I suspect it will go down in history as an example of poor strategic brand management.
On Sunday, Elon Musk announced that the Twitter brand was going away. That evening, he wrote, “Soon we shall bid adieu to the Twitter brand and, gradually all the birds.”
Instead, Musk said, Twitter will now become X.
Now this might all be a stunt of some sort (after the M&Ms Super Bowl fiasco I’ve lost all trust in what companies say), but it appears to be real. A visit to the website formerly known as Twitter shows that, indeed, the Twitter brand is gone, replaced by X.
So why is this a bad idea? Let us count the ways.
1. Twitter is abandoning a global brand
Building a brand is a challenge, especially in our cluttered world. It isn’t easy to make people aware of a brand. It is even harder to define that brand in a precise way.
So why would Twitter abandon Twitter? I don’t know.
Sometimes brands need to adopt new names. ValuJet gave up on its brand after a terrible plane crash in Florida and a series of safely issues. ValuJet came to mean dangerous, and in the world of airlines that is a damaging association. So, ValuJet became AirTran. Comcast, a brand firmly associated with cable television and poor service, adopted the Xfinity brand.
Was Twitter particularly troubled? I haven’t done a brand equity study on it, but the most polarizing thing about Twitter might be Elon Musk, and he doesn’t appear to be leaving.
2. There is no transition plan
If you are going to rebrand a product or service, it is best to have a well-developed plan. It is important to let current customers and fans know what is happening, so they follow along. A hard cut can create unhappiness and confusion.
Macy’s, for example, rebranded a series of regional department store chains with a step-by-step process and encountered little criticism. Only the hard cut in Chicago caused problems; when the company abruptly replaced the Marshall Field’s brand with Macy’s, people in Chicago were furious.
Twitter has no apparent plan to phase in this rebranding.
3. The new brand has no meaning.
Great brands have clear associations; they stand for something specific. Nike is associated with athletic achievement. Tiffany is elegant. Rolex is a curious and powerful mix of luxury and adventure. Trader Joes is a combination of fun, quality, and value.
What is this new brand called X? We have no idea. Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino posted Sunday that it was a mix of audio, video, messaging, and banking; “X will be the platform that can deliver, well…everything.”
Previously, Musk said that he wanted Twitter to become an everything app. With this he ignores one of the great marketing lessons that a brand cannot be all things to all people.
4. It isn’t clear how this creates value.
The downsides in this shift are pretty clear; it creates confusion and will be costly. But the upsides justify the move, surely.
Only they don’t seem to. How exactly does this make things better for Twitter?
If you segment people into Twitter fans and Twitter detractors, there is clearly no upside. The fans will be confused or disappointed that the brand is going away. It is hard to rally around X. The detractors won’t now be won over. You won’t hear many people saying this week, “I never really liked Twitter, but I’m loving X.” There is only downside.
CEO Yaccarino wrote Sunday that “It’s an exceptionally rare thing—in life or in business—that you get a second chance to make another big impression.”
She is correct, of course. But this statement doesn’t apply to the Twitter situation. The platform isn’t changing. People who are interested in X will visit the site and see, well, the old Twitter. The product hasn’t changed.
If you want to create a new brand, the easy part is coming up with a logo. The hard part is getting the product right. In this case, it seems Musk is rolling out the new name without first improving the product. That isn’t a winning formula.
Twitter has struggled for many years, and since Elon Musk took over the brand has been in a free-fall as advertisers flee.
There could be some grand strategy at work here, but it certainly isn’t obvious what it is.
This might be the end of Twitter.
In the world of healthcare, sepsis is sometimes called the common pathway of death. When someone gets very sick, the thing that ultimately kills them isn’t the initial illness, it is sepsis.
In the world of marketing, repositioning and rebranding can also be called the common pathway of death. A struggling brand embarks on a big repositioning move in a desperate bid to improve results. In the process, it loses its remaining customers and fails to attract news ones. It eventually collapses.
That seems to be what are looking at here.