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With Its Classier Branding, Twitter Broadcasts Big Ambitions

Over the summer, the company dropped its wordmark for its recognizable blue bird, signaling its evolution from scrappy startup to tech superpower, writes Scott Thomas, Co.Design’s designer.

With Its Classier Branding, Twitter Broadcasts Big Ambitions

You’re no doubt familiar with the microblogging platform with the little blue bird at its helm. But have you noticed the subtle changes to its branding? In June, the winged icon became the “universally recognizable symbol of Twitter,” according to Doug Bowman, the creative director at the San Francisco-based startup. Just like that, the lowercase “t” and the bubbled wordmark were gone–and the bird that was once cruising along the straight and narrow decided to arch its back and point its head to the sky, demanding to be heard. Twitter was anew.

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Many may have disregarded or even failed to notice the strategic evolution. But the move signaled an important turning point for the company: Twitter moved from startup to powerhouse stature. Just like other globally recognized brands such as Apple, Starbucks, and Nike, Twitter no longer needed the word to support its identity–a clear indication that the bird was on the rise but also, it turns out, ready to launch an attack on its competitors in the social-networking space.

With its new upward momentum, Twitter needed to break free of its cage, releasing promoted tweets, trends, and accounts in 50 other countries. Also in June, the company launched Twitter cards, an experience for expanded tweets that users can use to access more content, images, and even videos on their desktop or smartphone. New features are nothing out of the ordinary for a company seeking to monetize. Michael Sippey, Twitter’s director of consumer products, labeled this strategy on the company’s developer blog as “an important step” in the platform’s future, stating, “We want developers to be able to build applications that run within Tweets.” He went on to reiterate what colleague Ryan Sarver said in March 2011, that developers should not “build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” To make their feelings known, Twitter will be introducing stricter guidelines to their very popular app interface, leaving developers hamstrung.

In the most recent cockfight, Twitter entered the ring with Tumblr, which took a violent blow from the now heavyweight bird when users of the Tumblr platform discovered that they could no longer find their Twitter “followers” within the Tumblr dashboard. This is one of the defining moments for the company. Twitter did this without the lead of another major player in the social sphere. While Tumblr users can still find Facebook friends and folks in their Google address book, they are not able to “follow” the people they are already following on Twitter via the Tumblr platform–a sure sign that Twitter wants to protect its flock.

Are we about to watch a great fight for the title of Communication Champion of the World? The recent strategic decisions place Twitter in better control of their platform, their users, their developer community, and their hopes for profitability. This shift from free bird to bird of prey illustrates its readying for battle. The calculations, planning, and timing by the company have been impeccable. As Nick Bilton wrote in an article for the New York Times in May, “slow and steady will always win the race,” casting Twitter as the fabled tortoise in the children’s story. The hare in this instance is Facebook. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Twitter decided to rebrand a month after Facebook’s disastrous IPO, launching a new emblem to appear stronger, building financial strength with expanded promoted features, and restricting competition by tightening its API. The bird appears to be developing its tactics in the art of war. In this case, branding was just one, albeit crucial, step in the company’s strategic plan of attack.

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