When Twitter’s iconic brand flew the coop last month, it left plenty of ruffled feathers and chirping about what the company’s evolution means for the social media platform and the wisdom — and details — of rebranding a wildly popular, if flawed, brand.
The Twitter story has been chaotic at best since Elon Musk acquired the company less than a year ago. Thanks to a series of operational decisions, the popular platform — 23% of Americans said they were users in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center — has felt to many observers to be more of a Wild West than ever. The transition has been rife with mass layoffs, overhauls to algorithms and policies, and departures en masse of executives and advertisers. CBS News reported in July that the company’s ad revenue had dropped about 50% since Musk purchased it. According to Pew research, 60% of Twitter users said in spring 2023 that they had taken a break from the platform in the previous year, and 25% said they were very or not at all likely to be on the platform a year after the survey.
Still, Twitter remained one of the most influential social media options, and one that many companies and organizations consider essential to maintaining their corporate voice and brand.
And then along came “X.” When Musk rebranded the company to that single letter last month, many people were left scratching their heads — not just because of the questionable move of throwing away years of brand recognition and value, but also because of the seemingly haphazard way in which it was handled.
Surely, they wondered, Musk must have a thoughtful strategy guiding this stem-to-stern brand overhaul. The world’s richest man — who created Tesla and SpaceX — doesn’t lack for vision. And he definitely has one for X: He has been clear that he wants to build a multifunctional “super app” in the vein of WeChat, the social media and payments app used by more than a billion people, mostly in China.
It remains to be seen how that vision will play out. And it’s too soon to tell how much damage the clunky transition to X has done to the brand. One thing is certain: The execution of one of the most high-profile and large-scale corporate rebrandings in recent years offers valuable lessons about branding and corporate positioning.
Here are a few of them:
Are you really, really sure?
Rebranding can breathe new life into a product, a subsidiary or even an entire organization. But it is fraught with potential dangers and often — perhaps even typically — has as many potential downsides, or more, than it does upsides. At a minimum, every branding and marketing expert will tell you it’s a decision that should never been taken lightly.
Companies that go through a major rebranding risk sacrificing years of brand equity, customer loyalty, widespread name recognition, shareholder trust and more. Some advisors will recommend against a full-scale rebrand almost every time. Even companies with obvious reasons to try to pivot away from their established brands — say, a descent into a horrible public reputation — usually find that a total rebranding doesn’t provide the escape or fresh start they envisioned.
Instead, are there less drastic steps that can be taken to provide that new lease on life? Would a new marketing campaign, revitalized strategy or an investment in R&D to create products or services that better connect with clients be a better bet? Even rebranding a single product can create backlash from customers and investors (New Coke, anyone?).
Freshening up your organization’s logo and color palette can offer a much more palatable alternative, offering the boost that you want without the risk of throwing out the entire corporate brand — name, image, focus, strategy and more.
Have a plan — and follow it
Rebranding any part of your company, much less the whole shebang, requires planning — and lots of it. For some companies, even a partial rebranding — of a single division, the corporate social media presence or logo — happens only after many months or even years of planning.
It starts with exhaustive research, which can include stakeholder interviews, community forums, competitive analyses, legal and regulatory requirements, outreach to municipal and elected leaders, industry deep-dives, creative exploration and much more. All the right people need to be involved in the process, both internally and externally. At a minimum, this will likely include your creative team (designers, writers, brand strategists), legal, human resources, operations, relevant divisional leaders and so on.
Once the nuts-and-bolts details have been hammered out, the change should be implemented in a way that’s strategic, aligned against countless potential conflicts, and accounts for the dozens or potentially hundreds of details and deadlines. You need an iron-tight roll-out plan that considers every possible snag, cascades information and changes in a logical way, and communicates clearly and regularly with the countless internal and external audiences that will be affected.
This is where the Twitter rebrand seems to have fallen down most obviously. The roll-out seemed herky-jerky, with no real strategic plan. Which leads us to our final lesson …
Don’t create confusion
The last thing you want is for customers, investors, trade partners, industry leaders and more to be left confused. Does my bank have a new name? Wasn’t my favorite potato chip called by a different name and in a completely different package when I was at the store last week? Where’s that app I’ve been using for years — I can’t find it on my phone?
Even the most loyal fans will only stick with you for so long if they don’t have the information they need — and the runway to adjust to the changes.
As Twitter made its hasty transformation to X, conversations around the virtual water cooler sounded something like this: “The website now says X, but my phone app still says Twitter and uses the familiar bird.” “Should we change the icon link on our website yet? Is there anything to change it to?” “Did you see the company took its huge logo off its headquarters building without proper permits? I wonder what … oh, wait, I just saw that they’re being ordered to put it back up!” And so on.
Confusion is not your friend.
The bottom line
When it comes to things as critical as your corporate image, hard-won reputation, market presence and overall brand, there are plenty of lessons from Twitter’s rebirth as X. At a minimum, make sure you’re sure about it, put a premium on planning and don’t get so swept up in the excitement that you leave your stakeholders with more questions than answers.