Widely touted as one of the worst rebrands in history, July saw Twitter followers say bye-bye to blue birdie and hello ‘X’, thus ending almost two decades of heritage for one of the world’s biggest brands in the process. Little more than a few weeks later and the result was already a 4% reduced follower count and significant revenue impact.1 But why and how did Elon get it so wrong? And what are the key takeaways for brands looking to ensure a rebrand success? Ed Plant, creative director at Catalyst tells you what you need to know.

Rebranding isn’t something that should be taken lightly. After all, it can take most businesses years, sometimes decades, to establish their brand identity – that carefully curated mix of unique characteristics designed to portray their persona and distinguish it clearly in customers’ minds. Get rebranding wrong, and the results can be catastrophic. Not only is there the risk of wiping out years’ worth of brand equity and company culture but that of alienating customers. Businesses have lost customers, shareholders, and investors alike.

Still, there’s no shortage of brands that get rebranding wrong, even amongst some of the biggest companies in the world. Just look at Gap, for example, and the 2010 unveiling of its modern new logo designed to rejuvenate the company, along with sales, following the 2008 recession. Widely criticised as a bland ‘change for change’s sake’, and GAP made a rather swift U-turn back to its much-loved, original logo less than a week later despite forking out $100 million in rebranding costs.2 An equally disastrous example can be found by looking at centuries-old Royal Mail’s rebranding to Consignia in early 2001. Following a public outcry about the ‘meaningless’ new name, the rebrand, the result of a £2m strategy designed to modernise our national mail provider’s image, was scrapped and the status quo restored.3

But, of course, an even bigger brand refocus, one widely touted as the biggest rebrand failures of all time, happened more recently this July as Elon Musk announced plans to “bid adieu to the Twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds” in favour of ‘X’. Hours later the website logo changed, then the website X.com was redirected to Twitter.com and now the former “Let’s talk” tagline has been replaced with “Blaze your glory.”

The result has been a tirade of mockery, scrutiny and confusion from Twitter users and industry alike. Why? Fundamentally, there is the fact that Musk decided to launch the new name and brand identity literally overnight with no forewarning or clear rationale. This has been widely perceived as hugely offending and shocking from a brand which has managed to become so intertwined with the daily lives of its millions of users, some for the past two decades. Secondly, there is the lack of any sort of sense of continuity between the former and new identities. While Twitter was all warm and welcoming with its brights, blues and birds, X appears dark and edgy, a shift which has come as alienating for its established user base. Importantly too, that’s not to overlook the fact that Twitter was not only a hugely successful brand but managed to achieve a rare and highly-coveted feat in brand equity –  its own lexicon – to the extent than ‘tweeting’ or ‘retweeting’ are now a widely accepted part of the modern vernacular. Sadly, ‘Xing’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Inevitability, all this upheaval has had vast consequences. According to some estimates, the rebrand has caused the company to lose an estimated  $4 billion worth of brand value that was once associated with the Twitter brand. Cue a cautionary tale for marketers on how not to execute a rebrand.4 Here’s how:


Start with the why

As with all major business changes, there needs to be thought put into whether a rebrand is really necessary and why. Is it driven by a need to accelerate growth? Does your company need to step up to compete with bigger, more established competitors? Or is your brand identity simply tired and in need of a refresh? In most cases these reasons might prove valid.

If, however, you are considering a rebrand simply because sales are low or you’re charting difficult waters you might want to reconsider. Twitter isn’t the only major brand that has attempted to paper its cracks with a rebrand as a way to signal a fresh start or new course of direction to both stakeholders and customers. All too often though, this approach will only serve to shed even more light on the problem itself while costly the company valuable time and money, usually which it can ill-afford, in the process.


Do your research

For whatever reason you are rebranding, the next step needs to be research. Start by interviewing your employees and teams about what they think of the brands’ visuals and narratives to ascertain their understandings and perceptions. Keep the dialogue open, garnering any ideas they have for change. Do the same with customers via online surveys, interviews and focus groups, again gathering feedback about their brand perceptions. Combine with extensive competitor analysis to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses in relation to your own brand identity. The goal is to have an unbiased understanding of your current brand perception, what works, what doesn’t work and what needs to change.

A great example of this can be found with our rebranding work with Purbeck insurance. From our extensive customer research we were able ascertain that key potential customer segments such as SMEs, accountants, legal firms and professional advisors wanted to buy from a brand that was personable, friendly and they could trust. Yet Purbeck’s existing corporate brand image was found to be lacking a human element or personality. Cue a transition to a much more personal brand identity and, as a consequence, significant growth.

The point here is that without this type of research, you run the risk of basing an entire rebrand strategy on a limited understanding and shortsighted view of what you think your customer wants. Even the most accomplished marketing or brand experts, after all, will have blind spots or certain inherent bias’s meaning you could miss the mark without investing in a wider, insights-based view point – something which Musk will may, regrettably, know all too well.


Balance your past and future

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons learnt amid Twitter’s recent upheaval is that completely uprooting your established brand legacy to make way for a new one runs the risk of losing sight of your audience.

Brand evolution may be critical because your old identity is no longer effective in the modern marketplace or you want to reach a younger crowd. Still though, that’s not to say you have to disregard it completely. Rather, it’s about taking inspiration from your brand’s past and putting a modern lens on. It’s picking the most important aspects of your brand’s identity and bringing them to life in new, exciting way. One need only look at the continual evolution of, say, Coca Cola or Starbucks, to see a compelling demonstration of how some of the most successful rebrands hinge on a delicate balance between the past and the future.

From our experience this can be even more pertinent in B2B where customers are more likely to have developed an emotional affinity to their provider of choice and are therefore less likely to appreciate a complete change of tact.


Communicate consistently

It may sound obvious, but another important but often overlooked part of the rebranding process is communication.

Change can be exciting but it can also be daunting too, especially for longstanding employees and loyal customers who have developed an emotional connection with the existing brand and may be reluctant to embrace the change. It’s therefore vital that you have a robust communications strategy in place to ensure everyone is clear on what is changing, why, and when, and ahead of time. This should include customers, stakeholders, investors and employees.

The good news in this is that a rebrand offers a huge opportunity to create excitement and talkability, reengage customers and engage with new ones, and drum up new interest.  When you take your key internal and external stakeholders on the journey, they’ll be more engaged, committed and feel they have a played a key role in the success of the new brand.


Hitting the mark

Yes, rebrands can be complex and carry big risks. But they can also prove a hugely powerful means of helping companies stay relevant, grow, expand into new markets and differentiate. While there can be no set-in-stone strategy for getting it right, with careful planning, in-depth research, transparent communication and careful consideration paid to both a brand’s legacy and future vision, it is possible to create a new brand identity which hits the mark.




2 https://fluxbranding.com


4 Forbes

About Catalyst

Catalyst is a well-established, award-winning full-service digital marketing agency dedicated to doing things differently – by placing focus on tangible results (rather than vanity metrics) to deliver meaningful business impact and positively impact your bottom line.

With offices in both Birmingham and London, they specialise in providing marketing support to B2B and B2C businesses operating in sectors including: finance, energy, tech, manufacturing, insurance and office design & build.

For further information please visit: https://www.wearecatalyst.co.uk/

Creative Director at Catalyst | Website | + posts

Ed Plant has worked for over 10 years in graphic design, specialising in digital, branding and web design.

As Catalyst’s Creative Director, it’s Ed’s passion to deliver the highest-quality user experience for any website he works along with brands and creative that help cut through the noise. If it looks good, then Ed’s involved.