Twitter rebranded itself as “X.” That isn’t going to accomplish its goals.
Why do companies rebrand? Usually, to escape the box they’ve put themselves into. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always expensive.
The Twitter rebrand
Here’s what Twitter’s home page looks like now.
No more cute blue bird. Why? While Elon Musk did his usual set of provocative and obscure tweets (can we still call them tweets?), ostensible Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino attempted to explain things.
If you ignore the parts of the interface that say still say “Tweet your reply!”, you can see that Twitter’s aspiration is to be everything to everybody. (That’s not my extrapolation: she actually says “X will be the platform that can deliver, well…everything.”). That’s a breathtaking amount of hubris for a company that just lost half its revenue and can’t pay its suppliers or its rent.
A look at past rebranding exercises is instructive
Why do companies change their brands? To get out from under poor or no longer appropriate customer expectations associated with their former brands. For example:
- Charter Communications and Time Warner cable merged and delivered their new cable services under the brand Spectrum. Prior to the merger, Charter had a pathetic service reputation; the new brand gave the company a chance to attempt to resuscitate it.
- Allegheny Airlines rebranded as USAir, and subsequently USAirways. It was known for terrible passenger experience and rattly old planes ( “US Scareways” ). After it merged with American Airlines, the merged company dumped the useless USAir/USAirways brand altogether.
- Philip Morris renamed itself Altria to escape the negative halo of having been a cigarette brand.
- Andersen Consulting rebranded as Accenture,
to get out from underjust in time to escape the collapse of its companion accounting division Arthur Andersen in the Enron scandal.
- Dunkin’ Donuts became just plain Dunkin because they wanted to be known as a quick-service restaurant with (supposedly) good coffee, not a doughnut shop.
- The merged telecom company Bell Atlantic/NYNEX became Verizon because its previous clunky compound name carried connotations of old-fashioned phone service, insufficient for an increasingly wireless brand.
- Facebook renamed itself Meta to reflect that Facebook was only one of its products.
- The same reasoning caused Google to rename itself Alphabet.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Some companies, Charter, Allegheny, Philip Morris, and Accenture, for example, wanted to escape the stench of failure. Others, Dunkin, Bell Atlantic, Facebook, and Google, for example, wanted to aspire to something beyond the limitations of their previous businesses.
Elon Musk clearly wants to put Twitter’s past behind it. But frankly, the new X brand is more tarnished than the Twitter brand ever was, since it is fully the creation of Musk’s failed management of Twitter. All “X” does is remind everyone how Musk trashed the company by destroying revenues, embracing trolls, and implementing dumb ideas like limiting people’s time on the platform and doing DDOS attacks on his own platform.
All of the companies that I named above — Charter, USAirways, Philip Morris, Anderson Consulting, Dunkin, Verizon, Facebook, and Google — had a solid profitable business to build on when they chose to rebrand. They were pivoting a successful business to a new future with an appropriate name.
Twitter is floundering. Renaming it isn’t a pivot. You can’t pivot to the future if your present is rotting underneath your feet and you’re billions in debt. Changing Twitter’s name isn’t fooling anybody.
Update: As several correspondents have shared with me, I got the Accenture timeline wrong. Accenture changed its name to separate itself from its previous affiliate Arthur Andersen. But that name change happened almost a year before the Arthur Andersen collapse brought on by Enron. The timing of the rebranding just turned out to be fortunate given what eventually happened.