Branding still matters for intranets, but many organisations are taking a ‘lightly branded’ approach to the interface, arguing that it is features and agility that matter more. Others still see value in the authority a strong visual identity gives, as a way to engage firstline workers, and the ability to extend it to other parts of your digital workplace.
There was a time when designing the look of an intranet was a big part of the project, much as it would be for a website. Even though you may expect employees to be far more familiar with your brand, it was often seen as a way to make it more ‘engaging’. However, branding for SharePoint intranets has been largely discouraged by Microsoft guidelines and seems to be on the downturn. I’ve also been diving deep into the fast-growing employee apps space where branding is often very limited, and taking a look at independent intranet platforms where there is still much more design freedom. So how much branding power do you need? I consulted to webosphere to see if it was still considered important.
The dominant view is that branding matters less than it used to. Most intranet managers seem to feel that logo, font and an appropriate colour palette are enough. Going further, employees are likely to be blinded to much of your brand due to over-exposure. Instead, it is the more subtle use of brand within the content that really matters, such as tone of voice and choosing imagery that reflects your values in news and articles.
There are practical benefits to keeping the branding simple too. You would hope that the intranet platform you select has a well-tested user interface. The more you customise that, the more you risk degrading the user experience. I once built an intranet for a marketing team where they insisted on using their product’s colour palette. The colours worked great on a bottle that needed to stand out on a shelf. They burned into your retina when used as bright orange text on a black intranet page.
Microsoft restricts where changes can be made in SharePoint for technical reasons too – customisation of older versions of SharePoint led to countless upgrade headaches when design changes by Microsoft ‘broke’ customer’s intranets. One of the main reasons to consider an intranet in-a-box product is to get around this limitation, but even vendors of these products are tending to fall into line.
The case for ‘no logo’
Some respondents to my question argued that branding should be almost entirely about the content. I’ve often heard the argument in the form of: “you don’t brand Outlook or Word, so why brand an intranet tool?”. However, intranets are not just generic tools – the content in Outlook and Word are not necessarily ‘from’ the company in the way that intranet content is.
A closer parallel would be to say “you don’t brand Chrome or Safari”. The interesting middle-ground is to think of Slack, @Workplace from Facebook and Yammer, where the tool brand and company brands often co-exist.
A more practical point though is about training – most products come with good libraries of training materials for admins and users. The more you change the look, the harder it becomes to simply re-use that standard material.
Where branding matters
Despite all the cost implications of branding, there are three cases where the argument to brand extensively is more compelling:
- A new company identity. Where a company has changed significantly, perhaps via a merger or acquisition, then the intranet is one of the most powerful ways to communicate that new identity. One of my clients spent millions on a re-brand. On the day of launch the new brand instantly went live across hundreds of intranet sites for each of their local markets, whereas replacing physical signage across their real estate took months to reflect the same change.
- Where employees are distanced from your brand. Contingent workers, franchisees and gig-economy associates all represent your brand but may feel a looser affiliation with it. An intranet that reinforces your brand in both appearance and content is a good way to draw them in. We hear this particularly strongly in the employee app sector, where sometimes an app on a mobile device is the principle way in which workers engage with a company. The brand matters right down to the tile design on the smartphone screen, as it needs to stand out from all their personal apps.
- A brand can pull your digital workplace together. Debates about ‘what is an intranet?’ rage on. Sometimes you want to sidestep that and refer to your chosen name, ‘Jeeves’ or ‘The Source’ or (if you must) ‘The Hub’ and have it mean the intranet plus other systems. It is common for intranet teams to combine SharePoint and Yammer, for example, or position the intranet as a gateway to all employee services rather than referring to underlying systems by name.
Intranet brand vs company brand
If you visually brand your intranet, it should be consistent with company branding but not identical. NNG point out that a too-literal brand implementation will look just like your website, setting the wrong expectations and risking confusion.
A good middle-ground is to use the company logo alongside an intranet name, or to use elements of your company visual identity without the logo itself. After all, if your intranet is a vibrant reflection of what your company is doing, then the whole content (and especially the home page) should feel like it is living your brand, and that is what engagement is really all about.
This article was originally published at CMSWire.