KFC’s New CMO Hits The Ground Running

Just six weeks into her new role as CMO of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Andrea Zahumensky is hitting the market Sunday with her first big campaign launch for the quick-serve restaurant’s new Smoky Mountain BBQ flavor.

Zahumensky, who joined KFC from Procter & Gamble, where she was brand director for baby care products in North America, is focused on keeping the momentum high from the major brand revamp the fast-food chain started in 2014, when it brought back the Colonel as its mascot played by a rotating cast of comedians. The new campaign will air with a surprise new Colonel across TV, radio and digital.

“We’re entering chapter two of the revitalization of KFC,” Zahumenksy told AdExchanger. “We’re laser-focused on making KFC a brand that customers trust and champion.”

Zahumensky spoke with AdExchanger about the campaign and her new role.

AdExchanger: What’s your first priority as CMO?

ANDREA ZAHUMENSKY: My focus is on building the KFC brand over time and sales overnight. Over the next few months, I’m going to be listening and spending as much time as I can with our customers, restaurant managers and frontline staff, as well as my team.

Right now, my priority is to launch Smoky Mountain BBQ. We’ll have more innovation coming, and we’ll continue to work on how we connect with consumers in new and unexpected ways through our Colonel campaign.

What’s KFC’s digital marketing strategy? How is the media mix changing?

TV still remains important to get our word out, but digital continues to increase its prominence. You’ll see [the Smoky Mountain BBQ campaign] on YouTube and Facebook. Those two [platforms] are quite effective for us, especially now that we can geofence [our stores] and measure which ads are driving people into restaurants. We have that closed loop.

Digital creates such interesting opportunities for us to connect with consumers. In the fall, on our Twitter account, we removed everyone we were following and started following only 11 people: the five Spice Girls and six random people named Herb. It [represented our] 11 herbs and spices, our original recipe. A consumer figured out the puzzle, rose to internet stardom and was on featured on the “Today” show. We got something like 2 billion impressions.

KFC does a lot of quirky activations, like delivering fried chicken with drones. How difficult is it to convince your organization to buy into these experiential campaigns, which are fun but don’t necessarily correlate to short-term ROI?

New, interesting and unexpected ideas are a great representation of what Colonel Sanders would do, so people get really excited about it. As long as it’s grounded in our customers and something that’s authentic and interesting to them, we want to go for it.

We’re committed to building the KFC brand over time, but we also have to deliver sales overnight. Everybody in the organization is committed to that balance.

What metrics are most important when assessing the overall impact of your media buys? 

We look at measures about how consumers are connecting with our brand over time, how much they trust our brand, as well as sales-overnight measures, like ROI, trips [to stores] and people coming back and feeling like they got a good value.

We do some brand-lift studies and get in touch with our customers to learn how they’re feeling about the brand. Are they engaged? Is this a brand they feel represents them and they feel connected to?

How important is programmatic media to your overall strategy?

It’s critical. This is the reality that we live in as marketers.

Digital opens up an entirely new playing field for us to target consumers. We absolutely need to take advantage of that. But in digital, you can also [drive] mass awareness. It’s about balancing both to figure out where you get that best ROI. Because some of the targeted stuff can be quite expensive, and we do still see strong ROI from TV.

What’s your relationship like with agencies, and what needs to change? Do you face challenges in getting them to work together around your goals? 

We have agency partners who really believe in the brand and are just as committed as our KFC team. We were making a media decision this week, for example, and one of my agency partners reminded me about some sales data on our flavor lineup about Smoky Mountain BBQ. It’s a collaboration. We’re really committed to our agency partners. It’s working very well.

How involved will you be in making technology decisions for KFC?

As the CMO, it’s my responsibility to make sure our ad dollars are spent responsibly. Franchisees are counting on me to do that. I’m still learning about how that works at KFC, but I do feel like that’s a responsibility of mine.

This interview has been edited.

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