Marketing lessons from a bucket o’ chicken

Occasionally you run into something that’s so relevant that you just have to tell the story.

That happened last Sunday after church, when I stopped at our local KFC to get lunch for the family.  If you have a large family, visiting “the Colonel” is just something you do; especially when lovely wife is preparing for a trip and cooking isn’t on the agenda.  Run through the drive-through, pay the toll, and exit with a bucket o’ chicken.  Today, there was just one problem. KFC has changed their menu and our customary bucket of mixed original recipe isn’t on it any more.

chickenbucketHow does this possibly relate to the printing industry? Bear with me, I’m sure there’s a connection somewhere.

It wouldn’t have been quite so upsetting if the young lady with the air traffic controller headset had simply said, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Regular chicken is no longer on the menu, but we can combine regular in a bucket with our new boneless chicken. Would you like to try that?”

I might have been tempted. Unfortunately, no one had prepared the young lady for such a complex explanation.  She chose a less taxing response, “We don’t got that anymore.”

Astounded, I stared at the loudspeaker, unable to comprehend what I had just heard. Asking the disembodied voice  to wait just a moment, I searched the menu board for the familiar 12 piece bucket. Not there. Incredulous, I queried the loudspeaker, “Do you really mean that I can’t get a bucket of regular chicken at KFC?”

Two Unfortunate Occurrences

To her credit, the air traffic controller mumbled something incoherently apologetic and went for her manager.  He explained that certainly my customary 12 piece bucket was still available, but it was no longer a standard menu item. They were pushing their new boneless chicken product.  He took my order and I received my chicken, but two unfortunate events occurred in the process:

  1. Time was wasted – A manager had to attend to a task that was not managerial. I was slightly inconvenienced by the difficulty I had placing a simple order. All of the other church folks behind me in line were also inconvenienced, at least by my confusion if not also by some of their own.
  2. Goodwill was lost – This is the more damaging problem. KFC isn’t the best chicken in the world, but it has always been an easy and dependable option. I drove away convinced that our local restaurant had a training problem that needed attention, but also that someone in marketing at the franchise had made a stupid mistake. You simply don’t torpedo your key product line for a new product launch.

The Critical Error

Here’s where the lesson comes in. The Colonel’s executives made a critical marketing error.  They took a product that customers expect to be simple and made it needlessly complicated to order.  In the printing business, it would be like telling a customer that you don’t print envelopes any more; then reconsidering and telling them that you just really don’t want to print envelopes any more, but you’ll print some if they just have to have them.

As a marketer, I wondered why this had happened. Perhaps the KFC’s chicken commissars were concerned with margins, positioning a  higher margin alternative in place of the commodity chicken leg. If this was the motivation, there were some flaws in the plan. Mishandling the strategy in my case nearly resulted in a lost customer.  As a regular customer, I wasn’t particularly concerned with the price of the bucket o’ chicken. If profits were the objective, it would have been better for KFC to simply raise the price of the chicken leg. They might have also reduced their costs by making it as easy as possible for me to buy my bucket o’ chicken – “the #4 bucket with cole slaw, please.”

The Marketing Lesson

There’s a lesson in this, too. Keeping things simple for our customers is really important. I wrote last week about finding a marketing message that goes beyond quality, price, and service. That doesn’t mean that these three attributes aren’t important. Price and product positioning are two elements of classical marketing strategy that are still very relevant, both for printers and fried chicken restaurants.

You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. People still want to buy a bucket o’ chicken. In the printing business, lower margin products like envelopes and business cards need to be streamlined, easy to order and easy to process. Ideally, the prices are online . . . customers order through a web-to-print system or just send in art. At the very least,  your customer service folks should be have standard pricing.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean low pricing.  Just because these items may be perceived as commodities doesn’t mean that they have to be loss leaders. Besides, the customer who is intent on shopping the lowest price for business cards is probably not someone with whom you want to spend much time. Set a reasonable price, make the products easy to order, please your customers, and if you can, give them some information about something else you offer that could be of benefit to them (and make money for you).

Communicating Value

At it’s core, marketing is basically communicating something of value to someone who is interested. The purpose, of course, is to gain a customer. The message should never be more complicated than the product, whether it’s print or a bucket o’ chicken. It’s a good lesson to remember and a wonderful topic to discuss with everyone in your organization who comes in contact with your customers.

The Last Part

DP Marketing Services is a new business that provides marketing services and support for printing companies.  Part of our mission is to help our customers present a clear and consistent marketing message.  We hope you’ll take a look at our website while you’re here.  If you’d like to talk about your business, we’d be most happy to get in touch.  You can contact Richard Dannenberg by phone at 478-719-4029, by email at, or you can fill out a contact form here on the website.

1 Comment

  1. Harold Reeves

    And you should try drive through at McDonald’s – if you can read the ever changing menu.