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Branding an Intranet

Most Intranets are created and owned by IT, HR, Corporate Communications, or a combination of these departments. While these teams have the necessary skills to create and maintain great intranets, they don’t usually include experts in branding. Thus, intranets frequently lack a brand identity. A weak or nonexistent intranet brand leads to poor credibility, adoption, and acceptance.

Any intranet team can improve the intranet branding by focusing on a few key elements —name, logo, relationship with the public-facing website — that can have the biggest impact.

Name of the Intranet

It’s important for an intranet to have a name, for two main reasons:

  • Identity: The name conveys the intranet’s goal and identity. An intranet called Center, for example, can suggest to employees that it is the place where everyone congregates and gets information. An intranet called Harmony could indicate that groups recently merged or acquired will be working together.
  • Reference: Employees use the name of the intranet to refer to it in speech and writing. The name should be easy to remember, spell, and pronounce. Employees should never wonder how to say the name of the intranet and they should not be embarrassed or shy about saying it.

These points may sound obvious, but many intranets have no name, so employees don’t know how to refer to them.

Other intranets have names, but they are not helpful. An acronym, an uncommon word, or a play on words may seem like good ideas, but they can backfire. For example, imagine that a Texas-based company named its intranet FacTX — a name that combines the word “facts” (to indicate that the intranet houses factual information for employees) with the Texas state abbreviation “TX”.

Clever, but when I have tested intranets named like this, employees have been confused. Some employees would pronounce the name “facts”, but others would pronounce “fac T X” like three separate words or “factucks”, pronouncing the last two letters. Others would just mumble the name, say they feel silly, or say outright, “I never know how to pronounce that.”

By far, the most common names for intranets I have encountered are:

  • Intranet
  • Portal
  • Inside <Company Name>
  • <Company Name> Hub

These names may seem unimaginative, but in practice they work quite well. Feel free to use one of these straightforward names for your intranet, provided there are not multiple intranets or other apps at the organization that could be confused with the intranet.

Sometimes crafty names can be effective, however. For example, several years ago we studied American Airlines’ intranet, named JetNet. This name remains one of my favorite intranet names because it had all these traits:

  • easy to pronounce
  • easy to spell
  • not confusing
  • whimsical (rhyming) element
  • related to the company’s purpose
  • lasting
  • underlying a subtle theme: that employees would be fast at getting things done when they used the intranet

This kind of cagey intranet name doesn’t come easily. If you want to try one, test it out with employees before implementing it. And think about whether the name can last for years to come. Getting people to call the intranet by a different name is difficult. They will still refer to the intranet by the old name, especially it if was catchy. So, choose a name your organization can live with at least until the next time the intranet is greatly modified, and you want to change the name to indicate that transformation.

The Intranet Logo

Often, a good logo for an intranet includes simply the intranet’s name, with no other fanfare. It is positioned in the upper left corner on all site pages and indicates to employees where they are in their organization’s digital workplace.

Branding an Intranet
Four of the 10 intranets that won NN/g’s 2018 Intranet Design Annual contest included the intranet name only as their logo.

Many intranets use the company logo along with the intranet name. This practice is effective and differentiates the intranet from the public-facing website, while still supporting the organization’s brand.

Branding an Intranet
Five of the 10 intranets that won NN/g’s 2018 Intranet Design Annual contest used the company logo along with the intranet name.

Using only the company’s logo by itself to denote the intranet can be confusing, since that logo usually appears on the public-facing website and employees may thus have a hard time distinguishing the internal pages from the external ones. Also, users won’t know if the company logo on the intranet will link to the company’s homepage or to the intranet’s homepage.

Intranet teams may consider creating an elaborate, separate logo for the intranet if they have the needed resources. While usually unnecessary, it can help indicate to employees that they are on the intranet and can foster the intranet’s identity.

Matching the Public-Facing Website

The colors and fonts used in the intranet’s visual design often closely match those used on the organization’s public-facing website, since intranets usually adhere to corporate branding guidelines. In theory, it’s a good idea to for the intranet to support the organization’s sanctioned branding, but should the intranet look and feel the same as the public-facing website?

The answer depends on the goals of the intranet and the organization. After all, the users of the intranet are probably not the same as the customers of the company, and thus, the goals of the website and the intranet often differ. For example, it’s common for organizations to project externally a tone of voice that is professional, credible, and informative; that same organization may choose a fun, light-hearted, and open-minded tone to communicate with employees. While these goals are not at odds, they are different and affect design and content.

In shaping the design of the Intranet, consider the following dimensions:

  • audience: tasks, needs, desires, ages, and so on.
  • technology supporting the development: confined to an intranet system or highly flexible
  • capabilities for development: engineers at hand who can control and adapt the software you use

On each of these dimensions, the company’s public site and the intranet may or may need to match.  For example, for the hypothetical situation below, none of the dimensions should match.

Audience Technology Capabilities
Public-facing website Millennials Opensource that’s highly flexible Full-time large team, fair budget, fair timeline
Intranet Millennials, Gen-X, Baby Boomers Intranet solution that does the heavy lifting, but dictates much of the UI design Part-time small team, small budget, short timeline
Match No No No

If the audiences for the internal and external sites are different, you will need to adopt a different tone of voice (for example, you may want an amusing yet concise one for your intranet’s millennial audience; and a professional, image-rich one for the public site’s audience) and possibly even different visual design. Still, the intranet can adhere to branding guidelines by using the same color palette and typeface.

When considering the relationship between your internal and external-facing sites, follow these recommendations:

  • Give the intranet the look and feel it needs to meet its goals.
  • Be careful not to make it so drastically different from the corporate branding that it doesn’t seem to be part of your organization.
  • Don’t make it look so much like the public-facing website that employees can’t tell the difference between them.
  • Don’t make the intranet your personal art project. Just because the intranet is free from corporate style guides shouldn’t give the intranet team license to do anything.

Don’t Overbrand the Intranet

While some intranets have little or no branding, others suffer from overbranding. Avoid these common overbranding pitfalls:

  • Don’t attempt to brand features by giving them a catchy name. For example, the area for posting a document doesn’t need to be called Upload Wizard. A descriptive label such as Upload a Document is fine. A set of links doesn’t need to be branded as Quicklinks. Even the very best intranets in the world offer quicklinks so you are in good company if you have them, but this is no excuse. Name that section something less vague, such as important links or popular links.
  • Rethink using third-party–software brand names. For example, rather than using SAS or Citrix as link or menu terms, use labels such as Job postings or Schedule a meeting that carry stronger information scent for your employees. consider whether naming them for the user’s task—like—might be more understandable terms.

Conclusion

Your intranet name should prime your employees to think of the experience they will have while using it. Choose a name your organization can live with for a long time. Consider renaming the intranet if it has been redesigned, since a new name and a fresh look can signify to employees that the new design is better and more usable.