It’s been about a month since Elon Musk announced that he was rebranding Twitter to X. And much has been written about whether or not it was a good move.
But I wouldn’t call this rebranding. It’s more of a renaming.
Companies rebrand to signal change — that change is either happening, or it’s coming. And that change is typically for the better. It might be that the company is targeting a new audience, the quality of the product or service has improved, or the old name no longer reflects the current reality of the brand.
It’s not like anyone is going to be fooled into thinking that the experience of Twitter will be new and different because Musk changed the name to X. To that end, X reads not so much as a strategic shift but as an egotist CEO’s plot to burn the whole thing to the ground.
I’ll confess that I’m not a Twitter user, and I’m not privy to information about the inner workings of the company, but I’ve always thought it seemed like the most frantic, frenetic of the platforms, and everyone was on there only to gain followers and not to actually share anything. From my perspective, the best thing would have been to improve the user experience. People weren’t saying, “I’m getting off Twitter because I hate the name.” They were getting off of Twitter because the platform has taken a huge backward step under Musk’s ownership: the news feed, verified accounts, the free-for-all of misinformation and incivility. He paid a ton of money for a platform and an audience and has been systematically running it into the ground to a point where it’s unrecognizable—down to the name.
Supported by an improved experience, he could have rebranded to signify that the platform had shed all of its old baggage. But the baggage is still there. There’s nothing new that users love about it that it didn’t have before. The renaming is just a cosmetic fix.
If Musk had created a competitor and called it X, that would have been a better move. He has a thing about X and has talked about creating a sort of “super app” called X. X could have operated on a level that Meta or Alphabet does — as a brand in its own right that contains other brands. Musk’s X portfolio could include brands like SpaceX, CarX, TunnelX, ChatX, and whatever else he comes up with. As it stands, he has other companies under his umbrella that don’t use the letter X, so he’s wildly inconsistent. And there are plenty of other brands out there that use the letter: Xbox, Xfinity, TEDx and X Games, to name a handful. Let’s face it: X is culturally played out.
As a brand name, X has its own limitations. It’s an empty vessel. If a business leader wants to create a brand that people can impose their own meaning on, that’s OK — except that Twitter already meant something. It had birthed its own vernacular, become a verb: to tweet, to retweet. If you were active on Twitter, you liked what it stood for. And by renaming, Musk cut the ties with the only people who were left at the party.
Everything about Twitter that’s changed has been negative. X is negative, too. Ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, excommunicated, x-ed out.
Who knows? Maybe X is actually the perfect name.
About the author
Lynn Altman is the President of Brand Now. For over 20 years, Lynn has been the behind-the-scenes innovator for big companies, with over 400 new product and branding projects completed for more than half of the Top 100 Global Brands, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Gillette, McDonald’s, American Express and UBS. She has also done extensive work in the financial, CPG, beauty and pharmaceutical industries with companies such as Capital One, Bank of America, Dial, Nestlé, L’Oréal, and Wyeth. Lynn is also the author of Brand It Yourself: The Fast, Focused Way to Marketplace Magic, has been interviewed on nationally syndicated radio shows and has appeared on CNBC’s On The Money and ABC’s News Now.
By Lynn Altman