Consumers hire brands for specific jobs

What do you like better about Popeye’s?

A girl I know from Toastmaster’s asked for my thoughts on KFC.

Based on the food alone, Chick-Fil-A > Popeye’s > KFC, at least for me.

But why?

A fair warning: This is not article for you if you’re against fast food. I already know fast food is bad. It is an article for you, however, if you want to know more about how to ask questions to arrive at learnings about why people choose something over another.

Instead of thinking of a consumer’s needs, a recent Inc. article asks think of the situation framed in the context of a job with specific duties brands or products must fulfill.

I don’t love the title of the article because it’s click bait (This Brilliant Harvard Professor Will Change the Way You Think About Products), but the content makes up for it. It explains the concept of “hiring a product” through a specific example using McDonald’s milkshakes.  In essence, people weren’t buying McDonald’s milkshakes because they needed a treat.

Milkshake buyers were hiring milkshakes to do a job: “To keep the customer fed but also occupied” during a long and boring habitual morning drive and kill “the tedious time.”

Long story short, they found new smaller competitor sets through this “hiring” technique.Other options weren’t cutting it and the milkshake was. It’s an interesting way of getting to learnings.

Learnings can be unearthed through a variety of interviewing techniques, including for example, laddering.

In what situation do you have a milkshake? Why do you like the milkshake?

And why is that important to you?

And how does that make you feel?

And why is that important?

This is laddering: Repeatedly digging at what people feel through why and how questions like “how does it make you feel?” and “why is that important,” to understand the deeper motivations.

Knowing the why’s of answers help us get past the “oh, because I’m hungry, oh, because it’s convenient, or oh, because it tastes well.” Laddering gets very “emotional” answers. It helps understand, what space in your definition of self are you trying to fill? It tries, in a way, to unearth the subconscious.

In contrast, this “hiring” technique can be applied to understand the specific features or conditions people are looking for to fulfill their definition of self, so laddering and understanding hiring can be used in conjunction.

In this Popeye’s > KFC example, an alternative to laddering when thinking about attributes could be seen like this: I need fast food, I’m hungry and I’m not looking at KFC. But what job am I as a potential consumer looking to hire?

Personally, when it comes to fast food, depending on how I feel, I’m looking to hire fast food to fill either one of two roles:

  1. Convenient: Looking to hire something cheap, that will fill me up without the feeling of “ickiness,” that I can eat without getting my hands sticky, that I can drive afterwards or grab the fries during stop lights (don’t judge), and it fills for a while until I can get something “better,” and that I can eat it either alone or if I’m in the company of people who are in my circle of trust.  (I know they won’t judge. I can’t bring my fancy friends there). For those purposes, I usually hire McDonald’s or Wendy’s. I’m also looking to hire a consistent experience – does not have to be an excellent or even good experience but at least it’s consistent.
  2. Indulgent: Looking to hire something cheap, could be more carb-heavy, is to be eaten as a social meal and is usually greasier, and needs special oomph because it’s a group meal. Yeah, I’m looking to hire somewhere I can bond with people.

KFC usually fulfills neither position.

If we operate under the premise of perceptions being subjective, and in this case there’s no right or wrong answer, KFC is not convenient enough to be a “convenient” fast food or “special” enough to be an indulgent or “cheat” fast food.

When I think about KFC, I think about:

  • Greasy chicken with fried skin, their mashed potatoes, their coleslaw, and their corn.
  • I also love their popcorn chicken because I just eat it a pop at a time and don’t have to see the layer of fat I see in regular fried chicken.  You know, those gooey strands that appear when you separate the skin from the chicken.

I also think about how I love eating the skin but then I feel guilty because it’s unhealthy.

Popeye’s on the other hand, completely meets my qualifications for Indulgent fast food:

  • Yes, it’s greasy,
  • Yes it’s going to stain my shirt,
  • Yes, it has that extra delicious fried chicken skin that is not healthy but who cares, it has that amazing spice: The Oomph.
    • I love Popeyes’ spice. I grew up in Panama – I love Caribbean food.
    • Back when I lived in the Gables I’d drive out 40 minutes south with a Jamaican friend to eat Popeye’s. It was something we bonded over.

But KFC doesn’t have that “spice.”

The problem is KFC and Popeye’s in my experience none are consistent. Every shop I go to it’s different. The Popeyes in South Miami is different than the one in North Miami Beach around 163rd street.

But Chick-Fil-A?

Consistent. Every time.

Talk about consistency? They close every Sunday.

There’s always great service, their milkshakes and chicken taste the same every time, they always have some sort of “community board” (e.g. donate toys for the holidays), and their sauces are always the oomph and it carb and grease heavy, and I don’t feel icky if I bring someone else to eat at Chick-Fil-A with me.

Now, to get to the self-fulfilling reasons of why I go to fast food restaurants,
and why I care about whether I feel icky if I bring someone to KFC or Popeyes or what that means to me,
or when do I pick convenient fast food or indulgent fast food,
laddering and other techniques might work.

But for right now, when it comes to the job hunt, Chick-Fil-A seems to be the most qualified hire for the position.

Less beef and ‘MOR CHIKIN.’

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