Generally when a well-known or large publicly-traded company ponders a rebrand, it’s a safe bet there are countless consultants and focus groups involved, exploring numerous permutations before the final relaunch.
But if the company is owned by Elon Musk, it’s most likely that the idea stemmed from the man himself, perhaps in a burst of spontaneous inspiration. And so it was that we recently learned that the world's most famous and perhaps consequential business executive would transform one of the best-known media, tech and lifestyle brands—Twitter—into the fabulously simplistic “X.”
In an era of casually dressed, devil-may-care startup innovators, the Tesla CEO is ushering in a new era of “do-as-you-please.” Given his likely “too big to fail” status and safe in his perch at the apex of wealth, Musk feels free to publicly insult his critics, do live comedy on SNL, smoke pot during an interview–and now reinvent a household name company in his image.
Tainted by endless terms-of-service changes and allegations of ideological bias, the platform previously known as Twitter is in desperate need of new users and features that will keep users engaged and wanting to come back for more.
There certainly is value in a rebrand. X creates a new product on the rails of an existing one, while also creating brand synergy with Musk’s existing companies, SpaceX and xAI. Musk is incredibly successful when it comes to brand-building. Just look at Tesla, which to this day still doesn’t advertise. Only Musk can pull off such a feat.
The rebrand also underscores Musk’s chutzpah, which, singularly in his case, is a trademark asset. Amid heavy criticism that, at $44 billion, he vastly overpaid for Twitter, he needed to show that he was all in. At the end of the day, the move had everyone talking (for better or worse). And in Musk’s playbook, he seems to win either way.
While Musk’s approach may ultimately work in his favor, following his playbook is not advisable for 99 percent of other brands.
For one thing, the haphazard launch seemingly ignored realities that the X brand could lead to an IP battle with arch-rival Meta. Moreover, some critics say that Musk may have relinquished as much as $20 billion dollars in brand recognition, a vitally important resource for a company—although assigning a monetary value to the brand at this stage is likely premature.
For branding and PR executives, it’s important to note the consequences—both positive and negative—of this rebrand and what companies can learn from the experience.
Tips For The Rest of Us
While there is something to be said for being bold, generally speaking, I think a measured strategy is best. Here are ways to approach a major reset decision such as a rebrand, whether your client is a Fortune 500 company, a successful investment manager, or a recently funded startup.
Take chances, within reason. Go off the beaten path and indulge the wild and creative side, as long as you don’t betray the principles of the company.
Be committed. Understand in and believe why the rebrand not only makes sense, but is necessary. Push this message over and over in a clear and compelling way to your key audiences through all media and communications channels.
Predict and plan. Anticipate what critics, rivals and the media might say or tease about the new brand, and how or whether you will respond. When possible, it’s great to match humor with humor, rather than take yourself too seriously.
Seek wise counsel. Don’t surround yourself with sycophants. In addition to the corporate board, seek out a personal board of directors who will speak truth, talk you off a ledge, and stay loyal but be objective.
Leverage success. A new social media company called X wouldn’t have a prayer without the track record and cache of Tesla and SpaceX behind it. Musk knows this well. Create synergies and exploit them with shared IP and lessons from successful campaigns.
Elon Musk would not have become a titan of global business by being soft-spoken and camera-shy. A solid sense of boldness is a powerful thing. And when blended with a wise and measured communications strategy, it can be almost unstoppable.
Richard Dukas is the CEO and Chairman of Dukas Linden Public Relations.