Since joining KFC as its new U.S. Chief Marketing Officer on December 4th, it’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Andrea Zahumensky. In the P&G veteran’s first week alone, KFC’s next major menu item was selected—Smoky Mountain BBQ, a $4.99 crispy chicken meal that’s rolling out across the U.S.—along with a surprising new celebrity Colonel Sanders.
Deciding that the time is right for its boldest celebrity Colonel Sanders to date, the brand’s stewards agreed on someone who embodied the spirit of Sanders and the South. Cue country music legend Reba McEntire as America’s new—also first female (and music superstar)—Colonel Harland Sanders.
“I grew up with Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s part of my story, and I’m so excited to now be part of theirs,” the multiple Grammy Award-winning entertainer stated. “I’ve held a lot of roles in my life—sort of like the Colonel himself—but this is certainly the most unique one yet.”
As for her own passion for the brand, Zahumensky said, “I connect deeply with the origin story of KFC and have been an interested follower of the brand turnaround for the past three years,” she commented about leaving P&G after nearly two decades for the top marketing role at KFC. “I couldn’t pass up the incredible opportunity to join the brand.”
For more insights into an unexpected new direction for one of the most iconic brand ambassadors of any global brand, Zahumensky (right) chatted this week over a lunch of Smoky Mountain BBQ with Interbrand New York Managing Director Daniel Binns.
Daniel: You’ve certainly hit the ground running in this new role! How would you describe your first few weeks?
Andrea: A whirlwind! My very first week on the job, I met the team and spent time with several of our franchisees, who just have an incredible history and depth of knowledge on the brand. Then we made the selection of who will be our next Colonel and launch plan for Smoky Mountain BBQ, so it was an action-packed first week, and it’s been non-stop since then. It’s such an iconic brand and it’s been so exciting, with great momentum—the U.S. team just delivered the fourth year of consecutive sales growth.
What does Smoky Mountain BBQ do for the brand and customers?
We’re bringing a craveable, authentic regional flavor out to the masses, which presents an incredible experience for consumers to come and and try a product that’s really unique to the market.
It’s our new inspired flavor, extra crispy chicken with an undeniably delicious sweet and smoky barbecue sauce. It blends the best flavors from across America’s barbecue belts into a sweet and smoky flavor. And unlike most BBQ it’s crispy, so that combination of the sweet and smoky barbecue with a crispy chicken really delivers an unexpected experience.
This is the first time we have brought this kind of authentic regional barbecue flavor out to the masses. It’s probably going to be our most broadly appealing flavor on our Flavors of the South menu. We test-marketed it in a few cities last summer. When the test was over one customer said the ending of the promotion was more painful than her first high school break-up!
In terms of BBQ, it does a nice job of taking the sweetness from Kansas City, that tanginess from the Carolinas, some of the smokiness from Texas and blending those flavors together to get to a BBQ that we’re sure everyone will love.
It will become part of our Flavors of the South menu alongside Nashville Hot and Georgia Gold, and it will be a national offering as of Monday. You will be able to get it in any KFC with a biscuit and mashed potatoes for only $4.99.
What insights led to this direction for the Colonel?
In 2015 we started what we call Re-Colonelization, going back to our roots of how this brand was created by Colonel Harland Sanders—entrepreneur, showman, the biggest chicken salesman you could ever meet, huge personality.
There is no one person that can really, fully be Colonel Sanders, so we looked for people who embody the spirit of Colonel Sanders, and here we are. This is going to be our most-loved Colonel, a whole new layer of being new and unexpected.
Beyond this new product launch and campaign, what’s your longer-term strategy?
I’m trying to spend as much time as I can for the next six months with our customers to really learn from them. Also with our restaurant managers, our front-line employees, our franchisees and my team. I’ve gotten to spend quite a bit of time with each of those groups and they’re so impressive, as you can imagine from their results.
Our focus is on making KFC a brand that customers trust and champion. We’re going to do that through innovation like our Smoky Mountain BBQ—and we have more innovation coming—and also through continuing to connect in new and unexpected ways in the Colonel campaign.
— Reba (@reba) January 26, 2018
KFC as a brand is not scared to make bold choices. It’s safe to say you’ll continue that?
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.
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