I woke up early yesterday morning to the birth of yet another internet meme inspired by Elon Musk's tweet, "I love floors" spawned by superconsumers of both Elon Musk and the movie Anchorman. He then cleverly followed it up with similarly silly tweets about how they are reliable and under appreciated floors are, but then hit us with the punchline of how tunnels are even better...and that we should try it. In five simple tweets he lured us in and began seeding demand for his latest new venture The Boring Company, which just started drilling underground under Los Angeles to move cars on an electric skate and potentially passengers on the Hyperloop.

The natural question comes to mind--was this a showcase of Elon Musk's quirky humor or his clever marketing genius? Or he is playing chess while others play checkers?

Elon Musk is a Serial Category Creator

If successful, The Boring Company would be his fifth category creating company after Pay Pal, Tesla, Solar City, and Space X (six if you include Hyperloop). As I've written before, Category Creators grow sales four times faster and market capitalization six times faster than comparable companies. My friend and co-author of the book Play Bigger, Christopher Lochhead, notes that Category Kings capture 76 percent of the total market capitalization in a winner take all fashion. When it is all said and done, Elon Musk is headed towards the Mount Rushmore of Category Creators, perhaps even ahead of Steve Jobs.

Category creators think differently. In my research on category creation, I note that successful category creators pull a distinct combination of eight levers across product/service innovation and business model innovation, specifically:

  • Product/service innovation-benefit, brand, product, price
  • Business model innovation--how you make it, sell it, profit from it & market it

Clearly, Elon Musk is tackling many of the eight levers. But the real showcase today is how he is innovating marketing itself

Category Creators Innovate Marketing Itself
His five tweets cost him nothing and yet is likely more valuable than if he had bought a Superbowl TV ad (though he did borrow the classic humor and pop culture play book to lure people in).

Category creators flip the marketing playbook on its head in three ways

  • Don't market to the masses, but focus on superconsumers
  • Don't go for national reach, but start locally and build momentum
  • Don't market the solution, but rather market the problem

Category creators rarely rely on marketing to the masses nationally. This is because their innovations are so breakthrough, they are hard to explain in a traditional ad. You have to experience it. You want critical mass in a local area with credible superconsumers. Think of UnderArmour starting out with Division 1 Maryland football players, then let them do the marketing for you.

Category creators focus on marketing the problem, not the solution. Elon Musk's first tweet about this was "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..." The problems category creators tackle are like traffic, which are problems accepted as an everyday evil with no real solutions. Or they focus on problems that people did not realize they had. No one realized how diverse people's palates were when it came to coffee and that a pot of coffee for all meant someone was compromising, until Keurig shed a light on the problem.

Category Creators Make Marketing Personal and Missional

Elon Musk is making one final subtle point when it comes to creating new categories. The joke behind the "I love floors" tweet is an existential discussion in the movie Anchorman about what is love, by Ron Burgundy played by Will Ferrell. Brick Tamland, the unintentionally funny dunce of the group played by Steve Carrell, says "I love lamp" and is accused of just pretending to love things he is looking at in the moment.

I believe that Elon Musk genuinely loves floors and loves tunnels even better. I believe his affection is deep, authentic and is truly inspired by his child on Christmas giddiness about how awesome the technological solution is to the $100 billion dollar plus problem that is traffic in America. My observation is that the very best and most authentic marketing comes from genuine joy from a clever solution that can solve an honest to goodness problem people have in our lives.

Sadly, too many marketers are unknowingly playing the role of Brick Tamland, pretending to love the thing that is right in front of them with a superficial affection for an undifferentiated solution to an unimportant problem. And that--not DVRs--is the real reason why we skip commercials and marketing often misses the mark