Getting to the heart of fried chicken

26/05/2015 By Getting to the heart of fried chicken

KFC is an iconic brand that enjoys more or less instant recognition worldwide. There are few people in the UK who haven’t experienced a KFC meal at some point in their lives. But what does the brand actually stand for? What does it mean? What associations do customers and non-customers have with the brand at a conscious and unconscious level? What frames of reference do they have for KFC?

In 2014 we were commissioned by KFC UK to explore all of these issues on their behalf. Yum, the brand owners, had previously experienced our work on the Pizza Hut brand in the UK and the work of a US partner organisation (using the same technique) for KFC in South Africa. However, we were all aware that KFC in the UK has some unique characteristics:

  • It is frequently the target of sensationalist reporting. For the custodians of the brand it is difficult to know whether they should dignify ludicrous claims with a rebuttal, or simply ignore them.
  • It is aware that it needs to refresh its proposition to include healthier options, but also aware that any new products need to fit with the essence of the brand.
  • It faces significant competition, not just from copycat brands but from chains such as Nando’s offering chicken in a different format with different servicing.

As clearly illustrated in the recent BBC documentary, ‘The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop’, KFC was only too aware that it needed to:

1)  Change the conversation around the brand
2)  Offer realistic healthy alternatives that would complement the existing offer
3)  Re-establish KFC's universal appeal

Yum are always keen to explore new and innovative research methods providing they can perceive clear value and return on investment. They have been advocates of ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique) for some years and this was the technique selected for the brand work in the UK.

In total we conducted 30, two hour interviews with respondents who were pre-tasked with finding images which expressed their thoughts and feeling about the brand.  For some of the interviews we conducted an additional stage where a digital imaging expert helped the respondent to build a collage from their images to show the interrelationships of ideas.  Based on all of the data, we created a mind map which illustrated, in aggregate form, all of the associations between ideas (constructs) surfaced during the research.

In addition to presenting the research findings, we ran a full day workshop with the client and its advertising and communications agencies on how best to make practical use of the outputs.

One year on and the client tells us that the research is still considered critical in terms of moving the organisation forward at a strategic level. We were recently asked to participate in further workshops to ensure that the voice of the customer is heard and properly interpreted at all stages in their development processes. This might be considered unusual in an age where last month’s research data is typically already out of date. However, we have found that ZMET projects are often an exception to this rule as the data captures the thoughts and feelings of consumers at very deep levels (which tend to be far less transient). We know of one major client that is still regularly using data that we collected for them in 2010.

Clip from the BBC documentary ‘The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop’: