“Put Bacon on It” as Product Strategy?

I saw a commercial for KFC’s “new” menu item, the Cheesy Bacon Bowl. The message in the commercial provided a paradox for the role of product strategy in a business. KFC has offered bowl menu items for some time; the innovation that makes Cheesy Bacon Bowl new to market is the addition of bacon. KFC’s brand extension could be interpreted as either marketing genius or an example of what is wrong with product management today.

The genius behind the Cheesy Bacon Bowl is enhancing customer value by adding a proven feature to a product. In this case, it is as simple as adding bacon. The tagline of the commercial – “everything tastes better with bacon” – contains a reminder for marketers that the best products are those that people value for what they do, or in this case for how they taste. Adding bacon does not require investments in R&D and test marketing; there is very little risk involved.

So, what is wrong with “put bacon on it” as a product development strategy? It is symptomatic of the lack of risk taking that is needed to bring truly great innovations to market. It is a safe, but unimaginative approach to developing new offerings for customers. And, depending on how such a minor innovation is marketed, it may not be taken seriously by buyers. Does a Cheesy Bacon Bowl meet a need that has gone unmet or underserved in the market? Probably not. Yet, KFC will spend heavily to market a product that essentially exists already in the market but has one new ingredient added.

Is “put bacon on it” a viable product strategy to drive business growth? It is possible that a product can be transformed by the change or addition of a component or feature if it delivers new value to customers. But, most great products are not the result of adding bacon; they are new solutions for customers that require greater and risk to develop.

Brand Positioning with Pop

A clearly defined and articulated brand position is a must, no way around it! Most industries are characterized by intense competition, maturing markets, and cautious consumers. Given these challenges, it is imperative to develop an identity that conveys a brand’s distinctive point of difference. Successful positioning can drive growth and build brand momentum; failure to send a consistent positioning message can make a brand stagnant and negatively impact brand image.

A great example of a brand that has used positioning to grow its business in a weak economy is Popeye’s, the quick service chicken restaurant. Popeye’s has outperformed the chicken QSR category overall for nine consecutive quarters. One of the keys to Popeye’s success has been a positioning strategy that connects the brand with its Louisiana roots. The culinary heritage of Louisiana is a meaningful connection for a restaurant brand, and Popeye’s menu and advertising campaigns have delivered consistently on the Louisiana theme. In contrast, category king KFC moved into grilled chicken and is unclear about what its point of difference is. Now, Popeye’s is going after KFC by touting its chicken beat KFC in taste tests.

Popeye’s has “outmarketed” KFC on multiple fronts. Its advertising is more likable, its social media efforts are more effective, and front line customer service is more consistent. All of these marketing tactics tie in with brand positioning. It is unrealistic for consumers to remember everything about your brand, but what is the one thing you want them to associate with you? For Popeye’s, that one thing is “Louisiana” and the positive food associations that go along with the state. When a position is real and relevant, as is the case for Popeye’s, brand positioning can be a powerful marketing asset.

Advertising Age – “Power of Louisiana, Social Media Help Popeye’s Stand Out in Chicken Fight”

The Cause Marketing Taste Test

Two recent cause marketing campaigns caught my attention. Both are for the same cause, both campaigns are from well known brands. Yet, one campaign has generated criticism of the sponsor and the cause, while the other campaign receives kudos for the sponsor and the cause. What is the difference in the two campaigns? Let’s take a look.

The cause is one of the most recognizable in the United States in recent years: Susan G. Komen for the Cure. This nonprofit organization is viewed as the standard bearer for raising awareness and money to fight breast cancer. The campaign that has played to favorable reviews is Major League Baseball’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” campaign. Players donned pink batting gloves and wristbands, and pink bats were proudly used in yesterday’s games across MLB. Fans can even purchase pink bats at MLB.com, and $10 from their purchase will go to Komen.

The other cause marketing campaign involving Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a partnership with KFC. The “Buckets for a Cure” campaign involves KFC donating 50 cents from each bucket of chicken sold, with a goal of $ 8 million. As of this post, more than $3.1 million has been raised by the campaign. KFC has a microsite dedicated to the campaign and is supporting it with social media. A KFC Twitter post even gives a nod to the MLB pink bat offer as Louisville-based KFC promotes another hometown firm, bat manufacturer Louisville Slugger.

So, what is the problem? KFC and Komen have been criticized for their partnership. Specifically, critics are quick to point out incongruence between a cause promoting women’s health and the unhealthy properties of KFC’s fried chicken. When sponsor and cause are perceived as incongruent, the impact a sponsor hopes to achieve in terms of favorable image, greater brand goodwill, and even sales increases may not be realized. In this situation, consumers call into question the motives of the sponsor- does KFC really care about the cause, or is the sponsor exploiting the cause to make money?

