November 1, 2022 | Vol. 1, Issue 1
Would you look at that—the first issue of Broadside has shipped, finally.
I should probably write some deep and thoughtful essay on what this publication is all about, but really, I think it’s better at this stage to avoid grand statements and see where this thing goes.
So, what follows are some comments about the Cybertruck brand and an insight that you and I can use in our work.
Before I get to that, thank you for being an inaugural subscriber. You helped me make this project a reality. So, thank you.
Now, let’s get into this week’s topic.
Where is the Cybertruck?
I remember the excitement when it was introduced toward the end of 2019. Hard to believe that was three years ago. At the time, Tesla said the electric truck was going to be available for purchase by the end of 2021.
We’re a year past that deadline and nothing.
However, I’m not asking why we aren’t seeing the Cybertruck on the streets and in our neighbor’s driveways.
I’m asking, what happened? I never hear anything about it: no news, no updates, no rumors—nothing. It’s like the project disappeared.
Maybe Tesla’s PR team dropped the ball. (Not likely.) Or, maybe the initial hype-induced excitement has worn off. (Happens.) Did Tesla kill the brand by failing to ship on time? (Maybe, but I doubt it.)
I think something more complicated is at play.
What is a brand?
In simple terms, a brand is a promise with a correlating expectation.
Think of a two-sided coin. On one side is the basic promise your brand makes the market and on the other side is the expectation your market has of your brand. Get these two things aligned and you’re in business. If they don’t match up, expect problems because that coin won’t spend.
I argued at the time of its unveiling that the Cybertruck promised you could own the future, today.
I said this because everything about the truck—its materials, design, fuel, technology, even its name—screams “the future!” And I thought it did so in a sort of nostalgic, sci-fi way. Having grown up watching futuristic fodder like Space: 1999 and Star Wars, the Cybertruck looked like it was straight out of Industrial Light & Magic, circa 1982.
The truck didn’t catch my attention alone. Reports claim the company has racked up more than 1,270,000 paid reservations for the Cybertruck. That’s well over $100 million in reservation fees, with a potential $80 billion in future revenue—assuming the truck ships.
A lot of people wanted what the Cybertruck was promising.
The best laid plans
But that was then. Now I find myself feeling ambivalent, at best, about the Cybertruck. What was probably the biggest brand spectacle of 2019 has become a forgettable footnote.
I’ve been intrigued about this since the brand resurfaced in my mind few weeks ago. How could something so remarkable and revolutionary—something with over $100 million in consumer commitment—become so forgettable?
I think the problem has to do with my current feelings about the future. If I’m honest, it’s been hard to avoid cynicism about what the future might hold. I suspect I’m not alone.
When the Cybertruck launched, the future was hopeful. We all just operated on the assumption that the sun will come up, tomorrow.
This was before any of us knew what a novel coronavirus was. It was before our $7B pull-out of Afghanistan. It was before $5 gasoline and empty supermarket shelves. It was before masked children, vaccine mandates, and myocarditis. It was before monkeypox. It was before Minneapolis and Kenosha. It was before baby formula shortages. It was before the January 6th hearings. It was before immanent nuclear war.
The Cybertruck promised that we could own a piece of the future right now, and promptly after making that promise the future got dark.
I suspect my current ambivalence toward the Cybertruck is because I don’t want the future anymore—at least not the future we seem to be facing.
Don’t get me wrong. I wake up hopeful every day. I’m wired that way. And, I believe a better future can be had if I’m willing to work for it. I bet we’re the same that way.
But, the future that the Cybertruck promised—the cliché of an electric-fueled utopian society—is gone, and with it went a great chunk of the brand’s allure.
How shall we then brand?
So all this raises the question, how can we build successful brands in an ever-changing, and often-hostile, environment?
The answer is a lot simpler than you might think. And the nice thing is, it doesn’t involve chasing fads or kowtowing to political correctness.
To create a future-proof brand you simply base your promise on your values.
No sycophancy. No virtue signaling. No bandwagoning. No greenwashing. No supporting the current thing.
None of that malarkey.
You just mine your values and build your brand around what you discover.
Your values are what drive you. They are what get you out of bed in the morning and they inform everything you do. And the great thing about your values is they are what help you navigate chaotic waters, a.k.a. your world. When you base your band on your values, you are infusing it with something deeper, something good and true. This, in turn, imbues your brand with a kind of stability and truth that your market can look to and rely on, regardless of the current circumstances.
A caveat here: I’m assuming your values are good. Nothing can future-proof a brand built on greed or self-centeredness. But, if you are motivated by solving problems, creating value for your customers, or any other virtuous endeavor, you can build a brand for the ages.
And, honestly, I think this is what Tesla has been doing with the Cybertruck.
Yes, Elon (bless his nerdy soul) got to do his Cyberpunk Circus when the truck launched. But, after the hype died down, the company went back to what it’s all about: leading the world in electric vehicle technology. No hype, no memes, just the best EV money can buy.
The context may have changed for the wider world, but for people committed to electric vehicles, the Cybertruck is still a winner because they bought it for deeper reasons.
Ultimately, Tesla is focused on its deeper values and this is why I believe the Cybertruck will do just fine when it finally goes on sale. Maybe not $80-billion fine, but fine none the less.
Until next time,