A Branding (Not) Lesson From KFC

The Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees is suing Yum! Brands, owner of the KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) chain, for control of the advertising direction of the brand. The franchisees do not agree with the parent company’s advertising push towards healthier, grilled chicken.The big push from the franchisees came when Yum Brands! went forward with an advertising campaign called “Unthink KFC.”

My take: Let me start with some (of my) basic definitions:

  • Brands: The set of promises that the company explicitly and implicitly makes to its customers about the products, service, and behavior of the company and its employees. Brands represent the fabric that aligns all employees with customers in the pursuit of a common cause. Without a strong brand, companies can quickly go awry (see my post on Starbucks’ brand issues). Why? Because brands define a powerful roadmap for employees to meet a clear set of expectations for customers.
  • Branding: The marketing and advertising efforts that communicate and reinforce elements of brands.

With these defintions in mind, the “Unthink KFC” branding campaign seems clearly misguided. What elements of the brand was it reinforcing — that KFC has no brand?!? That leaves KFC with absolutely no purpose. So it’s no surprise that franchisees are upset.

If you want to shift your brand, then you need to use branding to communicate a clear picture of the new brand.

Here are three questions that you should ask (and make sure that you can answer “yes” to) before you launch any branding campaign:

  1. Do the branding messages support a brand promise?
  2. Do employees buy-in to (and believe in) the branding messages?
  3. Do the messages resonate with target customers?

The bottom line: Focus on your brand more than your branding.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

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