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The Elon Musk business growth hack that will take your business into orbit

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/14/2018 Steve Strauss

Of course, you saw the news recently that Elon Musk and his SpaceX company launched the Falcon Heavy rocket into space and successfully landed it back on earth. Pretty amazing. But of course, that was not the part that made news and headlines.

The part we all remember is that, as part of the launch, SpaceX launched a cherry red Tesla roadster into orbit.

From a publicity point of view, this is a two-fer. Not only did SpaceX get some much-desired extra buzz for the launch and business, but for Musk and Tesla, the picture of the red roadster being “driven” by Starman into deep space is the kind of publicity, as they say, you cannot buy.

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Cool factor 10.

The interesting thing to note is that this is not the first time Elon Musk has used what used to be called a “publicity stunt” to infuse an image/idea into our collective consciousness. In 2013, Musk dropped the idea of a “Hyperloop” on us — an ultra-fast tunnel that would transport people from L.A. to San Francisco in a half an hour (a trip that takes six hours by car). Even though it hasn’t come close to happening yet, the audacious plan certainly helped burnish his image as a transportation visionary.

What about the Amazon drone delivery system? You remember that, don’t you? Of course you do. A few years ago, right before the holidays, Amazon cleverly released videos of a drone delivering packages to customers’ doorsteps. That it hasn’t happened yet has not hurt Amazon’s image as an innovator and go-to shopping hub.

Coming up with a unique publicity angle is something any of us in business can do. After all, if it works for the big boys it can probably work for us, too.

a close up of a helmet: This image from video provided by SpaceX shows the company's spacesuit in Elon Musk's red Tesla sports car which was launched into space. © SpaceX via AP This image from video provided by SpaceX shows the company's spacesuit in Elon Musk's red Tesla sports car which was launched into space.

Now, of course, we as small business people do not have the resources to launch a car into space or get a million YouTube hits, but that doesn’t actually matter. What matters is the idea behind this growth hack — that by doing something unique and different, you can help your business get noticed above the din.

No, it need not be a BIG publicity event for it to be successful. The real trick is coming up with an idea that is unique and different and noteworthy.

► My dad, master marketer extraordinaire, once brought an elephant to a sidewalk sale he was having at one of his carpet stores. The good news is that the giant animal did what it was supposed to do, garnering a ton of buzz for the sale. (The bad news is that the giant animal did what giant animals do, and let’s just say, a lot of carpet got ruined that day.)

► I had a client once who owned a bakery. One year we decided that she should have a contest to find the “best banana bread in town.” It was so successful that her banana bread contest has become a beloved annual event, and every year she gets a lot of free publicity as a result.

► Back in the ‘90s, before superheroes were all the rage, DC Comics was struggling. To combat sagging sales, the company announced they were going to publish a comic called “The Death of Superman.” Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, sales soared.

So that’s the hack. It’s easy, it’s typically very affordable, and it works.

Today’s tip: Speaking of outer space, one of the fun parts of this gig is that I get to see a lot of surveys about small business and one recent one was quite apropos. New York Life (with whom I do some work) asked small business owners what Star Wars character they most resemble when it comes to financial planning.

The top answer was Yoda as he is thought to be patient, used past experience to guide future decisions and passed on wisdom and knowledge to future generations.

Steve Strauss, @Steve Strauss on Twitter, is a lawyer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship and has been writing for for 20 years. Email: You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.



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