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  • Writer's pictureMatt Allmer

Closing the Brand Knowledge Gap

Updated: Mar 7, 2023


There is a widening brand knowledge gap among tech leaders and Tesla serves as a perfect example of this trend. They positioned themselves as a technology company, but they’re just a car manufacturer. This inflicts more damage to its brand than you might think, creating confusion among customers and difficulty in positioning the brand successfully.

  • Tesla represents widespread neglect in fundamental brand management, and instead, relies on press coverage, technological novelties, and self-indulgent funding status.

  • The importance of developing a clear and consistent brand message in a rapidly changing market was true before the term “unicorn” was coined and research supports the existence of this knowledge gap among executives.

  • Leading examples of companies that have demonstrated a strong knowledge of brand management suggest new companies like Rivian can learn from Tesla’s mistakes to avoid falling into the same trap.

Late But Still Rude Awakening

What so many have anticipated has finally happened. The markets have finally called their bluff and Tesla is forced to show its cards: they are no longer the high-brow, dreamy sci-fi renaissance it positioned itself to be. They are in fact a car maker, albeit a really good one. Tesla had climbed up the coveted “Mt. MicrApplesoft”, arguably higher than any other company founded this century (Google: 1998, Amazon: 1994). This more accurate perception as a car manufacturer rather than a technology company inflicts more damage on its brand than at first blush. Past mistakes come back to sting again and again, like SolarCity and the F-150 Lightning’s debut, unchallenged. Product annoyances are upgraded to pain points like build quality and repair nightmares, and subconscious turnoffs become conscious punchlines: Ehem, step away from the birdcage, Elon, and focus on what got you here, yea?

Tesla is a perfect example of something that has plagued the tech industry for a decade or more, which is a widening brand knowledge gap among tech leaders. It’s a gap that has been paved over mainly by press coverage on shiny disruptions, technological novelties, and most importantly, self-indulgent series funding. Why bother with strong, fundamental brand management when all you have to do is blast a press release about your non-retained user growth, your unsustainable fundraising and multi-billion dollar “valuflation”, and quirkily absurd, anecdotal market claims? Warren Buffet said it best: It isn't until the tide goes out that you discover who's been swimming naked.

Tesla is the perfect example, not because it’s getting swept out by the tide. It’s a brand that is very capable of outliving us, but right now, it’s very naked. Tesla is perfect because it best illustrates the importance of developing a clear and consistent brand message in what seems to be a permanently rapidly changing market. With the near-instant rise—and aggressive evolution—of digital marketing and social media, brand management has become increasingly complex and dynamic.

Research Shows A Lack Of Skills Among Executives

This knowledge gap is backed up by research, showing that many executives have a knowledge gap when it comes to rapidly changing brand strategies. A study conducted by the University of South Wales in 2020, found that many executives lack the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively manage their brands in the digital age.

While many struggle with brand management, there are some companies that have demonstrated a strong knowledge of brand management. Companies such as Apple, Coca-cola, Nike, and Patagonia have built strong brands that are recognized and respected around the world. However, it’s important to note, these companies were founded prior to the emergence of the brand knowledge gap. They continue to stay relevant by understanding and investing in their brand, and as a result, knowing how to adapt to changing market trends. So, for those younger brands, what can be done?

Gaps Reveal Opportunity

Well, amidst Tesla’s current woes, Rivian for example, has the opportunity to recognize this brand knowledge gap and take a more forward-thinking approach. Rather than position itself as the next end-all, be-all tech miracle worker, it can reinforce its foundation by focusing on its brand message as the more trustworthy electric vehicle brand and communicating its core competencies. Specifically, it could learn from Tesla's infamous launch timelines by being more realistic and emphasizing developing a sustainable and profitable business model. Also, Rivian could learn from Tesla's lack of transparency and accountability in communication with customers and investors, by being more transparent and accountable, building trust and credibility with its audience. This approach can help Rivian avoid confusion among customers and maintain a clear and consistent brand message. Furthermore, it can help the company avoid negative publicity and mistrust, and establish itself as a reputable and reliable brand in the electric vehicle industry.

Research has shown that there is a trend of shifting importance in brand management. According to a report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), companies are increasing their investment in brand management, with the average company dedicating almost 30% of their marketing budget to brand management. It’s important to note, this is an early trend. The brand knowledge gap is still wide and deep. These investments are simply an acknowledgment of its existence. It will take a long time to close it.

The First Step To Solve Any Problem

It is important for companies to identify if this brand knowledge gap exists in their organization. This can be done by conducting a brand audit, which can help to identify any gaps in brand strategy, digital marketing, and social media. Once a brand knowledge gap is identified, companies can take steps to address it, such as investing in training and education for executives and employees, hiring experts in the field of brand management, and providing access to professional development resources.

It seems like brand management has become increasingly complex and dynamic for a long time but we’re only scratching the surface. Companies must invest in their brand in order to stay relevant and competitive in today's market. By addressing the brand knowledge gap and investing in up-to-date and forward-thinking brand management strategies, companies can position themselves for long-term success and take comfort. The next time the tide goes out, everyone will see how well-equipped your brand has been the whole time.


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