Not all chickens are alike. If you don’t think there’s a lesson there, well, you’re not listening. You have your chicken on the bone. Your chicken sandwiches. Tenders. Nuggets. Boneless. You can have it as a meal or a snack. The choices, it seems, are endless.
It was a situation that became the source of scores of internal studies for Yum Brands’ KFC team. Whether anybody wanted to admit it or not, consumer preferences about their chicken were changing. If you think this is another song about millennial tastes and behaviors, you’re half right. The other half is a tune about how important it is for a brand to recharge itself. Being able to evolve—be it a menu, a logo, a brand personality, whatever—is critical to staying relevant. For the KFC brand, just having the chicken wasn’t enough.
So, to get aligned with ever-changing millennial tastes (and everyone else), the quick-service giant went on an epic rebranding campaign in 2015. The first step was reviving the face of KFC, Colonel Harland David Sanders, the real-life honorary Kentucky Colonel (the title that was bestowed upon him in 1935 by the governor). The savvy entrepreneur built his chicken empire into a national force by the 1960’s before cashing out in 1964 and into semi-retirement. And while his image drove the brand, introducing a new one into the mix would take some doing.
How about 13 of them? That’s how many Colonel Sanders rolled out since 2015, including personalities like Rob Lowe, George Hamilton, Ray Liotta, Rob Riggle, Reba McEntire, Billy Zane, Norm Macdonald, Jim Gaffigan and Darrell Hammond. It also unveiled a unique strategy that turned every occasion into a chicken selling holiday, with ads boasting events like “National Kale Day” and “Mother’s Day” — the best-selling day of the year for the company.
“The only constant we can count on is change,” says Michael Solomon, Ph.D., professor of Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, whose textbook on consumer behavior, “Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being” is the most widely used in the world and has been translated into more than 10 languages. “A brand strategy that works well now may not work tomorrow. Consumers’ needs change, and of course, so does our ability to meet those needs.”
If there is anybody who knows how brands think, it’s Solomon, who has spent decades working with companies like BMW, Campbell’s, Intel, Progressive, Levi Strauss, Under Armour, Calvin Klein and DuPont, among others. In his latest book, “Marketers, Tear Down These Walls! Liberating the Postmodern Consumer,” Solomon examines how today’s postmodern revolution requires marketers to revisit the walls they’ve erected over many years—an effort he says is not an easy thing to do.
“You start by doing a little soul-searching,” Solomon says. “Who are you, and who do you want to be? How do you define what you sell? You don’t sell attributes, you sell benefits. Re-imagining who you are should involve everyone, from your most senior to your most junior employee and, of course, your customers.” When you get to the point of recharging your brand, remember that people don’t buy brands because of what they do, they buy them because of what they mean.
“The sad truth is that in many cases consumers believe that almost every brand in a category is comparable in terms of function,” Solomon says. Yet market leaders typically attract exponentially higher market share than also-rans. The reason is they provide a narrative that enables buyers to know if the brand fits into their own life stories.
“There’s no longer a wall between the consumer’s body and his important possessions,” he adds. “We rely upon the deep meanings in the brands we choose to help us define who we are to ourselves and others.”
This article appears in the new September/October 2018 issue of Connect magazine published by NextPage, which can be found online here. If you would like a free print subscription to Connect, please click here.