October 13, 2023
Brian Winterfeldt and Vanessa Peña-Hallinan
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Article
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X: Formerly Known As Twitter – Best Practices & Pitfalls Of A Major Rebrand

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In July 2023, Elon Musk, who had purchased Twitter in 2022, rebranded this famous social media giant to “X”.  The announcement was a shock to many users, as well as the general public.  The rebrand was abrupt and swift, as the removal of Twitter’s brand occurred physically and digitally in a matter of hours without any advance warning or transition period.  It appears that Musk simply discarded the entrenched brand, with over 15 years of brand value, on a whim.  This begs the question – what was the goal of the rebrand, and what are the lessons to be learned?

Social Media Brand Transitions

At headquarters in San Francisco, the iconic blue bird logo was taken down, signaling the inevitable end to the bird-related lexicon that has become synonymous with the social media company.   The word ”tweet” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, defined as “a post made on the social media application Twitter,” and for the moment, it seems as though most users will continue to use the term despite the fact that the app is now “X”.  After all, there is no simple translation or new term to easily conjure based on the simplicity of the single letter brand.

The rebranding of social media companies is not a new phenomenon. We have experienced such shifts as recently as 2021, when Facebook became Meta, and back in 2016, when Snapchat changed its corporate name to Snap.  However, these strategic rebrands renamed the corporate entities and allowed the established apps and their users to continue to enjoy their already well-known and valuable names, Facebook and Snapchat. These rebrands also were announced in advance, to allow time for users to adapt to the new names in advance of their implementation.

Process and Reasons for Rebranding

As members of the trademark community, whether as brand owners or the outside counsel representing them, we understand that any corporate entity name change will certainly generate some administrative work. Both trademark and copyright registrations and applications will require that the appropriate IP offices be notified of the new legal name (so that the correct legal name is reflected in the record), and assignments will need to be recorded. Internationally, this process varies but is necessary as well, and often requires many notarized and legalized documents in order to effect the legal name change and assignment. The process typically requires an extensive financial investment, particularly when international counsel fees and filing fees are added to the project. For this reason, among others (such as the potential loss of brand equity), rebrands are typically carefully considered corporate decisions requiring the input of numerous stakeholders and a complex project management plan. Stakeholders must weigh the potential value of a new or refreshed brand – such as appealing to new customer/user segments or redefining the company’s culture and focus – against the considerable expense, administrative burden, and potential loss of prior customer loyalty.

The Twitter rebrand to X, however, is much more than a benign legal corporate name change or an attempt to refresh an existing brand identity – it is a complete overhaul, signifying an entire new identity for the app from a news-led social network to a complex app that, at least according to Musk, will offer much more.  When a rebrand like this one to “X” happens, a clear message is being sent to the world: the old brand is gone and there is a new brand emerging.  The purpose of this type of rebrand is to change the service offering completely. And if that was Musk’s goal, he has certainly made an aggressive statement regarding the change to the global business and consumer communities.

Brands typically embark on a rebranding project to remove unwanted “baggage” or to build stronger connections with existing customers.  A brand owner is able to reintroduce itself to the industry or create a stronger bond with its followers through rebranding which highlights the value of this type of effort.  The best practices for a successful rebranding project primarily lies in having a clear and straightforward strategy for execution broken down into four quadrants of: why, what, how and who.

The Why, What, How and Who of Rebranding

WHY set off to rebrand when a company has established value in its brand?

It is vital to have a clear goal for the rebranding project.  The most common goals are to expand the customer base, deepen existing connections with customers, or implement significant company changes through a strong message.  As cliché as it may sound, change takes time and does not typically happen overnight (unless, like Musk, your goal IS to sunset a brand in the evening and wake up to the birth of a new brand).  The goal for a successful rebrand requires leadership to take the long view and focus sharply on the objective of the project and its timeline.

WHAT is required in terms of a plan when strategizing a rebrand?  

Revisiting company core values and the mission of the brand are key here.  Perhaps values have changed over time and a rebrand is an ideal time to delve into what the current true values of the company are, with a forward thinking mentality.  Market research, feedback from employees and a survey of internal and external stakeholders are the most important ways to understand how values have shifted and how to redefine them.  Honest examination of past failures and challenges also reveals much needed insight and, in turn, value.

HOW does a company communicate a rebrand?

Brand voice comes into play here and is powerful. A well-defined brand voice will dictate the style in which a company communicates the rebranding of its identity and offerings.  However, at the core of communication is honesty and trust. Communicating with consumers as well as employees, early and often, ensures clarity as to the purpose of the rebrand.  Employees also become valuable brand ambassadors this way and represent the brand in a way that is intimate. For this reason, even if a rebrand occurs quickly from the external consumer perspective, a carefully coordinated internal strategy that includes educating employees on the new brand and its goals is critical.

WHO makes the rebrand happen?

Through teamwork, a brand can redefine itself successfully in a manner that does not risk alienating stakeholders. Employee engagement is important, as is assessing buy-in from internal stakeholders.  The organization must also have a good sense, through market research, of how their customers will likely respond to the rebrand, and also develop a strategy to mitigate any customer concerns or pushback. Customers who are shown the benefits of the rebrand and who feel included in the process will likely respond favorably, while those who are faced with an abrupt transition will often lose part or all of their connection to the brand and its underlying organization.

Pitfalls and Risks of Rebranding

As with any large project involving the metamorphosis of a brand identity, there are pitfalls, which are the significant risks that are inherent with a rebrand project. These include the risk of consumer confusion, alienation of committed customers, brand devaluation, hits to the public reputation of the brand and, of course, costs.  As was the case with the Twitter rebrand, however, if the organization’s leadership determines that these risks are of little concern and that the rebrand is desired regardless of how it is perceived, then very little stands in the way of rebuilding a brand into something completely different.  On the other hand, most brand owners rebrand to achieve a specific goal and plan to carry with them the established brand value, customers and market value.  After all, a rebrand should boost a business, not limit or contract it, and with proper planning, a successful rebrand will highlight the unique niche that makes the brand stand out and attract new customers.

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