The criticism of KFC’s Buckets for a Cure is unfortunate and shortsighted. First, give the folks at Komen some credit that they see that the partnership will be perceived as a bad fit by many people. To that end, the partnership focuses on KFC’s grilled chicken. Moreover, KFC has a national platform to raise awareness for the cause, not to mention raise money. KFC is succeeding at doing both, and the money that will go to Komen is hardly tainted. KFC’s customer base includes women who will potentially be impacted by the influence of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And, KFC’s male customers are part of the picture, too, as many of them have mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters who have dealt with breast cancer.

MLB and KFC have something in common: they have great reach and influence among large numbers of people. One of the most significant contributions a business can make is to use its influence to give back to stakeholder groups that are unrelated to its core business. The need met by Susan G. Komen for the Cure will not go away, unfortunately. If there are brands like KFC that can make a difference in the lives of those persons impacted by breast cancer, they should do it and be recognized, not criticized, for their support.

Chicken Giveaway Not Root of KFC Problem

The now infamous KFC grilled chicken giveaway will go down in the annals of marketing as a botched promotion. In a matter of a few days, KFC managed to anger customers, stress employees, negatively impact franchisees, and get lampooned in the blogosphere. What did it accomplish? Nothing, so far. But, there is a chance for redemption if KFC understands that the promotion, though flawed, was not the root of its problem.

KFC is known for fried chicken, with fried being the key word. The company has tried vigorously to distance itself from the negative associations with fried. First, it changed its name to the initials KFC so that the word “fried” would not be uttered any more than necessary. Then, there was the short-lived ad campaign in which it was suggested that eating KFC products had some health benefits for those persons on a high protein diet.

A brand cannot run away from its heritage. KFC will never be known as a “good for you” brand. It is not alone; fast feeders like McDonald’s and Burger King will not ascend to that level, either. The difference is McDonald’s and Burger King are finding ways to remain relevant with consumers. McDonald’s has added healthy menu options, but it remains focused on its core items. A brand cannot be all things to all people. For KFC, it faces a tremendous challenge if it wants to appeal to health conscious consumers with grilled products and remain known as a purveyor of fried chicken.

Link” Ad Age – “Grilled Chicken a Kentucky Fried Fiasco”

“Unthink” Holds Multiple Meanings for KFC Promotion

KFC created an extraordinary level of buzz with the launch of its “Unthink” campaign to promote its new grilled chicken product. The buzz was aided by enlisting Oprah Winfrey, the queen bee of marketing buzz. Oprah’s association, coupled with online coupons for a free two-piece grilled chicken meal, sent consumers into a frenzy and to their local KFC. Unfortunately, things have not gone smoothly at all restaurants as high demand has resulted in product shortages. The result in many of those cases has been angry customers and negative publicity for KFC.

The “Unthink” campaign ironically now has an additional, unintended meaning. The service failures KFC has experienced reminds us that the impact of promotion strategy has to be considered across all levels of a business, down to and especially the level of executing the promotion at store level. In this case, KFC appears to have pulled an “unthink” as it hatched a brilliant promotion to create awareness, interest, and trial for its new grilled chicken. However, all units were not prepared to execute the promotion. The outcome of a promotion gone bad can be the opposite of its objective. KFC has created some ill will with some customers who were unable to take up KFC on its free meal offer. Maybe the theme of the next promotion will be “Think.”

KFC’s Re-Freshing Approach to Brand Exposure

KFC has broken new ground in finding new communication channels. Actually, it is not breaking ground but rather filling in broken ground, potholes to be exact. The Louisville, KY based company offered the city $3,000 to fill 350 potholes. The potholes are covered with a white stencil bearing the KFC logo and the statement “Re-Freshed by KFC.” The stencil will last approximately 10 days before fading.

While some people may roll their eyes at an unorthodox way to promote a brand, KFC deserves credit for not only being creative, but it also is doing something beneficial for the community. It is possible that other types of “re-freshment” could be for sale in cities across the country as local governments’ budgets are pinched by the recession. In addition to the unique way to generate brand exposure, KFC has been the recipient of extensive media coverage throughout the country for its pothole re-freshment program. This type of tactic would not be effective for all brands, but in the world of quick service restaurants, any edge in the consumers’ mind that can be gained is important.

Link: Creativity Online – “KFC: Pothole Repair”