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BUSINESS REFLECTION

After the Bell: Twitter, X, and milking it

After the Bell: Twitter, X, and milking it
The Twitter logo on a laptop arranged in Germantown, New York, US, on 24 July 2023. (Photo: Gabby Jones / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

What is a brand? Now there is a question for you. The amount of money, time, theory, ideas and mindless twaddle that has gone into this question is legendary.

One of my favourite descriptions of great branding is a shelf in a supermarket with various brands of milk for sale. Except, at the far end, there is some coconut milk. The branding process is going down the aisle and thinking, milk, milk, milk, milk, not milk. Which one will spark your interest? The “not milk”, obviously. Branding, it stands to reason, constitutes your ability to stand out. To be different. To be noticed. To grab attention beyond the level of recognition you might receive in the normal course of events.

But here is the problem: Assuming your attention was grabbed by the “not milk”, would you actually buy it? After all, you were looking for milk. It’s one thing to stand out; it’s another to stand out positively; it’s yet another to stand out in a way that results in the product ending up in the shopping trolley.

All of this is pertinent now because Elon Musk has decided to dump the blue bird that represents Twitter and replace it with an X. As Fortune magazine points out, it’s rare for corporate brands to become so intertwined with everyday conversation that they become verbs. It’s rarer still for the owner of such a brand to announce plans to intentionally destroy it.

How long has it taken for Twitter-the-noun — sorry, X — to go from a tweet to tweeting? Perhaps as long as Twitter — sorry, X — has been in existence, which is about 15 years.

And what would that be worth?

There is of course no single way to evaluate the monetary value of a brand. There are different methodologies, and they typically, I think, hopelessly overvalue brands. They do so because the people who have the biggest interest in valuing brands highly — advertising agencies — are also the people who are doing the valuations.

Read more on Daily Maverick: More Musk Mayhem — X marks the spot of Twitter’s demise

Yet it is obvious that brands do mean something. Perhaps the best example is Nike, the sports shoe brand. Takkies are — forgive me, takkie enthusiasts — very much a commodity product. And yet, the premium that Nike can charge for its takkies demonstrates how important the brand has become.

For what it’s worth, marketers think that Musk has wiped out between  $4-billion and $20-billion in Twitter’s value. It may be this is a deliberate effort to distinguish “new Twitter” from “old Twitter”, since Musk intends to extend the functionality of Twitter into audio, video, messaging, payments and banking.

The problem is that banking, in particular, requires trust, and messing with the brand casually and pointlessly does not engineer trust. But there is an even bigger problem, pointed out by various marketing analysts: Twitter’s corporate brand is already heavily intertwined with Musk’s personal brand.

In one sense, if you are changing a product’s function, that may not be a terrible thing. But it doesn’t solve the “trust gap” problem. Sometimes “not milk” is just not milk. DM

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