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How to Implement Three Key Aspects of Elon Musk and Teslas Thought Leadership

Tesla is one of the most valuable companies in the world. They have no marketing department, Ad Agency or marketing budget. This top-10 company is marketed purely by Elon Musk's Thought Leadership. What can we model and realistically implement?


#branding, #contentwriting, #marketingstrategy, #marketresearch, #tesla, #thoughtleadership, #thoughtleadershipexamples, #thoughtleadershipmarketing

Tesla's current marketing budget: $0

Tesla has zero marketing budgetAs I write this, Tesla is one of the top 10 most valuable companies in the world.

No marketing department.
No Ad Agency.
As far as official line item budget categories, Tesla spends exactly $0 on marketing, PR, and advertising.

This top-10 company is marketed purely by Thought Leadership.

So what does that mean to you and your marketing plans, with your different sales and goals? Actually, quite a bit - in spite of any scale difference - as this stuff is fractal. Stay with me on this and I will unpack things for you.

Let's first look at a punch list of some weighty dynamics. Sure, you've heard this before, but there is a purpose here that I'll illuminate in a bit...:

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  • Elon Musk has infused Tesla with a globe-spanning mission of reducing humanity's reliance on fossil fuels, aligning with the justifiably popular sentiment of saving the earth. This is something I can get behind as, without an earth, many day-to-day activities become more difficult.
  • Part of how he has done that is by making electric cars desirable and more practical.
  • The Model S spearheaded a new paradigm of electric cars as green status symbols.
  • As a technological innovator in areas like autonomous driving - though critics have pointed to delays and flaws - the brand is constantly getting PR exposure for its newsworthy innovations.
  • Tesla's cars have broken records for acceleration. The Model S Plaid is currently the fastest accelerating production 4 door car of any kind, earning the accolades of car enthusiast media and keeping the brand image present, vivid, and powerful in the eyes of its customer base. Speaking of power, YouTube is awash in videos of Teslas humiliating fossil-fuel supercars in drag races. Contrast the brand-building of those viral videos versus the branding effect of a typical video-interrupting YouTube ad most people ignore. To flip things on the other side, it's like contrasting the melodious roar of the Ferrari's exhaust with the Tesla's near-dead silence.
  • Elon has attained celebrity status so is constantly in the spotlight, leveraging this attention for his companies, including Tesla and SpaceX
One might object that they can't replicate that thought leadership success because they lack the money, scale, resources, ideas, and, um, Twitter followers Elon has.

First, let's remember that Elon didn't start with all that. Second, Tesla's massive scale is made less relevant when the thought leadership is viewed through the lens of a structural analysis that reveals plenty of factors worth modeling by anyone who wants to market or lead better. We can make it a vivid, illustrative example of some of the fundamental, core building blocks of Strategic Thought Leadership that apply to all cases.

X-Ray Backstory of TeslaWhen I modeled Mozart's composition methods using NLP(1), I didn't expect to become another Mozart. Just the same, it was a breakthrough for my music and a jump in skill I never would have achieved with typical, linear learning methods. So, it isn't about whether or not you can bridge the gap in scale from your company to Tesla (I won't rule that out, though, as anything is possible in my world), it's about better understanding Strategic Thought Leadership so you can make breakthroughs in marketing, influence or leadership at whatever scale is right for you.

Keep in mind we aren't taking the position of either the fan or critic of Elon and Tesla. This is more about detached observation (in NLP perceptual positions, this is called third position) as well as the Systems View (fourth position) leading to high impact learning. Rather than just trying to copy what Elon has done, we are using his example as a way to illustrate the core structure of Strategic Thought Leadership. We are using an X-Ray machine to discover and describe the Back-Story. So you can model what is helpful and disregard what isn't.

Before we jump into the analysis, let's consider the dynamics of learning. The linguist Stephen Krashen made a case for learning a second language directly instead of translating it from another ... learning it more like we learned our first language. As children discovering how to speak and understand, we are enthusiastic, relaxed and make direct associations to form meaning instead of stressing out trying to fit a new language structure into a template of what we already Know what I mean by that?

Have you ever met someone who said something like "Your dog has 4 legs and a tail so it's just like my dog."? Except then you see him try to grab your dog's favorite toy and get bit, at which point you hope the pain in his hand is enough to make him realize it is better to notice and appreciate distinctions. The "shortcut" of "this is just like this thing I already know" isn't a shortcut at all, it's avoiding learning, the opposite of intelligence, which depends on letting new information in.

