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KFC and the Colonel with his “top secret recipe” – they’ve been around since the 1930’s and franchising successfully since 1950. KFC is now the world’s second biggest fast food chain – with over 22000 locations worldwide, and with around 900 outlets here in the UK alone, of which 95% are franchisees. The KFC branding is of course also instantly recognizeable – the Colonel’s face and the bold 3 letter intials together with their trademark color red.
As a franchisor, I share two things in common with the Colonel and his crew. Firstly, our main brand color is also a very bright red. But secondly, we’ve also recently come across (yet again) the age old issue of copycats.
Copycats are incredibly frustrating for any business owner or entrepreneur, whether in the world of franchising or not. You spend so much time (and money!) developing your product, service and brand. And then someone simply copies it and tries to hang onto your coat tails. Grrr!
If you’ve got a great product or service, it’s inevitable that this will happen at some point in your business journey – no sector will be immune – and at the end of the day, people won’t copy rubbish ideas, only great ones! It happens endlessly in the franchise industry – people see franchise networks growing successfully, seem to think that franchising is a licence to print money and that it’s an easy route to go down. However generally speaking, those copycats have taken a quick overview, underestimated the challenges of franchising, don’t fully appreciate the systems and processes that are needed behind the scenes and that are the backbone to the success of the franchise brand, and don’t last the course.
When I first started out in business, copycats would give me sleepless nights. I would cry out of frustration and worry endlessly. However, as time went on and I developed more experience, more confidence and importantly resilience, I relatively quickly realized that fretting about copycats is a complete waste of time and energy. Anyone who is unable to come up with their own creative ideas is always going to be several steps behind us. The key is to continue to focus on what we do, do it brilliantly and remember that whilst someone can try to emulate us, they will never BE us. As a franchisor, I do still have to provide reassurance to our franchisees who come across copycats in their individual territory areas and remind them of this fact whilst supporting them through that emotional rollercoaster – one of the big benefits of being part of a wider team!
It’s always reassuring to see that the big franchise brands aren’t immune from copycats either – and it was amusing to see how KFC recently turned things around and called their copycats out, using them to their own marketing advantage! KFC is already known as a brand for their savvy marketing – turning a disaster into a triumph in 2018 when their new logistics partner in the UK failed them and restaurants across the UK ran out of chicken! Using a cheeky anagram of their 3 letter name, their marketing response went viral.
And this month, KFC released a new marketing campaign in the UK, taking a humorous swipe at the thousands of imitator chicken fast food outlets across the country with the simple line “Guys, we’re flattered”. It’s also paired with a TV ad showing the Colonel cruising down the streets in a limo past the various imitator restaurants before reminding us that the original chicken recipe is only available at KFC.
This article isn’t about protecting your franchise brand – all franchisors will know the importance of getting your IP rights in order before heading down the route of franchising. Of course, as a brand leader and franchisor you should always take appropriate steps to protect your brand and challenge direct copycats if they are legally infringing your protected rights – that’s part of your duty to your franchise network.
However, what KFC have shown us is that the key to dealing with the annoyance of imitators is to remain confident in your brand. Don’t let copycats get inside of your head and detract you from your own business. Instead, turn their actions and your responding emotions into a positive you can use – whether that be in humorous marketing as KFC have done, or using the energy to spur you on and drive your own business to the next level. Make sure you keep your face and personality at the forefront of your business – as I said earlier, no one can copy that. Continue to innovate within your brand.
As you continue to stride forward in your own business journey (whether that be in franchising or otherwise), copycats will be chasing along behind you, always several steps behind. But remember – just like the Colonel, those pretenders will never be able to steal your own brand “top secret recipe” for success.
April 14, 2019 at 06:45AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs