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How Not To Roll out Your New Brand: A Look at X’s Turbulent Launch

5 min read
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In October 2022, Elon Musk surprised the world when, after months of “will he, won’t he?,” he purchased Twitter for $44 billion. Since then, the company has gone through a series of changes, not the least of which is a total rebrand, including a new name, logo, and color palette.

There’s a lot to unpack here and several lessons to be learned, especially from a brand perspective. Here are some of the brand’s biggest missteps — and what we can learn from them.

Changing brand at the whim of leadership

The story of X begins long before 2022 — long before Twitter, in fact. In 1999, Musk cofounded, an online bank that eventually became PayPal (ever heard of it?). In the years since, “X” allusions have popped up in names of his companies and products, including SpaceX and the Tesla Model X. Eventually, in 2017, he bought the domain name back from PayPal.

Clearly, the guy has a preference for the letter, and in all the changes that have occurred throughout Twitter’s rebrand, it’s obvious that these decisions have been made top-down, straight from the man himself.

Lesson: Don’t let the personal preferences — or baggage — of one person dictate a rebrand.

Even when a brand is ripe for a rebrand, it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly — or alone. It’s imperative to bring others along for the journey. In this case, that’s something that Twitter’s users and employees, who were equally blindsided by the changes, might’ve appreciated.

No team is ever going to have perfect alignment on every decision. We’ve worked with many teams on their brand projects, and nearly all of them have had a disagreement at some point. But that’s OK! Brand is a team sport, and a diversity of thoughts and opinions often leads to a more successful result.

A lack of strategic rationale

The Twitter/X rebrand process (if we can call it that) grew from Musk’s own personal goals for the company, and soon after his acquisition of the platform, he announced that it would move away from its existing structure, an app to connect with people, and toward an “everything app.” It would lose its iconic name, including the name of the very messages the platform is famous for: its Tweets.

Musk also famously killed the brand’s beloved bird mascot, crowdsourcing a new logo from the platform’s users and picking one overnight. Not soon after, some were quick to point out that the winning logo already exists as a Unicode character known as “mathematical double-struck capital X.”

In the end, all these changes were met with massive derision. Many questioned why Twitter would move its brand focus away from the very elements it was known for — and known as. After all, how many other brands can say that they have entries in the dictionary?

Lesson: Have solid, well-thought-out rationale for the branding choices you make.

If we had one word to describe the Twitter/X rebrand rollout, it would be “chaotic.” Maybe that chaos made for some good publicity, but the jury’s out on whether Musk’s strategy — or lack thereof — will work out for the brand in the long run, though things don’t look good at the moment: According to Slate, X lost 5% of its daily average users month over month immediately following the rebrand. For an app of this scale, that’s millions of users.

Change can be good, even necessary, for long-lasting brands to stay relevant as the world changes around them. But introducing massive fundamental changes to a brand that has strong existing equity seemingly on a whim — that’s not something we would recommend.

An inconsistent rollout

Musk’s apparently random choice of a logo, conducted over the social platform itself, was representative of the rest of the brand’s rollout. That is, they’d be announced by Musk in a post, if at all.

More than a year after the changes began rolling out, most companies and publications still referred to the brand as “X, previously known as Twitter.” Worse still, the brand’s own URL continues to redirect to the old Twitter URL.

Lesson: Be intentional in how you announce and roll out your brand changes.

One of the most important things about brand is that it creates a sense of consistency in how we interact with businesses. When a brand introduces new, widespread changes without warning — especially when not announcing or explaining the rationale behind it — that consistency is broken. And customers lose trust in the brand, which can lead to dwindling engagement.

Avoid these missteps

As we touch on in this brand rollout article, there are three things to keep in mind when rolling out your brand: preparation, prioritization, and participation. We’d argue that Musk could’ve done a little better in each of these categories.

Whether you’re considering a rebrand or a refresh, successfully fulfilling those three criteria can be more work than anticipated. That’s why we work with our clients to help them introduce their brand to their teams and the rest of the world, along with a dedicated Brand Support team who can apply the brand to whatever assets are needed during the rollout and beyond.

We don’t know how the X brand rollout might’ve been perceived with a little more preparation, prioritization, and participation. But we can look at brands who have had successful rollouts — and what we can learn from those, as well. Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we’ll do exactly that.

Photos by Osman Rana and Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

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