By Michael J. Pallerino
Why it’s Important to Create a New You
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.
“One of the biggest challenges our clients face—and honestly we face—is that it’s so hard to differentiate today.”
— Bo Bothe, President and CEO of BrandExtract
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 1960s 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. Reimagining 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.
Companies must put in the work to clarify why they exist. Then, they need to do the heavy lifting to embed that purpose into the way they behave and operate the business.
— Jeanne Bliss, Founder & President, CustomerBliss
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.”
5 Ways to Get the Recharging Process Started
- Look at the numbers
The numbers don’t lie. Shrinking margins, constant discussion about pricing pressures, market shifts, slow sales, shrinking product categories, etc., are all signs you should examine your brand.
- Talk to employees
The key is to reach across the organization and look for common threads. Ask sales and the answer is pricing. Operations is quality; customer service is responsiveness, etc. When you start to hear the same things across functions, you’ll see a branding or positioning issue.
- Talk to customers
Regularly ask the hard questions about what you do well, why your customers are with you and what you can do better. Ask them if they had a magic wand, what would they fix? Understand their problems and you can position your firm more effectively.
- Look at your competitors
While it’s nice to know your customer, it’s better to understand your marketplace. If you see that everyone looks and says the same thing, you may need to reassess your positioning.
- Look at your products
Are you innovating? Changing? Improving? If you’re not growing, you’re going. If there’s not something “next” for your business, your competition will move by you quickly.
Understanding the Change You Want to Make
When it comes to examining where your brand is and where it needs to go, Bo Bothe believes that the ethos of a company shouldn’t change unless there’s a seismic shift in the market or huge change in customer needs.
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Bothe says your approach to your business may need to shift as the sands under them do, which means it’s critical you understand your place in the world and how you’re going to take advantage of it.
“The business is the brand,” says Bothe, president and CEO of BrandExtract. “Today, everything is amplified—your service delivery, culture, quality, safety. All of it is amplified by the way people communicate and the speed of change. Now with AI, mobile and other technologies, it is even more important you understand and define your place in the market.”
One of the biggest challenges he and his clients face is that it’s so hard to differentiate today. It’s even more difficult to differentiate based upon what you believe. “People forget that your business exists because you say it does and it exists the way you believe it should,” Bothe says. “While your customers are who you serve, how you serve them is much more important. The key is to find the ones who want to be served the way you want to serve them. If you know who you are, it’s easier to find those who buy in, not just buy.”
If you’re looking for the critical factor on why it’s important for brands to constantly be rethinking their approach to business, Jeanne Bliss believes you should think about it like this: Think of your own life, as a customer and as a person; your needs are constantly changing and shifting. The brands that do the best adapt and change as their customers’ lives change.
“Building your operation with this level of purpose and design clarity gives people’s work meaning,” says Bliss, founder and president of CustomerBliss, the customer-centric leadership building company that works with clients such as AAA, Brooks Brothers, Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Postal System.
“It’s the glue that unites a team and enables everyone to look beyond their individual tasks to see how it all fits together,” she continues. “Companies must put in the work to clarify why they exist. Then, they need to do the heavy lifting to embed that purpose into the way they behave and operate the business. They link their purpose with whom they hire, how they conduct themselves, and what they will and will not do to grow.”