What’s in a Name? Musk/Twitter Edition

twitter elon musk x
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I have (well-managed) arthritis and take pain reducers every day. I normally buy generic acetaminophen; but many people still buy brand-name Tylenol, even though it costs much more.اضافة اعلان

The Economics of Brand Loyalty: Understanding Consumer BehaviorThere’s a long-running debate among economists about why people are willing to pay a premium for name brands. Some emphasize ignorance — one influential study found that health professionals are more likely than the public at large to buy generic painkillers because they realize that they’re just as effective as name brands. Others suggest that there may be a rational calculation involved: The quality of name brands may be more reliable because the owners of these brands have a reputation to preserve. It doesn’t have to be either-or; the story behind the brand premium may depend on the product.

What’s clear is that brand names that for whatever reason inspire customer loyalty have real value to the company that owns them and shouldn’t be changed casually.
A brand name is not just a label, it is the embodiment of customer trust, product consistency, and corporate reputation - to alter it is to tamper with the very essence of the business.
So what the heck does Elon Musk, the owner of TAFKAT — the app formerly known as Twitter — think he’s doing, changing the platform’s name to X, with a new logo many people, myself included, find troubling?

It’s important to distinguish between corporate rebranding — changing the official name of a company — and changing the names of the company’s products. Google renamed itself Alphabet, presumably to convey to investors its aspiration to be more than a search engine, but the search engine itself is still named Google. Philip Morris renamed itself Altria, presumably in part to diminish its perceived association with lung cancer, but its customers still smoke Marlboros.

The Economics of Brand Loyalty: Understanding Consumer BehaviorChanging product names is more problematic, because it risks losing customer loyalty, so it tends to happen only when there’s a real problem with the existing name. It was definitely a good idea to change the name of Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda to 7UP. It’s actually remarkable that it took PepsiCo so long to realize that in an America that has changed (for the better), the Aunt Jemima brand name had to go. But absent such good reasons, sensible businesses keep the brand names their customers keep buying.

So what was wrong with Twitter as a brand name? Nothing, as far as I can tell. It was friendly sounding and a bit funny, and resonated with the role of the platform as a place for people to chatter about a variety of subjects. The Twitter logo was also fine — distinctive, instantly recognizable, and without any obvious negative connotations.

But Musk has nonetheless ditched all of that in favor of X, a harsh-sounding name with no relationship to what the platform does.

Furthermore, the new logo — a slightly embellished version of the letter X — is problematic in several ways. It probably can’t be trademarked, because it’s more or less indistinguishable from a lowercase x in an existing font. Many TAFKAT users say that they’re embarrassed by the logo, which makes them feel as if they’re visiting a porn site. My reaction was a bit different. To me, and I’m sure others, the new logo has the vibes of an authoritarian political symbol, like the Z emblem of Russians invading Ukraine — or some other historical symbols I’m sure you can think of.

Brand decisions without strategic foresight are like sailing without a compass; you may end up somewhere, but likely not where you intended.

Modern corporations normally give a lot of thought to choosing brand names and logos. So what was Musk thinking with his renaming of TAFKAT? It’s really hard to see any business rationale for junking a perfectly good brand identity and replacing it with a name and logo almost everyone finds off-putting.

Musk's Erratic Branding Strategies: The Risk of Renaming Twitter
Well, everything we know suggests that he basically wasn’t thinking. For some reason he has always had a thing about the letter X — his rocket company is SpaceX and he tried to get PayPal to rename itself X.com (and was ousted as CEO immediately afterward, perhaps because his colleagues thought it sounded like, yes, a porn site). And that awful logo didn’t go through the usual design process (Twitter’s bird logo evolved over seven years). It was casually outsourced — he asked his followers to suggest symbols and chose one he liked.

But then, Musk’s sudden change of brand name and symbol, without a clear rationale, fits the pattern of everything else he’s done at TAFKAT.

He clearly suffers from a severe case of Tech Bro Syndrome, that weird combination of hubris and conspiracy theorizing so prevalent in his social set. He accused Twitter of censoring conservatives, ignoring the reality that in a MAGA-ridden nation any attempt to limit the spread of dangerous misinformation will hit the right harder than the left. He purchased Twitter in the belief that his personal brilliance could easily make the company profitable, no need for hard thinking about business strategy.

And he’s been flailing wildly ever since.

Will the Xification of Twitter finally be a flail too far? Social networks tend to be especially durable because — like international currencies — they benefit from self-reinforcement: People use them because other people use them. It will take many bad decisions to push TAFKAT to the tipping point where people abandon it for another platform.

But Musk is working on it.

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