What is the most popular US state in China? California, because of Hollywood’s reach in the movie world? New York, because of its iconic status in economy, art, or skyline? These answers would be incorrect. The answer is overwhelmingly Kentucky, thanks to China’s largest and most popular quick service restaurant chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
KFC’s Brand in China has a long, complex history and has become a case study in how to adapt an established Brand to a foreign market. Starting off in 1987, KFC had to do little in order to introduce themselves to the Chinese market other than open their doors. Consumers were simply excited for their first taste of a truly western food Brand, and on opening day of the three-story restaurant in Beijing, the lines for fried chicken stretched out of the door and down several blocks.
As time went on, KFC’s novelty dimmed slightly and competitors in the “American” food space entered the market (namely McDonald’s in 1990). But the Company has been able to consistently evolve their branding and marketing efforts in such a way that keeps them on top. From simple changes like updating their menu to include traditional Chinese street food, to more unique advertising efforts like their partnership with Huawei to release a special edition smartphone for their thirty-year anniversary (the phone is bright red and emblazoned with an image of Colonel Sanders), KFC is determined to keep its place on top of the Chinese fast-food world.
The Brand has focused on stretching itself into becoming a “western Brand with Chinese characteristics” to aid its expansion out of China’s major cities and into the rest of the country. KFC built their stores to be larger than their American counterparts to promote a more family dining experience as well as offer uniquely Chinese cuisine right alongside KFC staples like chicken wings and mashed potatoes. In fact, the KFC Brand in China goes above and beyond to position itself from an overall Brand identity standpoint, with a study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics finding that Chinese consumers have a more positive view of nearly every aspect of the KFC Brand’s identity than Americans.
The lens of culture and society will always effect how a Brand is perceived, and when consistency is so dramatically important for supplying a message that will resonate and drive market value, how a Brand adapts to these different lenses is crucial. From being as simple as translation faux pas for consumer brands, to complex regulatory concerns for pharmaceutical companies, establishing brands that can succeed on a global scale is always going to be a primary goal.