but is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek brand name. This is part of the charisma of Musk — he does things differently, even if it’s more difficult to do it his way. He’s made himself a very rich man in the process. He’s a rock star who’s a one-man show.  

Which makes his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion absolutely mind-boggling. Musk has used his gift for lofty strategies by saying he bought the struggling social media channel for the “future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.” When asked what he meant by that, he described removing restrictions to free speech and possibly reinstating accounts that were banned previously for everything from misinformation to hate speech. Twitter advertisers reacted to this negatively, fearing that Twitter would become less civil and more driven by political and social fringe elements.  

Twitter was already losing $4 million a day according to a Musk tweet, and now it is losing large chunks of revenue from its primary income stream. Musk has responded by abruptly laying off about half of Twitter’s 7,500-person workforce, with some claiming (on Twitter) that they only found out they were fired when they couldn’t log in to their work account. Now Musk is zigging and zagging all over the Twitter landscape, announcing at one point that the coveted blue check mark for a verified account would be for sale (“We need the revenue,” he tweeted), only to quickly pull the plug when dozens of false accounts were created, some of which were purporting to be Musk-owned companies.  

Musk may appear to be operating without a firm plan in mind, but he has discussed ideas for increasing revenue, such as charging fees for commercial and government uses, as well as growing Twitter’s payments business to compete with apps like Venmo and ApplePay. But surely a man as smart as Musk must know that these ideas are band aids and that the Twitter brand is in danger of losing relevance and market share if he can’t put it on a clear course for success. As magical as he has been with his other brands, Twitter’s Chief Twit, as Musk has called himself, does not have audiences clapping for his latest tricks. 


David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.  


Winners, losers and cruisers: Brands to watch in 2020

Here’s a quick look at brands that will be growing, shrinking, or maybe just disappearing in the coming year.

Comcast. The Big Boys of Cable have got to be feeling the pressure. They lived the good life, but now they are surrounded by streaming brands like Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime. The real irony is that many of these streaming products are being delivered by Comcast’s own internet service. Comcast is rapidly losing relevance and the ability to charge for channels their customers don’t want.

Telsa/Elon Musk. What I love about the Tesla/Musk brand (and let’s face it they are inseparable) is the ongoing entertainment value that’s out of this world, sometimes literally. If you had bought their stock in June of 2019, you’d have doubled your money by now, but that’s partly because the brand looked to be in deep trouble with production delays and possible malfunctions of its “Autopilot” software. In six months, their revenues have recovered, they are introducing new models including, a futuristic truck that looks like a stealth bomber, and Elon has managed to behave more appropriately for a CEO.  Tesla/Musk just may have become the king of “what’s next,” beating out another pretty big brand, Apple, for the title, at least for now.

Juul. “And the winner of the 2020 Brand Most Likely to Disappear is…” Reminds me of the old joke about heading in the wrong direction but making really good time. This vaping brand is going to fall just as fast as it grew. Did they not see the potential for the trouble they’re in now? A product that introduces chemicals into the sensitive lungs of people of all ages? What could go wrong? Turns out, pretty much everything can. Between lawsuits and a growing number of bans on vaping products, this brand has nowhere to go but up in smoke. (Yeah, I went there.)

Boeing. The question for 2020, is will Boeing go “boing” or go bust? The 737 Max debacle has driven up their debt and has moved beyond damaging a particular product brand name to affecting the perception of the entire company. Their CEO just got his walking papers and when the Max is reintroduced later this year as planned, passengers around the world will be asking about what plane they are flying in like never before. Safety is the foundation of any air travel brand. Boeing has a big crack in it right now. Only a perfect track record can save them going forward.

Apple. I have to laugh at critics of Apple, who claim they lack sufficient innovation to sustain their growth as a company and a brand. Their revenues and stock price continue to increase, and they create some of the most powerful advertising in the world. That’s because Apple understands that their brand experience is less about their products and more about what people can do to be creative with them. All you want is to make cheap phone calls? Buy a prepaid burner. But if you want to make movies with your friends on the spur of the moment, buy an iPhone. And load it with songs from iTunes. And watch Apple TV on it instead of paying for cable.


David Taylor – Submitted

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.