Monday 21 July 2014

YUM Brands has Trials in China: A “Social Ideology” Fix to the Problem?

YUM Brands (YUM), the owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, has generally enjoyed enormous success in China for a “foreign brand”.  The success has been attributed to a strong first mover advantage.  And, the brand is, of course, critical to that first mover advantage.  However, YUM has struggled with issues concerning “trust,” first because of “excessive antibiotics and hormones,” which led to around a 40% drop in sales.  According to several news outlets, here and here, foreign brands are at a disadvantage to “home grown” brands in China because the news media in China is supposedly more inclined to criticize foreign companies.  So, the issue has been how to effectively rebuild trust with consumers in a foreign brand after a scandal in China.  YUM Brands became a model of success after the “antibiotics scandal” by taking immediate action:

Promis[ing] to test meat for banned drugs, strength[ing] oversight of farmers and encourag[ing] them to improve their technology. It said more than 1,000 small producers used by its 25 poultry suppliers have been eliminated from its network.

The success of the strategy (along with some tasty chicken and a better economy) appears to have helped sales bounce back 11% at KFC the past year, as reported by the BBC.  However, YUM is facing troubles again.  News has just broke about another scandal concerning the use of “expired” chicken.  What can YUM do to fix its brand?  One possible strategy was discussed in a Forbes article by Avi Dan on the information age and brand loyalty:

Do well by doing good: Marketing is no longer an economic function alone, but a social force as well. Within minutes of the Haiti earthquake, donations requested on Twitter started flowing in via text messages in coordination with the phone company. Pepsi bypassed the Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years, and instead of buying $3 million spots in the game, announced on its Facebook page that it will donate $20 million to worthy causes. Social ideology increasingly reinforces brand loyalty.

I don’t know if this strategy worked well for Pepsi, but YUM may need some new ideas.  Has this strategy worked well for other companies in dealing with a scandal?  For sure, brand owners carefully manage their image.  And, the first mover advantage is helpful, but it relies on a strong brand and if the brand fails (again), then what do you do to maintain a competitive advantage. . . . 

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