Takeaways from KFC’s and Wendy’s fan appreciation efforts

Brand managers can harness the power of passionate fans through online interactions, content exchanges, special events and more. Here’s how you can emulate these fast-food successes.

Col. Harland Sanders will live on through a new namesake—thanks to parents willing to jump at KFC’s $11,000 offer.

KFC recently announced the next-generation “Harland” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter:

The parents’ move stemmed from a contest KFC announced last month.

USA Today reported:

Let’s back it up and see how we got here. KFC had a problem. The name of their founder isn’t popular these days and is sort of dying out. In fact, the last time Harland cracked the top 1,000 names for American baby boys was about 70 years ago. According to BabyCenter.com, it dropped to 5,477 in 2018.In an attempt to boost the sagging popularity of the name, Kentucky Fried Chicken offered a challenge in August: Be the first family to have a child on the Colonel’s birthday (Sept. 9), and then name that baby Harland to receive $11,000 toward college tuition.

[RELATED: Earn recognition for your captivating videos and visual designs.]

KFC reminded consumers about the contest on Sept. 9 through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well:

Fortune reported:

Harland wasn’t originally on the short list of names Anna and Decker were considering, but after hearing about the KFC contest, they gave it some thought. When Anna went into labor on Sept. 8, they made their decision. Harley was born at 12 seconds after midnight on the 9th.The money is being put into a college fund for Harley by KFC. At an assumed 8% rate of return (compounded annually), it would accumulate to about $44,000 when she’s ready for school.

Though the contest made headlines and increased conversation about KFC online, reactions over the contest were mixed: Several thought the marketing move was a step too far in being a part of consumers’ lives.

However, the move highlights the power that extremely passionate fans can have on an organization’s brand image and reputation.

The Atlantic reported:

KFC has a penchant for the outlandish—it launched a chicken sandwich into space last year, and got a lot of media attention for doing so—but this latest stunt is uniquely unsavory. Judith Donath, an advisor at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard and the author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online, says it feels that way because it’s a large corporation’s attempt to “insert itself at such a personal level into the life of this yet-unborn child.” (Donath did, however, note that many parents already do name their children after corporate entities without any outside prodding—consider all the children out there named for Disney princesses.)

The power of top brand fans

You don’t have to offer up $11,000 to have ardent fans and brand ambassadors.

Wendy’s grabbed consumers’ attention and headlines after it answered Twitter user Carter Wilkerson and promised free chicken nuggets for a year if his tweet garnered 18 million retweets.

After Wilkerson’s tweet gained traction, Wendy’s instead said it would give him the nuggets if he broke Ellen DeGeneres’ Twitter record.#NuggsForCarter went viral, Wilkerson’s tweet won the title of most-shared of all time and Wendy’s donated $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption—along with giving Wilkerson the coveted nuggets.

Ketchum reported that the stunt earned more than 2.5 billion media impressions. Conversations mentioning Wendy’s increased by 376 percent.

Though DeGeneres helped Wilkerson’s tweet grab attention by challenging him on Twitter and inviting him to “The Ellen Show” on multiple occasions, #NuggsForCarter’s virality was achieved without a group of celebrities and without the audience of millions watching.

An organization’s biggest fans can increase brand recognition and positively affect the bottom line, especially for consumers on the fence about purchasing.

Turner Ignite’s senior vice president of client strategy and development, James Russo, and Jeff Gregori, the agency’s client strategy lead, wrote in AdAge:

Brand fans are the lifeblood of any business and drive a disproportionate amount of sales and profitability. Typically, only about 15% of customers are true fans, emotionally connected or unwilling to give up a brand. More important, in today’s always-on, digital environment, brand fans are 50% more attentive to brand ads and 40% more likely to share their experiences and influence others. In effect, focusing on these brand fans increases penetration through advocacy at the same time they are driving brand volume. A brand can use this link to drive growth in a declining category, convert brand moderates to fans or activate brand fans to reinforce a brand’s message and value.

A report by Tapfluence and Influitive revealed that for 92 percent of consumers, referrals from people they know make the biggest influence on whether or not they’ll purchase products or services.

How to work with your No. 1 consumer

Turning your sights on the consumers who already love you requires you to pay attention to consumer conversations, so you can jump on opportunities as they present themselves.

Brian Salzman, founder and chief executive of marketing agency RQ, wrote in Adweek:

Don’t just wait for someone to tweet at your brand and hope people notice. Get proactive about engaging with your fans. Groupon heard Tiffany Haddish talking about buying a Groupon for a swamp tour during an interview and approached her to star in its Super Bowl spot. Similarly, when we heard that Joe Zee was a huge fan of our client Pizza Hut, we threw him an Oscars pizza party. In both instances, proactivity was key to success. Being proactive means constantly searching for, listening to and approaching fans around you.

Micah Donahue, principal of brand engagement strategy for branding firm Mechanica, says there are a few things brand managers can do to engage with passionate fans and identify potential ambassadors:

Firstly, they should invest in a library of responses and FAQs in the brand voice, so the brand can respond quickly, but not robotically. Secondly, they should respond to fan kudos and questions as quickly as possible, liking as many comments by fans as possible. Lastly, they should choose 2-3 fans per week with which to actively engage, noticing which fans take an authentic interest in working with the brand.

Being proactive and authentically engaging with consumers who love you can also make your brand storytelling and digital content efforts better informed—and more interesting.

Ashley Zeckman, senior director of digital strategy for TopRank Marketing, wrote in the agency’s blog:

… Your content should feel more like [user-generated content] because let’s face it; it’s the content they want. Learn to speak your fan’s language through your branded content. The two content types should be complimentary to each other.

Above all, don’t make the relationships between your organization and your biggest fan a one-time interaction.

Salzman wrote:

Including your extreme fans in a one-time marketing stunt can be powerful, but the relationship shouldn’t end there. Connections with fans should be continuous and ever-growing. … Often, the quickest path to building relationships with fans is through dialogue and showing that you care about their needs and desires. Fans are the ultimate consumers, and their input is highly valuable. Making an effort to understand the brand through their eyes and adjusting marketing strategies—and even products—accordingly will go a long way.

How are you working to engage your biggest fans?

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