What Do Mount Everest and Carl Jung Have to Do With Branding a Professional Services Firm?

While conducting research for our branding project with ICF, a global consulting firm, we did a lot of “typical” research: in-depth interviews with senior leaders in the organization, conversations with current and prospective clients, and an online, all-employee survey. We were getting a lot of good material — insight into the company culture, perspectives on ICF’s strengths and weaknesses, feedback on the ICF name. But we needed more to get to that “aha” moment of clarity about where the brand should be heading.

Interviews and surveys are fairly straightforward inputs — we ask straightforward questions, and we get straightforward answers. To unearth more interesting insights, to get people to think differently, and to get at the heart of the organization and what makes it unique, you have to shake things up a bit. That’s where Carl Jung comes in.

We use Jung’s archetypes as part of our brand workshops to explore the notion of what role brands should play for clients. Archetypes, according to Jung, are the universal characters that reside within our collective unconsciousness — we all recognize these characters and their associations without even thinking about them.

At workshops with ICF, we asked participants about nine of Jung’s twelve archetypes (leaving out the Jester, Lover and Everyman, as these rarely apply to B2B brands). Was ICF the Caregiver, helping clients to care for others? Or the Creator, helping clients make something of enduring value? Or was it the Sage, helping clients discover truth and understand their world?

Most workshop participants unsurprisingly coalesced around the Sage and the Creator, placing their green stickers on a poster for each archetypes to mark their votes. During the discussion of the exercise, those who had voted for these archetypes spoke of ICF’s deep expertise in complex issues, and its ability to help clients solve problems through creative approaches.

There were, however, a few green dots placed squarely on the Hero, the archetype that emphasizes determination and fearlessness. When probed, one of the Hero voters made his case: “We do whatever it takes to help our clients succeed. We’re not the hero, but we help our clients be the hero. We’re not setting their course, but we’re helping them achieve their goals. We’re not Edmund Hillary at the top of Mount Everest, but we are the Sherpa who got him there.”

And there it was. The “aha” moment. No, there weren’t rays of light streaming in, and the brand didn’t become “We’re Tenzing Norgay” (the skilled Sherpa who helped Edmund Hillary summit Everest). But it was this insightful comment that, when coupled with all we had learned from our interviews and surveys, crystallized our thinking about what makes ICF truly unique.

The ICF brand is about helping its clients achieving their highest aspirations. The work they do is hugely transformative, and, versus pure strategy firms, ICF actually gets things done. The new brand, its essence summarized in the line, “We make big things possible,” has the helpful — and essential — Sherpa at its core. If you want to get to the top of a mountain, ICF will get you there.

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