The characters we use in marketing – from the Michelin Man to Ronald McDonald – should be a representative of the brand and differentiate the brand; but even more than that, to truly engage your consumer, they should be like a relatable friend to the customer.
Jackie Hague, recent CMO, Chester’s International, a long-time brand character specialist, talked about how characters have become part of a brand’s storytelling experience when she led the CMO Club Virtual Roundtable: Be a Friend, Make a Friend with Brand Friends.
As participants in the roundtable discussion named off characters they enjoy, from Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah to the old-school California Raisins, Hague pointed out the importance of identifying with these characters, and the job of marketers to ensure each character meets the needs of the customer while representing the product.
Using KFC’s Colonel Sanders as one example, Hague pointed to KFC’s effort in 2014, as sales were falling, to bring the Colonel back and make him relevant to today’s generation – in particular, Millennials, 60 percent of whom had never eaten at a KFC.
“How do you take him to the next level?” She questioned. “You need to make them friends.”
A friend is someone with whom the consumer wants to build a relationship with, make connections with, relate to, and respond to, Hague said.
“They’re familiar, they’re helpful, they deliver a solution,” she said.
KFC transitioned the old version of Colonel Sanders, leveraging different actors to take on the role and play today’s character. People like Reba McEntire and Jason Alexander made “the Colonel” seem like a friend. And, “every time they change the character, it’s a news story,” she said, keeping KFC relevant and in the news.
Consumers click on KFC’s social media accounts to engage, and to say things back to the Colonel. Where a “character” represents the company, Hague said a “friend” reflects the company to build a two-way relationship , but also keeps the discussion going, and looks at whether you’re doing the right things for your consumer and how the consumer responds.
“The Colonel is now about being approachable and relevant,” she said.
“We are about building stories and relationships, it’s not just about the sale – we’re building brand loyalty.”
As proof, Hague pointed out that Facebook says that 300 million people engage with stories every day. Every story needs characters, and to maintain them, you need friends, Hague said.
So, can characters, or friends, affect sales? Hague said that’s a definitive ‘yes.’ KFC’s sales are up 3 percent in 2018, and their Q Scores and emotional scores are high.
“People are engaging,” she said.
If you don’t have a character and aren’t sure what you want or want it to stand for, go borrow a character, Hague said. This is precisely what licensing exists for, she pointed out.
“See how that works – is there a possibility to build off it or not,” she said.