June 12th, 2015
The big cyberspace news, aside from Chinese hackers invading all US government employees, is the resignation of Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo.
Silicon Valley tongues are wagging — praising and blaming Mr. Costolo — in the face of Twitter’s 50% drop in share price since the 2013 IPO.
The history of Twitter is one of serendipity. In essence, Twitter sprang from Odeo, developer of a podcasting service that Apple’s iPod obsoleted. From brainstorming, marathon iterating, and insatiable hunger for venture-capital money, a group-send-SMS application emerged. Luckily, a small earthquake in San Francisco, in August 2006, incited people to spread the word via the new Twitter.
Hyping, Sniping, Griping
Conceptually, Twitter is similar to what it was in 2006, except that, in this era of indignant narcissism, tweeters use it mostly for hyping, sniping, and griping. Ironically, despite all the social-media desk-pounding, CEOs don’t use Twitter. A recent study found that most CMOs don’t use it, either. In fact, Harvard Business Review determined that social media won’t help your bottom line.
So, what is Twitter? What is Twitter’s brand?
Twitter is the proverbial fire hose on steroids, making it tough to brand. Using Twitter is akin to listening to all of a radio’s stations simultaneously. It’s great for spreading memes, news, and rumors — and overreacting to “politically incorrect” posts. Alas, if someone fraudulently impersonates you, Twitter most likely won’t stop it. Dick Costolo admitted in February 2015 that “We suck at dealing with abuse.” I agree.
So, is all of this mishmash a business? Is it a brand? Wall Street wonders.
Who Is the Customer?
In his Fortune magazine piece, Mathew Ingram opines: “The biggest problem is that Twitter has never had anyone with a strong vision for the product itself — at least, not since Evan Williams left — and that is certain death for a technology company, especially one where the consumer user is all-important.”
If the consumer is all-important, who is the consumer? What does this consumer want and need? Without knowing the answers to these baseline questions, demanding the vision for the product is putting the cart before the horse, which leads to being all things to all people — the antithesis of being unique.
Brand trumps product, always. Always. A product fulfills the brand’s value proposition — not the other way around.
You’ve heard of zero-based budgeting, where execs must justify every line item’s existence, every year, rather than presume it should remain in the budget. I urge employing the same practice for products, and I call it Zero-Based Branding™.
Investors must require Twitter’s next CEO to justify the company’s offering, vis-à-vis the yet-to-be-identified customer, not merely add more bells and whistles to it.
Parting Advice to CEOs
Justify every one of your company’s products under the brand’s magnifying glass. Never presume it should live. Adopt Zero-Based Branding™, companywide.
If you can’t brand-justify a product, modify it accordingly — or scrap it altogether. Of course, to do this, you must first have a strong brand: a simple, compelling value proposition that customers, investors, and reporters react to, remember, and repeat.
Twitter’s problem is obvious: it has no brand. That’s why nobody knows what to do next. By the way: a name is not a brand; a logo is not a brand; a product is not a brand.
Creating a strong brand is the CEO’s #1 priority. Will Dick Costolo’s successor concur?
POSTSCRIPT #1: Business Insider: Several Possible Reasons for Twitter’s Weird CEO Shuffle
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2015 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.