Bye bye Birdie: when do startups need a brand identity?

Kirstie Pickering asks 8 startups what they think about Musk's move to lose Twitter's iconic blue bird logo.

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On Monday, Twitter users woke to find the iconic blue bird synonymous with the social media platform gone – replaced instead by a simple X. Owner Elon Musk says he chose the “minimalist art deco” X as part of a wider rebrand of the platform.

What many may not know is that Twitter actually didn’t launch with the blue bird logo that most users will be most familiar with. When the social media platform launched to the public in 2006, there was no bird in sight in its branding – it actually didn’t crop up until 2010, when the logo evolved once again. 

Despite being an established company, the widely publicised changes at Twitter give startups food for thought. 

Does this change in brand identity signal to startups that they don’t need to launch their business with long-term branding? Or should startups be set on their brand identity from the get-go? It’s important to remember that branding covers much more than a simple logo – it also covers tone of voice, tagline, wider design and much more. 

Following the switch up at Twitter, eight experts share their thoughts on the importance of brand identity to a startup and Musk’s latest move.

Paul Stollery, cofounder and creative director at Hard Numbers

“Musk is a live case study in what not to do in branding. He's ignored every convention in the book and in doing so, he's opened up the door to Threads coming along and eating his lunch.

“The only reason Twitter has survived so long is that, up until recently, it was a monopoly. Instagram and TikTok weren't competitors because they offered a different experience. Bluesky, Post, Mastodon weren't competitors because they didn't offer what Twitter was good at: community at scale.

“Had Threads launched a year ago, it would have been dead on arrival. But now people are flocking to it, and they're being driven there by Musk. They don't like what Twitter/X/Musk stand for – they don't like the brand, in other words – and that's the gift that keeps on giving for Zuckerberg.

“Unless you have a moat the size of Twitter's, don't mess around with your brand as Musk does. This behaviour would put most start-ups out of business. You don't need a perfect brand to launch. They are built gradually but they can be destroyed very quickly, as Musk is doing a brilliant job of demonstrating.”

Sarah Austin, director at the British Business Excellence Awards 

“From my experience working with startups, I firmly believe that having a clear and cohesive brand identity right from the start is crucial. It lays the foundation for building brand recognition, trust and credibility in the marketplace. A well-defined brand helps startups stand out in a crowded market, establishing a lasting impression on customers, investors and partners.

“However, it's important to recognise that branding is not a static process. As a startup evolves and grows, there may be room for refinement and enhancement of the brand. The key is to strike a balance between having a strong initial brand presence and being open to iterative improvements based on customer feedback and market dynamics.”

Chris Donnelly, cofounder at Lottie

“Having a distinctive brand from the very beginning is crucial in helping build a reputable and

recognisable business from day one. A well-defined brand establishes a clear identity and sets the tone for customer perceptions.

“A strong brand identity also helps to differentiate your business from competitors – this is extremely important in a saturated market. Lottie is the perfect example of how strong branding with a clear vision can disrupt a stagnant market.

“Of course, as your business grows, your brand will grow too. However, when reviewing the branding of your business, it’s important to stay true to your values, mission, and ambitions you had on the very first day of launching.”

Karoli Hindriks, CEO and cofounder at Jobbatical

“We decided to continue with our existing name and company and communicate the pivot to our existing customers. This had a lot of benefits – we’d built up trust and credibility as Jobbatical in the HR space working with recruiters so converting early-stage B2B customers was easier than starting from scratch. 

“But deciding not to go down the rebrand route also came with some legacy issues that did initially slow us down. Having to explain the changes to stakeholders for months after the pivot delayed important conversations and put pressure on customer support teams who were having to turn unknowing B2C customers away. For founders who are pivoting toward a new audience or have a smaller audience to start with, consider the benefits of both and what will get you going faster.”

Hena Husain, founder of The Content Architects

“Businesses just starting off need to find the right balance in creating a brand and building one. A good brand is easy on the eyes, fairly memorable, easy to read and pronounce. And that’s it! 

“Your brand is a dynamic entity and will evolve over time as the business does. That is when you can begin to hone in on the details ensuring it stands out. Spending too much time on your brand at the start is, in most cases, a waste of time.”

Steve Vinall, director of global brand and communications at Bynder

“It's essential for startups to establish a distinctive brand from the start. A consistent brand experience is crucial as it helps build trust and recognition among consumers. 

“While some brands may take years to rebrand, it's important to avoid knee-jerk decisions like what we've seen from Elon Musk with Twitter's logo change. Such quick changes may not be well thought out and could raise questions about the logistics of the transition.

“With the right brand management, I believe Twitter's brand equity could transfer to X over time, although it's a big call to retire the iconic ‘Larry' the Bird, which is one of the world’s most recognisable logos.

“Despite any negative aspects, nobody can deny Elon's genius and innovative approach to business. The move towards his X app concept is a tangible step, and if he can make it even half as successful as Tesla, it could be a game-changer.”

Mark Fensom, director at Warbox

“A brand is far more than a logo. Branding is vital for startups – a clearly defined brand strategy that outlines your values, purpose and tone of voice, as well as a distinctive visual identity, can make a massive difference for your target market and investors.

“As a startup grows, its brand will naturally evolve over time, but it’s critical that you have a clear foundation in place first. Once you are clear on the central pillars of your brand, it not only provides you with the parameters, but also the confidence to amplify your message – otherwise it risks becoming a dog’s dinner.”

Jessica Alderson, CEO and cofounder at So Syncd

“I think it's fine for your brand to grow over time as a startup. Of course, it's ideal to get it right the first time, but that isn't always realistic. It's common for startups to launch and discover that their audience doesn't fit their original idea or that they need to pivot to better serve their target market. On top of that, most startups don't have the budget to invest in a professional branding agency right off the bat. If you have a founding team member who has strong skills relevant to branding, then you have an advantage.

“Changing brand colours, fonts and designs is one story, but changing your name and logo is another. If you've built up a customer base and solidified your reputation, then making such changes can be risky. There are ways of reducing the risks associated with a full rebrand, such as thorough user interviews and A/B testing, but it still has the potential to alienate your existing customers. Ultimately, it's up to the company to weigh up the risk-reward profile of a rebrand.”

Victoria Gimigliano, head of marketing at Behaviol

“Building a strong brand is paramount for an AI gaming studio like Behaviol as it enables us to forge connections with both communities and audiences alike. Our brand serves as the cornerstone of our approach, allowing us to infuse captivating narratives into every aspect of our game development process. 

“In the ever-changing landscape of the gaming industry, we recognise the importance of adapting and evolving our brand. Recently, with the launch of our latest product Meta 11, we underwent a rebranding process. This transformation allowed us to effectively convey the essence of Meta 11 and position it as a groundbreaking and innovative addition to our portfolio.”

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Mid shot of Kirstie Pickering freelance journalist.
Kirstie Pickering - business journalist

Kirstie is a freelance journalist writing in the tech, startup and business spaces for publications including Sifted, TNW, UKTN, The Business Magazine and Maddyness UK. She also works closely with agencies such as CEW Communications to develop content for their startup and scaleup clients.

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