So, some models of Strategic Thought Leadership - seen in that light- can give insight and empowerment when used as analysis tools of Tesla's Thought Leadership Marketing.

LEO Model Analysis of Tesla's Thought Leadership

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LEO spells out the Thaut Process of Strategic Thought Leadership triad: Listen | Envision | Output.
Thought Leadership Studio LEO model Listen Envision OutputNote the lion also has three corresponding eyes... (or "i's") :Insight, Inspiration, and Impact.

LEO: a triple-perspective, balanced method of Strategic Thought Leadership.

LEOThaut Process3 EyesSensory SystemModeIdeal StatesMovie-Making Role
L = ListenAudience AttunementInsightAuditoryPassiveEmpathy, ClarityAudience Member
E = EnvisionThought Leadership StudioInspirationVisualCreativeInspiration, EnjoymentScreenplay Writer
O = OutputMindshift DirectorImpactKinestheticActiveMotivation, ConfidenceMovie Director

L= Listen for Insight

Whether he would have put it in these terms or not, Elon sensed the higher value in his audience of preserving the earth and aligned with it. He also built Tesla's Thought Leadership Model around the unmet (for electric vehicles) values of status and enjoyment (of performance).

He also found a prevalent marketplace mental model of "electric cars are boring" which created the perfect opportunity to offer the marketplace a new mental model that better resonated with peoples' higher values than the old mental model.... a thought leadership vector of a new paradigm in electric cars.

Listening for Insight LEO Model of Thought LeadershipIt may seem simple and obvious now that he has things well underway, but let's not underestimate the importance of listening with empathy for clarity of insight. This is how we find the unmet higher values that provide strategic opportunity for thought leadership and market leadership.

To use neuro-linguistic and marketing lingo, this model of Strategic Thought Leadership analyzes the language patterns of authentic, public conversations online to discover audience values and mental models, looking for a market misalignment that can be brought into greater alignment with a well-constructed thought leadership position.

Don't worry if that last paragraph made no sense to you...

Put much simpler, it reveals what people would love that nobody has yet articulated for them. A golden opportunity.

This is done with the attitude of respectful listening and is not privacy invasive. It matters not who said what- it only matters that there is a prevalent unmet pull for value in the marketplace. It also doesn't matter how much data you have, once you have a critical mass of insights. You end up with so much actionable intelligence, the challenge becomes creating enough content and promoting it well enough to take advantage of it all.

In my experience, this can be the solution to the privacy issues brought up by data-targeting. It makes such invasion less necessary and relevant. Would Tesla ever want or need to go back to that? For most businesses, it can at least lessen the need for data targeted advertising with new streams of leads from a growing audience positively impacted by the thought leadership.

To summarize: Insight comes from discovering unmet higher values that are connected to a prevalent mental model (AKA belief) that the audience holds which can be improved upon by a Thought Leadership Position you come up with and promote.

E= Envision a Thought Leadership Position with Creative Inspiration

Elon's Thought Leadership Position for Tesla could be simply stated as:

Electric cars can be more appealing than fossil-fuel cars, which helps save the earth by increasing their popularity.

Note that, if examined more deeply, Tesla's thought leadership position follows some linguistic rules that make it work as part of a well-constructed Thought Leadership Model.

  • It has a simple "if-then" statement behind it: "If you have an electric car, you will enjoy it".
  • This contrasts with the old audience if-then mental model of "If you have an electric car, you are sacrificing"
  • Properly constructing 2 opposing if-then statements in this manner forms a Thought Leadership Path from the old one to the new one.
  • Having things in this structure also enables bringing multiple persuasion tactics to bear with powerful, subconscious-influencing talking points.
  • These talking points undermine the old model and support the new model.
  • They can also form the basis of a PR or content marketing program that is especially effective, as it provides a "back-story" and greater meaning to every communication with the marketplace.
waterfall as metaphor of thought leadership destinationThink of it as path-building. You need to get people to a destination, maybe like you are acting as an adventure guide to bring them to a beautiful, scenic overlook at a ledge high in the beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. Once they get there, they will be greeted by a stunning vista of a waterfall, with the cool, ionized air lifting their spirits to the soothing roar of the powerful falling water and scent of pine forest.

There are guardians of the threshold to consider, though: in this case, bears and mountain lions. So you have to make some noise to let bears know to give people a good distance. You need some pepper spray on hand so the rescue crew can realize what happened by the scent of pepper in bear scat. Just kidding about that part, the black bears in the NC mountains rarely eat people. But, you do need to know where your group is starting from and you need a metaphorical machete to cut with vigor through the foliage of outdated thinking, as well as making double sure you and your party members don't end up as bear scat. It's the analogy of having good counter-arguments at hand for "threshold guardians" who might have vested interests in the "old way".

