Electrocuting Elephants: What Nikola Tesla Can Teach Us About Marketing

April 26, 2017

By Chris Franks

That’s the guy that invented the sweet and sexy self-driving electric car, right?

Well, kind of.

While he did have a premonition in a park that led him to invent the electric motor that powers today’s Tesla cars, that’s not exactly the point of this blog.

I want to refer to one story about Tesla in particular. Once he finally had his electric motor perfected, Tesla traversed the Atlantic to meet his idol, Thomas Edison, to gain his much-sought approval on his new invention. Instead of the warm praise and welcome he thought he’d receive, Edison told him his idea was dumb, and instead, put him to work with the rest of the staff. As we all know how this story ends, the electric motor was not a dumb idea. So why did Edison reject Tesla’s idea so quickly?

It would put him out of business. That’s right. The “Battle of Currents,” as it became known, was just two inventors hashing out which way to harness electricity was better through the means of marketing to the “in the dark” public.

How did Edison stop Tesla from stealing his spotlight and ruining his prestigious “best inventor in the world” title?

A marketing campaign. Not just any campaign. A marketing smear and propaganda campaign.

I won’t get into the details of it (although a fascinating story), but let’s just say they saw the threat and used whatever means necessary to squash the competition and ensure their market share was intact.

Topsy the Elephant | Electrocuting Elephants: What Nikola Tesla Can Teach Us About Marketing

RIP Topsy.

Since alternating current was chosen for the newly-invented electric chair, Edison seized the opportunity to label it the “executioner’s current.” He also went so far as to actually electrocute an elephant in public to prove how “dangerous” Tesla’s alternating current was.

While I’m not saying your competitors are going to turn to murdering animals to keep you down, they will outbid you, out-budget you, and in many cases, out-manpower you. So what do you have to do? Outsmart them. You have to succeed where Nikola Tesla failed.

By now, I hope you’re not thinking that the intention of this blog is to find your biggest competitor and slander their name. Not to say that tactic isn’t still used frequently, but it isn’t the smartest way to get your product or service known for what it should be known for.

Instead, you need to do what Tesla was not so good at: self-promotion. Demonstrate your own differentiated value. It isn’t easy to be the underdog – the new guy in the space that has the next revolutionary idea that only you (and likely your mom) think is “special.” To you I say, prove it. Put your money where your mouth is, and show your market exactly why you deserve to be heard, seen, listened to.

Nikola Tesla | Electrocuting Elephants: What Nikola Tesla Can Teach Us About Marketing

Do not simply make an adaptation of what has already been done in the space. Signing up for your competitor’s email list to “see what they’re doing” and mimicking it, is a surefire way to end up behind them, in second place, or worse.

If your product is truly innovative, your marketing should be too. Do not accept traditional methods that are industry accepted just because they’re worked for someone else.

And finally, don’t be afraid to be the black sheep in the industry you’re in. Just as Tesla (and the poor elephant) learned the hard way, if you have a great idea, other people will resent you for it. Your competitors in your industry will be pissed they didn’t have the idea first. We have ideas at CleverFunnel constantly. The truth about our ideas is they mean nothing unless they work for our clients. We have no secret sauce that we apply to each client, campaign, or product. Each interaction is carefully manufactured and engineered to produce the results we want to see for each client.