Branding is a strategy for differentiation and growth. So too, is changing a brand name.
Elon Musk’s Twitter has plenty of problems that require new strategies. It finally has a powerful competitor of size in Meta’s Threads. It lost nearly 60% of its ad revenue last year. The platform has regular bugs that hurt users’ experiences. And Musk reduced oversight of hateful and pornographic posts, leading brands to fear reputational damage and reduce ad spending on the platform.
Musk’s goal for Twitter is ambitious. He wants it to be a single platform for all things online. For example, as one of the founders of PayPal’s predecessors, it’s not surprising he wants to add a payments business on Twitter to reduce reliance on ad dollars. He wants open and unconstrained communication among users, with users calling out and limiting the behavior of bad actors. And he’s been smart to recently add tools to help brands better target desired targets and control where brand content appears.
It is in this context that Musk recently replaced the Twitter brand and bird logo with a black X. Note that Musk is not changing the company name, just the branding imagery. (Compare that action to what Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook—changing the company name to Meta while keeping the product name Facebook. That move communicated that the company was about much more than Facebook, given its goals as an artificial reality platform.)
Will Musk’s rebranding contribute to differentiation and growth or help achieve Musk’s ambitious goals? It seems unlikely. Here are five things that are wrong with Musk’s rebrand from a business standpoint:
First, X cannot be trademarked.
Second, the old brand—both the name and bird logo—was OK, even great. It had high awareness and category-like association, the way Kleenex became known for facial tissue and Google for searching. I suspect that users of Threads will call what they do “tweeting” rather than “threading.”
Third, any association with a black X is negative – the way one crosses out unwanted material or the name on a resume that did not pass the cut. X also communicates associations such as X-rated, danger, banned, and taboo. Would you want to conduct financial transactions on such a platform?
Fourth, the new name and symbol do nothing to address the company’s issues I outlined above.
Finally, and perhaps the worst part of the rebranding, the change signals that the new CEO (Linda Yaccarino, a proven talent, at least in the past) is not in charge of the company despite her title. She’s too smart to have made this huge a mistake. What good can come from undermining confidence in a company’s CEO?
There was much to like about Twitter. It sped up awareness of news events. It opened access to columnists’ opinions in a less formal setting. It offered some laughs.
The change in brand imagery has been a financial mistake as well. Business Week reported that the rebrand wiped out $4B in company value. That said, only time will tell if we should put an X over Musk’s involvement in Twitter, er … X. Either way, Musk’s actions will become a case study for the ages.