You get your adventure party/audience from where they are to where you are taking them by knowing the origin and destination points, knowing the best way between them, and having tools to deal with the obstacles you know will come up.

In short: Inspiration is your instrument for coming up with new ways of thinking for your audience that satisfy their formerly unmet higher values. A fundamental new way of thinking becomes a thought leadership destination, the endpoint of a thought leadership path. Knowing how to properly analyze and construct a back-story like an adventure path is very helpful for positive market influence. It adds power to PR and content marketing as well as making them easier and more coherent.

O= Output the message in media for Impact

In Tesla's case, the product itself has such a strong Thought Leadership Position that it creates an ongoing stream of online commentary and articles. As I mentioned earlier, the outstanding acceleration of Teslas makes great YouTube fodder for car nuts with "giant killer" drag races (hopefully on sanctioned race tracks, away from public traffic) by the hundreds.

Elon has also used Twitter, which looks like it will become his new toy, as a mouthpiece, with millions of followers there to absorb and amplify his message.

And, love him or hate him, you have to give the guy credit for having big dreams and a powerful overriding mission which is about much more than making money. His messages are therefor naturally viral.

Thought Leadership StudioThis aspect can be challenging for smaller businesses, but the same point applies: once you have a robust Thought Leadership Model, supported by well-constructed talking points, you need to Output that message through media so it gets to your target audience and moves their thinking - to their benefit as well as yours.

And, whether or not you have the budget or scale, there are creative ways to have that Impact. Faced with well-established competitors, one of my clients, mPower6, partners its youth sports fundraising campaigns with charities, which both aligns with their Thought Leadership Position about being about the growth of the kids and piggybacks on the charities' exposure, with support from their PR departments, websites, social media, and email lists contributing to getting the campaigns in front of more people.

All the typical tools of digital agencies - SEO, email marketing, content marketing, online PR - apply for creating this Impact and work so much better when they are fueled with a Thought Leadership Position and supporting talking points that separate the message from the firehose of the internet so it gets better seen and heard.

In summary, Impact comes from having enough frequency of media exposure of your well-constructed message to enough of the right people, with enough "stickiness" and readability. In many cases, as with Tesla, a viral enough story and product creates organic PR and in others, that should be supplemented with both the normal toolkit of digital marketing vehicles, which become much more effective, and the creative PR better enabled by a robust Thought Leadership Model.

Takeaways- What Can You Implement from Musk and Tesla?

Realize, whether he was thinking of it that way or not, Musk was demonstrating the patterns of the triple-perspective LEO 3-Eyed Lion model of Strategic Thought Leadership.

So, what are the next steps you can take, based on this?

Some Suggested Punch List Items:

  1. Invest in yourself as a Strategic Thought Leader as part of your marketing budget.
  2. Learn to listen to your marketplace for the structure behind what they say: their values (what is important to them) and their mental models (how they currently think about what you do)
  3. Discover where a value is not as satisfied as it could be with a new model you provide.
  4. Access your creative inspiration and come up with new ways of thinking about what you do - from the perspective of your prospect base, audience, or target market.
  5. Develop formulated-for-positive-impact talking points that support your position and ..
  6. Use them as the basis for all your communication with your audience.
  7. Click here to join the Thought Leadership Studio site (currently Free) and get instant access to more tools, ideas, and eBooks (like the Marketers' Guide to Strategic Thought Leadership) to fuel your Strategic Thought Leadership.
  8. Subscribe and listen to Thought Leadership Studio Podcast to regularly fuel your Insight, Inspiration, and Impact.
  9. Get Thought Leadership Support from a specialist.
  10. Hire an NLP-based Thought Leadership Coach if you really want to ramp up your results.
  11. Part of an organization? Set a free 30:00 Discovery Session to explore Corporate Thought Leadership Consulting Services

My opinion of Elon? As an entrepreneur, I have great respect for him and see him as a huge net-positive for humankind. As a person, he has flaws, like all of us. Yet he is doing some extraordinary things that I appreciate. I do wish he would ask my opinion of Neuralink, though... that is another conversation.


Written by Chris McNeil, Strategic Thought Leadership NLP Coach and Consultant, Founder of Thaut, host of Thought Leadership Studio podcast, and Creator of the Thaut Process of Strategic Thought Leadership.

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(1) Strategies of Genius, Volume One by Robert Dilts

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