Time for Time Inc. to Rebrand or Reposition, or Both?

Posted by Michael Million
Time for Time Inc.: Rebrand, Reposition, or Both?

Time Inc. could be soon known by another name. The 94-year old iconic New York City-based media giant is looking to rebrand to show its marketing and business partners how it has become a “multi-platform consumer media company.” 

As markets shift, new market entrants can quickly make an existing business seem dated and out of touch. Rebranding can help companies meet market needs, shift customer and stakeholder perceptions, and remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds.

Many factors can influence a company’s decision to undergo a complete rebrand. A weakened value proposition, evolving customer needs, changes in the competitive landscape, losing relevance and/or discovering opportunities through new technologies are all examples of impactful factors that can generate the necessity for a rebrand.

There is always a reason for a rebrand; from reinventing the way a company fundamentally operates to resonating with one’s target market. A successful rebrand will:

  • Indicate a new direction in an evolving target market
  • Demonstrate a change in corporate culture
  • Address and correct issues that created a crisis
  • Communicate the brand’s market positioning and relevant messaging

Maintaining Brand Relevance

Since a brand’s positioning is under constant pressure, maintaining relevance requires engaging with customers in ways that are truly authentic and personal. Great brands—from Apple to Nike to Starbucks—do this relentlessly. They inspire how people feel and compel them to act. The right positioning makes it possible. 

Apple is one of the great examples of brand repositioning in the last century. In the 1980s and 90s Apple Computers was strictly a computer company. With the iPod, Apple successfully transformed itself from a computer brand to a lifestyle brand. Apple utilized advertisements portraying people from all walks of life using Apple products. Ultimately the brand dropped “Computers” from its name and Apple made the switch to lifestyle brand because it repositioned itself in the minds of consumers.

 A well-executed rebrand should be disruptive and “all in,” thus gaining stakeholder buy-in is crucial for the brand to reflect the changing business strategy. Rebranding when combined with repositioning can be a powerful way to signal to the market that something is different—but that difference must be substantial, real, and meaningful in order for the rebranding to be successful.

Time’s Loss of Brand Relevance

A serious threat facing most brands in ever-changing markets is the loss of relevance because the category they are serving is declining. Eventually, the brand becomes outdated and weaker than competitors. Companies need to make sure their brand is keeping pace with the industry and the competition.

Declining print advertising revenues are forcing old-school journalism legends such as Time to reconsider their position in the digital age and become modern media firms with digital and video at their core. According to a company spokesperson, “We’re excited about our business strategy and momentum, and we are in the early stages of considering a rebranding effort to reinforce the success of our transformation from a legacy publishing company to a multi-platform consumer media company.”

Changing the Name of a Time-honored Brand

The decision to change the name of an established brand should never be entered into lightly. Changing a strategic business focus in new and direction can be a good reason to change a brand name, but only if the naming change will provide greater meaning, resonance, and value for consumers.

Several publishers have gotten social media backfire from recent rebranding efforts. Consider editorial site Fusion’s recently-announced decision to rebrand as Splinter, the AOL-Yahoo! merger: Oath, and the 2016 rebranding of Tribune Publishing as tronc (Tribune Online Content) that was mocked by HBO’s John Oliver who likened the name to “the sound of print newspapers being thrown into a dumpster.”

Does a Name Change Make Sense?

Brands risk losing some authenticity and heritage when they revitalize themselves. Time's print products are a marker of its past, and not what management believes is its future, however, Time Inc.’s name is rich with history. If it wants a corporate name more reflective of management’s commitment to revitalizing the business, it will have to educate consumers and bring along as much of the history as possible to the new name.

According to AdWeek co-editor, Corinne Grinapol, "It's almost a given that a media company in 2017, whether legacy media or a millennial-focused digital upstart, is going to be multi-platform, and digital or mobile-first, or at least trying to get there.” Today’s media companies have the dual challenge of connecting with a completely new audience while retaining their loyal subscribers. In the digital age, what will be the role of media? What will become of their brands as the medium continues to evolve? This is a tricky proposition for an organization that, for decades, has built its brand on a loyal following that trusts the legacy. These reputations and relationships are valuable. Perhaps Time should focus on innovation and responding to ever-changing consumer preferences and keep its time-honored legacy.

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