Locally Grown, Widely Known
From the desk of Dan Stone:
In today’s marketing environment, there are many reasons why a company may want to rebrand. They may need transformation: perhaps they have faced past issues from which they want to distance themselves; they may have gained new leadership who want to make their mark; or they may just want to change up some colors and styles to keep up with design trends.
An established brand has what we call “brand equity,” meaning that awareness and perception of the mission and visual identity (fonts, colors, logo mark) has a built value that increases over time. Any change to that brand is a potential risk for losing brand equity and should be made with care.
Twitter’s recent transition to being renamed X has gone full throttle on taking on risk for what seems to be little return. Twitter had built a reputation and awareness about their brand for nearly 20 years as one of the top-used social media sites, and that reputation had value. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ramifications of Twitter’s change to X.
Elon Musk has had a lifelong obsession with the letter X. We’ve seen it in the startup SpaceX, the Tesla Model X and he even nicknamed his son X. Ok, we get it – it’s a cool letter. But it presents a lot of challenges for branding.
X is a letter that is trademarked by many companies for use in many different ways. In fact, it’s been trademarked by nearly 900 companies for different uses, so the likelihood of the newly renamed social media player being sued over their new name is high. If they are somehow able to get legal rights to trademark X, their legal team will have their work cut out for them when having to challenge others who use X for their logo in the same space.
There’s also the issue of X being used for things that Twitter might not necessarily want to be known for. The letter X is associated with lots of different meanings. X can mark an unknown (Agent X, Brand X); it can imply treasure on a map (X Marks the Spot); it can stand in place of a kiss in a letter (XOXO); it can signify unknown origin (Malcolm X); or, most commonly online, it can signify a place where one might find pornography (XXX).
If you search X on your computer you’re going to come up with a lot of items. X (formerly Twitter), unsurprisingly, is not the first. For me, the top result was an A24 film called X and all the related pages (Wikipedia, IMDB) before it got to Twitter/X at position five in the search results. One of the largest social media companies in the US went from a number one search spot to a number five spot. Over 25% of searchers click on the first result that comes up in Google, and that number dwindles to 7% when a result is in the fifth result position. We also have to consider app downloads, which plummeted when users became confused about the naming.
When we work with clients on a new brand rollout, we develop a specific communications plan detailing who will be informed when. The process is tailored to each client, but it usually follows this outline:
Twitter’s rebrand to X seemed to occur overnight with the sudden appearance of a new logo. However, the site still referenced its brand as Twitter throughout the site content.
As of the writing of this article, X’s published branding kit offers logos but comes with a legal disclaimer, “By using the X trademarks and resources on this site, you agree to follow the X Trademark Guidelines in our Brand Guidelines — as well as our Terms of Service and all other X rules and policies. If you have any questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.” Not having those brand guidelines readily available and well-defined means that the logo usage could be open to anyone’s interpretation and it could end up being used in ways that they don’t intend.
We need some help as a culture to transition; we haven’t been able to start referring to Twitter as X overnight. The stopgap measure has been to identify the organization as “X, formerly Twitter.” This helps people who were aware of the old brand name gain some recognition.
I am left to wonder if Musk was intentional about the sudden shift to X. Perhaps he wanted to distance the brand from the many mishaps of 2022 since his purchase of the company. Headlines abounded as Musk changed the way Twitter operated (e.g., the purchasable blue check, lack of site moderation after mass layoffs, allowing formerly banned users back on the platform, etc.).
The sudden rebrand to X may have been an attempt to move away from the negative press Twitter was receiving in recent months. In my opinion, that drastic change was shortsighted – the bad press from one year doesn’t necessarily cancel the equity built over the previous 19. We’ll grab some popcorn, enjoy a few memes and continue to watch how this plays out.