Opinions & Lessons

A Deep Dive into Brand Perception : The Elon Musk, Twitter Saga

By February 2, 2023 No Comments

If there’s a top ten list of things killing your customer experience, make uncertainty number one, and if brand perception is owned by your customers, then uncertainty is a clog in your brand building process.

Here’s a great example of  how uncertainty is bad business.

Do you remember when Elon Musk made a splashy visit to Twitter headquarters, San Francisco in the midst of the acquisition saga, just to make it ‘sink’? That moment marked the end of the year-long battle between Elon Musk and the brand Twitter. Beyond that, it also marked the change of leadership for the brand twitter, further prolonging the existing uncertainties that surrounded the acquisition saga since rumours of it began in April 2022.

According to a report by The Guardian, these uncertainties rocked twitter’s revenue boat

“The social media company said revenue for the three months to 30 June was $1.18bn (£986m), a decline of 1% on the same period last year, which it said reflected “advertising industry headwinds associated with the macro environment” as well as “uncertainty related to the pending acquisition of Twitter” by the Tesla chief executive.”

In the modern corporate environment, it is obvious that brand impression has a significant role in determining market share, profitability, and customer loyalty. Therefore, this article will discuss key takeaways from the Elon Musk-Twitter controversy and how crucial it is to preserve a positive brand perception in the face of difficulties.

Building a Case for Perception & Uncertainty

It’s a popular saying that the vulture gathers where the carcasses are gathered (not really sure about the source). So if we look at the twitter model, you’ll notice the loop where they create a platform “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers” as the mission statement speaks, which in turn pulls crowds with this unique offering, and as we all know advertisers gather where crowds gather. Simple strategy but sustainable money spooler. So, in this case we can call the advertisers vultures while the everyday twitter user, the carcass. Perhaps it wouldn’t be far reaching to name Twitter, mother nature in this case.

From this illustration, you see that for each turn in the loop, ‘perception’ had a huge role to play. Several people join twitter because they see it as a place to speak freely, so they sign up. marketers and advertisers in turn decide to gather, because they see that customers are gathered here, which is great for their numbers. Perception, or how each participant is viewed at various points along the funnel, is one common component here. 

In the Mitchells & Butlers account, this point is also highlighted. As a UK company owning a chain of Browns Brasseries & Bar, they observed a negative response from customers about their glass wares because its menu didn’t feature visuals of glass wares. In lesser words, the customers were uncertain about the product. This observation led to the inclusion of glassware visuals on their menu, thus tripling their target. Without lowering the price or changing the menu itself, they increased the average customer spend by changing their perception of the product. 

It’s evident that the more uncertainty around a particular product or service, the less valuable it becomes. So, what did Mitchells & Butlers do differently, that twitter perhaps failed to do; they addressed the major concerns of customers.

 Uncertainty is Bad for Your Employees

Let’s zoom a bit more into the events that led up to the eventual acquisition of twitter. According to reports, from April 4 2022, when the Tesla CEO became the largest twitter shareholder to 25th April when the acquisition journey began and June when the back and forth began, about 530 employees left the company for competitors in the first three months. Yes, twitter had a huge staff base at that time, but 530 is a huge number, looking at recruitment costs from an HR perspective. Much more, if you’re familiar with the brand twitter, you’ll know that in the past it had a high employer rating due to the perks, benefits and work culture at the organisation. 

According to a report in 2015 on how twitter employees view their company, many agreed that working in twitter is like working in a team-oriented environment where they get to do something unique to change the world. So, to have that high number of staff, walking away, means morale was definitely sinking, a chunk of it stemming from the rumours on Musk’s plan to cut 75% of the staff, making the rounds at that time. It might be difficult to say for sure why each employee made their decision, but if numbers don’t lie then, the 60% increase in workers’ churn rate in that quarter, is sufficient indicator as to why a bulk of them left. The question is why is this important to discuss? What role do employees play in building a positive brand perception? Popular knowledge suggests that companies are in charge of their customer experience, perhaps through systems and structure built, this is to true to an extent. However, one factor that takes a large chunk of influence on the results, are the people at the front-line dealing with customers everyday. Their uncertainty about the brand’s loyalty to their well-being builds up unhealthy pressure, thus hampering work-place productivity. This ripple effect can be catastrophic to the whole brand experience. 

Managing Workplace Uncertainty in the midst of a Crisis

Some organisations deal with work-place uncertainties by setting clear expectations about performance, communicating transparently with employees, investing in improving their staff’s skill set in order to measure up to current change, and providing opportunities for them to own their work process, i.e an autonomous atmosphere.  All of these moves in turn rebuilds trust despite the looming uncertainties, and with trust comes ease and high morale, hence productivity.

During the Covid-19 period, the NY based real estate start-up, SquareFoot, demonstrated an exemplary response to the shadow-hanging uncertainties employees had to grapple with. The VP of People, Eugenie Fanning highlighted their choice to be honest and transparent, and ensure communications across all touch points are consistent, exude strength, assurance and are as positive as is possible. According to reports this message was well received by the staff.

Uncertainties and crises may be unique to organisations, but the fundamentals on how to navigate this period isn’t alien to today’s business world. So whether it’s a  covid-19 virus, or a terrorist attack, or a shift in leadership, these fundamentals can be tailored to your organisational needs. One thing is certain though, leaving uncertainties unaddressed does no good to your employees, customers or overall brand experience.

 Building Phenomenal Brand Perception Despite Uncertainty

If many individuals are unclear about an aspect of your brand, you are definitely communicating it poorly, as was the case with Twitter, where uncertainty caused over 600 staff churn and an early 1% loss in revenue. Therefore, to address uncertainties about your brand whether from a customer or employee perspective (given that employees are your first customers), you can explore the following measures;

  •  Understand Your Customer’s Reservation.

Uncertainties are deeply rooted in reservations. Therefore, in building a phenomenal brand perception don’t just rush to list out the benefits you perceive will address their concerns, observe and identify the root cause for their uncertainty.

  • Analyse and Iterate Where Necessary

This is the time to look at your communications thus far with a fresh eyes, of which you may not be able to do all by yourself. So, get the help you need from surveys, friends, employees, and ask the right questions

  • Leverage on the Power of Community

One brand that has a remarkable way of doing this is Zara, with their communication. They don’t just make the messaging simple and reassuring, they show other customers have overcome or are overcoming the uncertainty hurdle. This gives an articulated feeling of reassurance, putting other concerned customers at ease. A strategy that’ll go a long way in rebuilding customer’s trust and the perception of the brand.

  • By All Means, Communicate Timely!

As much as communication is vital in building a phenomenal brand perception during a crisis, timeliness is of equal essence. A good example of how fast a crisis can spiral is the United Airlines backlash in 2017, where a passenger was forcefully dragged out of a plane. Social media was already clamoring for a boycott before the CEO got to make a statement expressing his regret. In times of crisis or uncertainties, timely communication can never be overrated.

  • Then, Do as You Say

According to an article by Forbes, there are three factors that influence a customer’s decision to trust: what you do, how you communicate it, and how you treat your stakeholders (employees etc) and customers during the period of uncertainty. So by all means, do as you say. 

Conclusively, in the midst of uncertainty, it is important that your brand and its professed values are perceived as certain, therefore, as you work towards resolving the crisis and challenges, do not ignore the need to address all stakeholders’ reservations and uncertainties.


Author’s Bio 

Ifeoluwa Alabi believes strongly in the dynamic power of words to control any narrative, evoke a desired emotion and propel a specific action. As a content Strategist, she designs conversation that helps improve overall brand and user experience. She is also in charge of communication and editorials at For Creative Girls








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