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Branding and MArketing insights

The X Factor, How Elon killed Twitter, the brand.

Imagine if Coca-Cola rebranded to "Drink K."

There would be chaos, confusion, and a stubborn refusal to drop the iconic name we’ve all learned to love.

That's essentially what happened with Twitter's abrupt transition to X and this is the story behind the world's worst example of rebranding.
April 15th, 2024
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2 min read
IN THIS ARTICLE
IntroCustomers own your brand!The Elon FactorWhat can we learnIn closing
On an average day like any other in July 2023, Twitter, the platform synonymous with real-time news and social banter, rebranded into X. Yet, almost a year later, the URL still spells out "twitter.com" and the emails to subscribers still refer to "X (formerly Twitter)."Why the reluctance?The answer lies in the most fundamental rule of branding:
"Customers own the brand."
Customers still have a deep-rooted connection with the name Twitter. It’s a brand name that became a verb, a part of our daily vocabulary, much like we "Google" things or "Uber" somewhere.

Twitter was and still is part of our vocabulary, a testament to its extensive influence over our digital and cultural landscapes.

On top of that, in 2011, "tweet" was officially recognised in the Merriam-Webster dictionary—a badge of honour that cements its place in history.

In short, Twitter was deeply rooted in our lives...

Then Elon came... he envisioned a grand rebranding to transform the platform into a more all-encompassing "everything app." B2B marketers would call this the classic "one stop shop."
This was not just a name change but a signal of a broader shift in strategy, aiming to integrate various digital experiences into one platform, similarly to what Ebay and Microsoft tried to do unsuccessfully with Skype.

Despite introducing features like long video uploads and direct voice messaging, the core essence of what made Twitter valuable to its users remained untouched. You cannot simply change the purpose people love your brand overnight.

The transition was rocky, with immediate pushback from the community, except from the Elon's fan club.
The name X itself, immediately, faded into the background, often mistaken for a placeholder or error. It lacked the vibrancy and self-explanatory nature of Twitter, which effortlessly communicated the idea of chirping, quick exchanges. You can Tweet things...but can you X them?

The rebrand seemed to strip away the familiar comfort that the blue bird icon and the light-hearted chirping brought to everyday conversations.

So what can we learn from this?
This rebranding fiasco underscores a crucial lesson in marketing: the power of emotional bonds. We are, and will always be, driven by emotions. We buy emotions and brands are the emotional connection between a business and consumers.
Twitter was more than just a platform, it was a space where people shared life updates, connected over global events, released frustrations and felt part of a larger community. These connections aren’t easily transferred to a new brand, especially when the rebrand feels forced or inauthentic, also known as lacking purpose.

Marty Neumeier, the father of modern branding and my mentor, highlights that while brand changes are common, such as Google’s parent company becoming Alphabet, what makes Twitter’s case unique is the abruptness and the lack of a transitional narrative that could help users migrate emotionally from Twitter to X.
Looking forward, X faces a mad challenge: to redefine itself while honouring the legacy of Twitter. This should be the brief for every rebranding project, just like Factory 39 did with the recent SiGMA rebranding.

Rebranding needs to forge a new identity that resonates with users just as powerfully, if not more powerfully than previous versions. This will require more than just a name change; it demands a compelling strategy and narrative that connects with the existing user base and attracts new users.

The lesson is clear: in the fast-paced world of modern life, innovation is crucial, but what's more important is to do so while maintaining the emotional and cultural connections that users have developed with your brand.