Will KFC get its brand perception back after online attacks?
By Alex Owiti
Online crisis has now become more than a reality. The shift from traditional to online quandary for brands cannot be over-emphasized today. Customers now express their dissatisfaction online as quickly as they can. If not well managed, the issue can spread like Australian or California forest fires.
Recently, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) faced severe humiliation online when they announced on their social media platforms that they had a shortage of potatoes and could not meet the customer demand.
This announcement did not go down well with Kenyans on Twitter, alias #KOT, who started questioning why the firm could not buy potatoes from Kenyan farmers. Yet, according to the National Potato of Kenya, Kenyan farmers produce over 2 million metric tons of potatoes yearly.
The issue became worse on Twitter when the chief executive of KFC in Kenya said they never buy potatoes from Kenyan farmers and that they are not of quality. This statement angered Kenyans on Twitter and showed how insensitive the messaging was and its tonality – it fuelled the bashing of the brand online and spread on all other major social media platforms including LinkedIn, and Facebook.
The statement heavily impacted the franchise with the bulk of Kenyans including law makers questioning why the franchise won’t buy potatoes from local farmers.
According to the Governor of Nyandarua County, Francis Kimemia, it is time the Government protected the interest of farmers especially regarding imports of locally available produce.
“The statement was insensitive to farmers who have put every effort into producing quality potatoes, especially in Nyandarua… we are the largest producer of 550,000 metric tonnes annually and grappling with marketing challenges. But this gives us an opportunity to reflect on the plight of farmers,” the Governor was quoted in The Star newspaper.
Many communication experts did not think that the crisis was managed correctly, especially with a prominent fast-food brand founded 91 years ago by Colonel Harland Sanders, an American businessman. Today, Mr Sanders name and image are still symbols of the company, an inspiring story that you can actualize your dreams at whatever age.
The restaurant chain opened its first outlet in the country in 2011. Back then, the company would source its potatoes from Egypt thanks to the fact that Kenya did not have the required quality control standards. In truth, the franchise imports processed, blast-frozen French fries not only from Egypt but also from South Africa. They say it is simply because the produce can be traced back to the source. It is also another way of preventing any health and safety issues.
According to Forbes Magazine, as of July 2020, KFC is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain (as measured by sales valued at $27.9bn), with 22,621 locations globally in 150 countries with 99% of the units franchised.
In addition, KFC’s parent company is YUM! Brands, which also owns Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. It is at the back of this that a brand that rules second in the world in fast-food restaurants should not have goofed in its crisis communication management process because of its age, cadre, and experience in the market.
This is not the first time there was a shortage of potatoes in Kenya or elsewhere in the world. It is okay to run out of raw materials especially for a franchise that imports – there are days that the supply chain of food products can be interrupted, which is mostly due to logistical issues. But that should not threaten reputation of a brand. Therefore, it boils down to how a brand communicates to its customers.
So, what are key lessons from KFC’s online attack? Will the company get back its brand perception after trending on Twitter and other social media platforms for more than 24hrs? Who should carry the blame?
Lack of brand empathy online can position a brand as arrogant. What is critical is to listen to the tone and mood of the messages coming online. Analyzing these messages from disgruntled customers will help you respond with empathy, meaning you understand their issues and show concern on how to deal with them swiftly and rationally. A brand should always be remorseful of its action through an apologetic demeanor. Big boy syndrome mien and rude response can erode your brand value quickly and put you out of business, allowing your competition to acquire your sad customers.
The communication should be simple, articulate, and actionable. KFC should have just told its customers that it was experiencing a shortage, and in the due cause, it was going to sort out the issue and reassure its customers of its values and service to the customer as a brand. The response from the CEO was perceived as an attack on its area of operation and to its customers.
Messaging and tonality
A brand should ensure that its message during a crisis is positive and palatable to the already disgruntled customers. The message should also be sensitive to the demographics online, especially when communicating to Millennials and Generation Z, the biggest consumers of KFC products.
Timeliness, rationality, and authenticity
Responding fast to a crisis online is essential. But, it is necessary to be sensible and genuine in your response. However, be cautious in responding faster if you have nothing of substance to say to your consumers. It is crucial for the communication, marketing, and executive departments to come together and ensure that whatever response is crafted in the customer’s interest does not upset the rest of the stakeholders.
Reward and loyalty
After the storm is over, KFC should win back its customers. Any attack on a brand online erodes confidence and creates a weak perception. KFC needs to reward its customers and restore its brand confidence, especially in its restaurants.
Business mogul and billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
The writer is a communication consultant