5 Things KFC Can Teach Any Brand About Exporting to China


In a study published last week, KFC has been named the most powerful international brand in China. The top 20 list, which also included Pampers, McDonald’s and Samsung, was compiled by brand-equity firm Millward Brown.

Over two years they conducted research with 60,000 Chinese consumers and used criteria like how “meaningful,” “salient,” and “different” the brands were, in addition to the ease in which consumers were able to recall such brands. So what makes KFC so powerful? We examine KFC’s success and how they can help your brand export to China.

| The Time Is Now

KFC is influential for being the first Western restaurant chain to open in China in 1987. Operations have been growing ever since, and it holds a unique position in China as the dominant fast food chain, being even bigger than McDonald’s (one of the only countries in the world where this occurs).

“It’s part of Chinese culture to respect the elderly, and the same goes with brands,” said Warren Liu, a former vice-president of YUM!’s predecessor Tricon Global Restaurants and author of a 2008 book about KFC’s China strategy. “Being the first – the pioneer into these remote corners of China – has continued to provide KFC with a substantial competitive advantage.” This competitive advantage could be yours if you have a unique product to offer this growing market.

| …Especially if you’re American

Of the 20 most powerful brands in China, 13 are American, two each are from Germany and France, and one each  from Italy, United Kingdom and South Korea.

But don’t fret if your company doesn’t fly the stars and stripes: any international brand will be welcome in this growing market. “International brands represent many things to Chinese consumers,” said Oscar Yuan, vice president at the Millward Brown Optimor division. “One is trust. In the last three years the brand trust for Chinese brands has eroded as scandals and quality issues have impacted some Chinese products.” International brands also offer prestige and unique points of view, he said.

| Your Brand Name Matters

It may mean Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Western world, but in China it’s simply KFC. Being able to have the same name internationally can ensure the greatest success for brands worldwide. There is nothing worse than exporting abroad only to find your name sounds like “prostitute” (Peugeot) or “disease” (Bing) in a foreign language. Working with a translation company can ensure the integrity and success of your brand.

| Localisation is Key

KFC offers their customers a distinctively localised Chinese menu, with two new items added every month. Popular menu items include rice congee with pickles, egg custard tarts and tree fungus salad. August 2010 saw KFC launch its biggest product to date when the Rice Bowl became a side dish across the nation.

Other popular menu items include the Zinger Burger, which suits Chinese consumers taste for spicy chicken, and the Dragon Twister, a wrap that includes fried chicken, cucumbers, scallions, and duck sauce.

Street food was added to the menu in 2008, with the introduction of the youtiao, a deep fried doughnut usually eaten at breakfast. This was followed in 2010 with the shaobing, a flatbread which can be stuffed and served savoury or sweet.

As for the famous coleslaw? It hasn’t reached the same popularity in China, but consumers can have side dishes with bamboo shoots, lotus roots, and rice porridge.

| Know Your Market

Some point KFC’s success in China is down to the fact that fried chicken has been a staple dish in the country for hundreds of years, whereas hamburgers and fries are foreign and may take longer to suit the nation’s preferences.

However, KFC has also positioned itself as “new fast food”, setting it apart from other “traditional Western fast food” in China by advertising its healthy food benefits. The restaurants offer abundant selection, a balanced diet, more vegetable options, and follow the Chinese model for food safety. Creating this culture of trust in China has brought KFC 49% of their global revenue. Now that’s powerful.

Today Translations is a London-based translation company who have taken brands to all corners of the globe in over 200 languages. Our experts in localisation and export can help you reach the audience and market in China and beyond.

For more information about our services, please email [email protected] or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Image courtesy of Businessweek


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