There is a company out there that pushes the boundaries of conventional marketing.

They do creative, humorous and clever collaborations. They lead with wackiness and boldness. And they include their customers.

They have produced special edition Crocs. Bath bombs. Keyboards. Firelogs. Edible nail polish. Bowl cuts. Countless celebrity spokespeople. And much, much more.

I’m talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken.

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This post is a focus on their marketing. Not the quality of their food. Not the way they source their food. Or their delicious biscuits. As a marketer, I’m here to talk shop. And within that context, I’m not sure I respect and admire a brand more than KFC.

It begins with a connection between creativity and the customer. Which is why, KFC launched it’s own Innovation Lab to better connect to customers, but to also have them play a role in their creative marketing. Brilliant. An example of this was to crowd source funding to get the The Colonel on Ice.

But every time you think they have reached the pinnacle of wackiness, they say: hold my drumstick.

Here’s a song about The Colonel by Fred Armisen.

Or how about Colonel Sanders in a DC Comic?

Or a hot tub.

KFC Hot Tub Is Coming…But They Want You To Build It | 101.7 The Bull  Burlington, Iowa

I think you get the idea. This is the very definition of out-of-the-box thinking. And as a marketer, I can’t help but be amazed, but also deeply envious. I want to do stuff like this. And if you’re a marketer, you probably do too.

That’s not to say that this approach would be appropriate. For example, I work in B2B software. It’s not an apples to apples comparison. It’s a greasy chicken wing to apples comparison. Know your audience.

But there is other stuff at play here. And without actually speaking to anyone at KFC, and with about 30 minutes of internet research on my resume, let me share my theories on why KFC has embraced such innovative marketing.

You need money and as part of Yum! Brands, KFC generates billions of $ in annual revenue. That’s a big help.

Perhaps more important than $, is organizational support and acceptance. How many of us marketers yearn for that?

KFC’s President, Kevin Hochman, is the former CMO at KFC. You have a leader that gets marketing and will therefore be an advocate. I’ve written in the past on why I think a CMO could make an ideal CEO – in this case, it works.

The new CMO, Andrea Zahumensky, has a strong background in consumer goods and B2C and is clearly going to lead the charge:

Absolutely. It goes back to really connecting with our customers. So we try to find things that are really interesting to them, things that are going to be fun, that they connect with and want to share and talk about. Everything from WWE—where we’re now part of the WWE game, we have a Colonel character in the game, we’re going to matches with our Colonel wrestlers—to just launching a full meditation on the comfort of pot pies. Our goal is to really do things in an authentic way that represents the voice of KFC, but in a way that our customers find engaging.

KFC knows their brand DNA and the customer. When the company kicked off a turnaround effort several years ago, they partnered with the agency Wieden+Kennedy to truly understand the DNA of its brand. This is critical to any company. It leads the manifestation of real actions about the brand, the connection to the customer and how it leads to revenue.

So let’s break this down, to understand how they cultivated and nurtured this reality.

  • Budget
  • Organizational support
  • Great leadership
  • A company that values marketing
  • An obsessive understanding of brand
  • Branding that results in revenue
  • An environment where it is safe to take chances

I’m not suggesting every company adopt KFC’s approach. You/we need to find the marketing strategy for the company. However, as marketers, we need the above bullets to be successful. Communicating this across the organization, building relationships and becoming an advocate for our teams is the price of admission for being a marketing leader. Carve out the environment you need to be successful.

Thank you KFC showing us marketers the way and for being such an inspiration.

Now some free ideas for you:

  • KFC Kovid Branded Mask
  • KFC Biscuit Ear Muffs
  • KFC Zoom Backgrounds
  • KFC Giant Chicken Pot Pie Swimming Pool
  • KFC Drumstick Muscle Massager