Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jesper Kunde is the latest in a long line of original business thinkers from Scandinavia. Kunde worked at Carlsberg (beer) and the electronics company LK before starting his own advertising agency Kunde & Co., with partner Gaute Hogh in 1988.
In Corporate Religion, Jesper Kunde maps out not just the future of branding, but of management and the whole business shebang. Brand power in the "outside" market, he says, is a direct by-product of the internal soul and personality of the firm. What a company does/makes/sells is inseparable from who it is. Authenticity equals brand heaven.
In search of the authentic take on the book, tompeters.com quizzed Jesper Kunde in his native Denmark.
tompeters.com asks Jesper Kunde ...
What is a corporate religion and why is it so important now?
JK: Companies must be able to describe themselves—both internally and externally—because they are no longer adequately defined by the products they make. Customers buy the company and everything it stands for. So the company must be able to define itself in a connected and coherent way.
The word religion derives from the Latin religare&mdasah;to bind something together in a common expression. Corporate Religion is that which expresses the soul of a company and supports the building of a strong market position. In order to make a Corporate Religion come alive you have to describe your internal organization as well as your external market. These internal values create an internal movement which delivers the whole heart and soul of the company.
Religion is a controversial word to use in business, why did you choose it?
JK: Well, doesn't the word "controversial" answer your question? Had I called my book "value based leadership" it would have been met with total neglect. I was well aware of the freshness and wonder that the word religion would add to my title. After all I come from a marketing background and know the power of intelligent advertising. Corporate Religion is a memorable title, a provocative title. And that's what Corporate Religion is about: you're either committed to it or you're not. There is nothing in between.
Whose corporate religion do you most admire, and why?
JK: Richard Branson would be my immediate pick. He is a true visionary who sticks to his faith. He has amply demonstrated that you can market a wide range of product categories under one brand. In other words the value element of the brand—what the company stands for—is elevated over the product.
Tom talks about individuals thinking like brands. How does corporate religion, and brand religion, apply to us as individuals?
JK: I wrote the book for companies, but the message is the same for individuals. Corporate Religion cuts like a knife into the dichotomy of traditional mass production companies separating thinking and doing. A Corporate Religion entitles everyone to shape his or her daily work along the lines of the religion. You are waiting in vain for us to give you orders. You make up your own orders. In a Corporate Religion there's more freedom and more people who are assuming a responsibility for the common good. You have got to convert yourself from being an instrument into becoming a human force, making things happen.
I think we're moving towards relationships between individuals and companies which are more like joint ventures. If we share the same ideas and opinions, then we can work together. Take a sporting analogy. An individual sport can be satisfying but it isn't as much fun as a team sport. The same is true with work; working on your own isn't as much fun as working with other people. The more we can act as individuals the better, but the more we can combine with others the more effective we can be. One talented person cannot achieve as much as ten can working together.
In the book you talk about spiritual management? What does that mean in practice on a day-to-day basis?
JK: The challenge for companies in the future is how can they keep the best people in one movement. How can they persuade people to be part of the same team. For individuals, it's about finding an organization that they want to be part of. A Corporate Religion takes the individual seriously. People should work for a company because they are good at what they do, but also because they want to be involved.
The problem is that companies are not very good at explaining themselves. They express themselves only in terms of products and numbers. I talk to board members and the key problem is that they are afraid of giving a little bit of themselves. They think it's dangerous. But people—employees and customers—want to know who they are dealing with. We want to know the attitude of management. You cannot expect to attract young people unless you tell them what you're all about. But that can't be just fluffy stuff, it has to be relevant. If you can't couple it with relevance to the business and direction then it's meaningless.
What is your company's own religion? How do you—as the archangel—preach it?
JK: I try to practice this in my own company. I don't try to hide myself. I try to be myself. Are we up at the moment, or are we down? I'm not running the business just by numbers, but with feelings as well. I try to define where we are and where we are going. People who aren't comfortable with the direction will leave. That's OK. I know who my core people and core customers are. They're the people moving in the same direction.
What excites you most about your work?
JK: I think change is what excites me the most. The innovative experience of building up something fresh and memorable. Be that a corporate concept or a whole new business. I love to see good things grow stronger.
What is the single biggest business challenge that you predict in the next few years?
JK: How do we couple the needs of the group with individual needs? I strongly believe that people are becoming more important than products and there is a growing schism between market positions on the one hand—and your personal brand religion on the other. I advise describing companies as the organizations of people they are and building powerful Corporate Religions. After all a religion is like playing on a soccer team. You either like the playing style—or you don't.
Interview by Suntop Media, February 2000
Jesper Kunde's Reading Pile and Comments:
Mass Customization by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore
JK: Mass customization places earnest pressure on companies to deliver exactly what consumers want.
The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine
JK: The book is about moving from awareness to involvement. Memory lasts forever en developing experiences that customers can remember.
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
JK: A novelist's look at how people can interface with computers in the future.
Distraction by Bruce Sterling
JK: A fantastic book about marketing and politics.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
JK: About personal development. If we apply the principles of personal development to the corporate world we will be living in a happier, more productive, more profitable society.
Jesper Kunde's Favorite Websites:
JK: Always use it for books and music purchases.
JK: Because they saved $4000 in credit checking costs, which would otherwise have gone to Dunn & Bradstreet—top tip.
JK: Nice idea.