Elon Musk's Response to Puerto Rico Is Pure Marketing Genius (And Should Be Required Reading)

Sally Hogshead

The lesson from Elon Musk: Stop asking people to pay attention to your brand. Start doing things worth paying attention to.

"When I was in college, I wanted to be involved in things that would change the world."

Elon Musk may have said those words decades ago, but perhaps never in his storied career has he proven them truer than with his recent tweet about rebuilding Puerto Rico's electrical grid.

Here's the backstory:

This week, Musk said he could rebuild Puerto Rico's devastated electrical grid by applying Tesla's existing solar energy or battery storage technology. In an October 5 tweet, Musk said, "The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too."

Puerto Rico Governor, Ricardo Rossello, responded within 12 hours: "Let's talk."

Wise choice.

Puerto Rico's electrical grid was in a frazzled state even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria crushed the island. Some forecasters estimate that they could be without power for months.

Here's why this is fascinating:

Elon Musk isn't just talking. He's doing.

The most fascinating people (and companies) don't just talk to us. They inspire, challenge and move us. They get under our skin and into our conversations. They're unafraid to ask questions, and along the way, they change the way we think.

Is Musk launching a public relations stunt? His track record says no.

Here's why this is a fascinating moment in branding:

Great brands live in our conversations- not in advertisements.

People don't want to connect with brands. They want to connect with each other. Fascinating brands create more opportunities for people to connect with one another.

Brands spend over $620 billion each year, but most ask for attention rather than actually doing something worth talking about. In today's world of jaded appetites and overwhelming choices, the most fascination option wins.

The more that people want to engage with you, socialize with you, play with you, talk about you, learn from you, and above all connect with you in order to connect with other people, the greater your brand's value. And right now, the world is talking about Elon Musk's tweet to Puerto Rico.

Ask yourself...

Are you talking at your customers? Or, are you doing something worth talking about?

World-changing conversations can take place anywhere: from TED talks to Snapchats. The point is that people connect with each other by talking about you.

How can you achieve this level of connection in your own messages? A few fast tips to start conversations:

1. Don't create ads. Create news.

How can your brand interface with what is already a part of the public buzz? Find opportunities to add value. Show us how your brand adds to the dialogue.

2. Don't tell us what to think. Give us something to think about.

Don't be afraid to take a stand. People don't want lukewarm statements. Challenge us. Embolden us. Push us. Get us talking. Don't talk at us -- give us something to talk about. We want to understand our world, and the people in it. You don't need to start a "movement," but you do need to start a conversation.

3. Solve a problem.

What's wrong, and how could you fix it? Even the tiniest companies or solopreneurs can solve a problem. Whether you sell chewing gum or life insurance, you can still have a message that matters. Your job is to identify what it is.

4. Be the hero.

In a chaotic and disrupted time, we're looking for someone to stand up and make a difference. We want to root for the good guy. Show us why we should admire you, trust you, and talk about you. When you do, we'll reward you for it.

Your brand doesn't have to be as high-profile as Elon Musk. It just needs to be dedicated to something bigger than sales. What brands do you think are getting it right, and creating messages that make a difference?