KFC has made wave after wave in the marketing community due to its resounding success in China. Far and away the country’s most popular American fast food chain, the company is seemingly bulletproof when it comes to its performance with Chinese consumers. KFC became the first American fast food chain to enter the Chinese market when it opened its first restaurant just a short walk from Beijing’s famous Tiananmen Square in 1987. At the time, the three-story branch was KFC’s largest in the world — an impressive start which set the tone for the chain’s continued triumphs in the country.
Without any doubts, KFC is one of the companies that have gone global very successfully. We’ve looked into KFC’s international marketing strategies in China to identify exactly what the chicken powerhouse has been doing so well. If you’re looking to go international with your brand, you’d be well served to include these principles in your own marketing strategies. With KFC’s lessons in mind, you’ll be headed down the path to success with your marketing mix, no matter where you choose to expand.
Believe it or not, some people don’t want to eat fried chicken.
KFC knew that it wouldn’t be able to copy-paste its domestic business model onto Chinese consumers. American customers, by and large, patronize KFC for its limited range of low-cost menu options that can be prepared at lightning speed. Diners typically take their food to go, preferring to eat at home.
For its forays into China, KFC knew a different approach would be required. After 20 years in the country, KFC’s current Chinese menu is approximately twice as large as back home. In addition to their signature fried chicken buckets, the international menu features many Chinese-styled options that would leave American fans baffled — such as egg tarts, shrimp burgers and vegetable soup. Realizing the passion Chinese eaters have for the flavors of their own local cuisines, KFC even sub-segmented product offerings within China to account for these local preferences.
Key takeaway: No brand is sacred. Don’t be afraid to transform yours.
Gone are the days when you could get away with porting your tried-and-true business model to international markets. If you’re to achieve true success, you’ll need to reassess your brand from the ground up on a case-by-case basis, as no two markets are alike. Apply segmentation principles to each new market to custom-craft your offerings accordingly.
If you get it wrong the first time, all hope is not lost. Do your research, identify trends and preferences, upgrade your business and content strategy, and try again.
Breakfast at KFC? Yes, it’s a thing.
Having the right products is only half the battle — to win out over local competitors, you’ll need to re-engineer your brand experience so that customers feel right at home.
In China, it’s typical for office workers to grab a hot breakfast from a street-side vendor on the way to work. Realizing this, KFC created an entire Chinese breakfast menu in order to tap into this behavior. Many KFC restaurants in urban business districts open at 6am to capture this segment. KFC China markets its breakfast offerings based on their quality and hygiene practices, going so far as to dub its youtiao — a puffy fried dough stick — the “Don’t Worry Youtiao” (安心油条).
KFC reinvented itself as the go-to destination for clean, high-quality Chinese breakfast, and in doing so succeeded in manipulating its brand awareness so that it would be as much a natural breakfast choice as any other local option.
Key Takeaway: Identify a favorite local product or experience, then do it better than everyone else.
Make your brand attractive to local consumers by catering to the way they live their lives. When entering a new market, you will always face hesitation as customers familiarize themselves with your brand. Overcome local competitors by delivering your products in a context your buyers can recognize. If customers want something that you don’t currently have, considering adding it to your local range of products.
When you’re opening over one new restaurant per day, you can’t afford to get sloppy.
Corporate leadership can only accomplish so much without the help and support of their ground-level workforce. This is doubly important for businesses that rely on brick-and-mortar stores for the majority of their customer interaction.
As part of their rebranding towards a service-focused restaurant, KFC invested heavily in giving its China employees the training they’d need to excel. Due to the chain’s rapid rate of expansion — at least one new branch per day over multiple years — the demand for qualified staff is relentless.
KFC adopted a mentorship style that resulted in the cultivation of a highly trained workforce who remained with the organization for longer periods of time. This allowed for smooth kitchen operations as well as an impressive standard of customer service at the register.
Key Takeaway: Give your employees a reason to care. Don’t cut corners with training, salary or benefits.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s good business sense. Happy employees are motivated to give back to their organizations in the form of loyalty and performance. If you behave in a way that appears callous or vindictive, you risk losing the patronage of your new market as well as earning the ire of local governments and organizations.
When hunger is the problem and fried chicken is the solution, there’s no time to wait.
KFC restaurants can’t fill bellies if they aren’t stocked with ingredients. As such, a reliable logistics network is invaluable for daily business operations. When KFC entered China all the way back in 1987, it put its first-mover advantage to good use as it expanded by creating its own self-operated distribution network, rather than relying on China’s then-underdeveloped infrastructure.
With its own warehouses and trucks, KFC didn’t need to use pre-existing networks to deliver chickens around the country to its growing empire of restaurants. What’s more, by building its own transportation and storage networks, KFC was able to establish logistics quality controls from day one.
This is not to say things have never gone south for KFC. In February of 2018, a UK branch suffered public blowback when, due to logistics mishaps, it ran out of chicken. Rather than panic, KFC’s PR team reacted with a clever full-page public apology, making the best of a disastrous situation with a clever response.
Key takeaway: It’s better to be independent than reliant on others. Fill in the blanks where local infrastructure is lacking, or build your own from scratch.
When it comes to getting your product or services to your customers, there’s no understating the importance of local infrastructure. Make sure you know exactly how each aspect of your business will function — on its own as well as in relation to your overall supply chain and delivery mechanisms — to ensure your grand entrance isn’t spoiled by logistical hiccups.
Boy bands and chicken? It’s not a weird combo if it fits your digital marketing strategy.
As much as we often like to think we’re above such things, the power of influencer marketing can’t be denied. It’s big business in China, and as domestic social network Weibo has proven, there’s plenty of opportunity for internet fame to be found. Collaboration with a popular figure can lend credibility to a brand that it’d otherwise have a hard time creating on its own, especially when China’s fickle millennials, known as the post-90s generation, are the target demographic.
Under the stewardship of Yum China president and COO Joey Wat, KFC has found renewed success with its younger fans through associating itself with favored entertainers. One of the company’s most reliable collaborators are TFBoys, a hugely popular Chinese boy band with a combined Weibo following of over 100 million. The trio helped launch KFC’s trendy Black Burger — a Zinger served on a bun dyed black with vegetable carbon — and have regularly partnered with the company to push a variety of other items, including the recent “Angry Burger” variation inspired by the Angry Birds franchise.
To promote the new Mojito Girl, a non-alcoholic “cocktail” drink designed for hip younger women, the company turned to famous model Xing Lu. The whimsical campaign, created by Japanese director Tsuyoshi Taniyama, represents a significant evolution for the company and highlights the extent to which KFC has recreated itself in the image of its target demographic. It’s hard to imagine the company adopting a similar veneer with its US marketing.
KFC didn’t happen across this phenomenally successful marketing approach by chance. Instead, the company invested in local executives and empowered them with the autonomy to create bespoke campaigns designed specifically for China’s youth.
Key takeaway: Speak to the youth through their idols to win their trust and loyalty.
If you’re aiming to sway local youth over to your brand, be prepared to fight. The war for the 18-25 demographic is a savage battleground in any market, but it’s one with untold rewards for whoever comes out on top. Don’t expect prior domestic successes to carry much relevance to your new customers. Instead, put your trust in local experts with the experience and insights to push your message through the din — and if possible, let cultural heavyweights shoulder the burden. The results might not look like the brand you’ve built at home, but you’re not at home anymore. It’s time to look ahead.
Thinking about doing some international expanding of your own? We’re here to help you make the right type of first impression in your new market! Get in touch with us today!
Featured Image: Pixabay