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30 minutes with Mike Middleton
by Lynette Dicey

Understanding your consumers and having conversations with them about what is happening in their lives and cultures - as opposed to bombarding them with traditional marketing messages - is essentially what builds a winning brand, says KFC Africa chief marketing officer Mike Middleton. And having just received the award for Marketing Leadership & Innovation at the recent Loeries Africa & Middle East Awards, it’s safe to assume that Middleton knows his stuff.

“Brands need to become part of their consumers’ daily conversations,” says Middleton, as it’s the only way for them to be distinctive. He adds that while it’s important for a brand to be very clear on what its messaging should be, being distinctive will win out over the perfect delivery of a brand’s message any day. “Perfection doesn’t gel with consumers these days anyway. They actually like to buy into the notion of imperfection. Consumers are wise enough to know that perfection simply doesn’t exist and sending out ‘perfect’ brand messages not only becomes linear and doesn’t have an impact, it makes people suspicious,” he says.

“Standing out amid the clutter is essential to gain favour with consumers and a blast of traditional messages may ultimately be the reason a consumer turns his back on a brand,” says Middleton. Consumers must want to communicate with you as forced contact won’t work these days. What does work, he emphasises, is being part of conversations that resonate in their lives, about topics that are relevant to them.

He adds that in the social media universe we live in, marketers are kept on their toes, as well as honest, by the fact that today’s consumer has a voice. “We also have to be agile enough to respond to consumers in the moment and realise that, once again, we cannot have perfectly crafted marketing plans. We need to be more flexible.”

Of course, Middleton admits that marketers have their hands full navigating a challenging macro-economic environment. He points out that in SA there is a 70% correlation between the economy and corporate performance.

In an industry such as fast food, where KFC operates, this equates to the fact that people simply don’t have much money. “Consumers haven’t stopped buying fast food altogether, but they do come in less frequently. We find that we need to understand factors such as price points and the right occasions to remain top of mind and be part of their consideration set,” he says.

Middleton says it is also essential to understand the environment of the consumer to be able to offer them the right solutions within that environment. For instance, consumers are more price sensitive right now than they have been in the past. “There is no elasticity in their budgets. The difference between above and below the R30 price point can lose you a customer,” he says.
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