How to name a chicken sandwich: thoughts for branders (1)

Part one of a series on product naming.

So, after months of waiting, the baby is finally here. No, I don’t mean my actual baby – my wife and I are still waiting for the arrival of our third little bundle at the end of November. I’m talking about the new chicken sandwich Brandvelope named for KFC in Canada – which appeared in stores on Friday. Beg to Differ often gets asked what goes into such a process, so as a public service, here are a few insights for brand managers from the Kentucky Fried trenches.

Big Fresh

The Colonel calls

When Priszm (the company that manages the KFC brand in Canada for Yum! Brands) called Brandvelope this summer to ask for help naming the new sandwich, they already had a great product in development. The concept of the new sandwich had been pretty much nailed down after several cycles of focus group testing, refinement, and more testing.

We learned that they were launching this new product to be a “hero” – or “flagship” of their line of sandwiches. And we learned that focus group subjects loved the sandwich, but they didn’t love any of the names that had been tested.

Our job: find the right name for the new sandwich.

The sandwich concept:

  1. The chicken: fresh, skinless chicken breast fillets breaded in-store with the Colonel’s 11 herbs & spices, then fried on-demand for customers.
  2. The extras: fresh lettuce, a sesame seed bun, and peppercorn mayo.
  3. The packaging: the product is the only KFC sandwich served in a box, giving it a premium, high-value appeal.

The concept sounded like a winner to us (as a matter of fact, the early concept photos had our mouths watering). But what do you call such a thing?

There are two basic ways to approach naming.

The wrong way: creative first; strategy last.

This is the most common approach to naming. Sit in a room and brainstorm until you come up with the most creative, crazy, or compelling name you can think of, then run with it. This approach can be loads of fun, and usually leads to names that work great for the brainstormers, but not for customers.

The right way: strategy first; then get creative

This is our approach: take some time to understand the context that the new product will be launched into, the “brandscape” around it, and most importantly, what the name is supposed to do. Then and only then do you move to the creative part.

A great name is never just a name; it’s a tool to help people find, understand, and remember products, services, and yes, chicken sandwiches.

What we needed to know before we started:

  1. Intentions and strategic goals: what was the impetus behind the launch on the part of the people managing the brand?
  2. Customer expecations: what did we know about the hang-ups and desires of the target audience?
  3. The Brandscape: what competing products would the new product be compared to and how could we highlight the differences?
  4. Brand architecture – how  would the new name complement and contrast the rest of the existing portfolio of products?
  5. The unknowns: what additional information did we need, or at least, what were the areas where we’d have to make educated guesses?

The process from there:

So how did we get from these questions to the final name “Big Fresh Chicken Sandwich”?

Good question. We’ll get into more details in a series of blog posts over the next few days. But in the meantime, here are a few “take-aways” to think about.

Thoughts for branders:

  • Does your company treat product (or corporate) naming as a creative process first, or do you start with customer-facing strategy?
  • Can you answer all five of the areas we needed to adress for KFC above?
  • Are you treating your products as individual entities or  as part of a bigger system that helps customers make decisions?
  • Are you listening to people outside of your board room when you make such decisions? People who are willing to challenge you and your assumptions?

The Chicken Sandwich Series

  1. How to name a chicken sandwich: thoughts for branders (this post)

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  1. I think your approach is the best way to go. The more variables you suss out, and the more customer-centric they are, the greater the potential for the name to have resonance, to mean something. Big Fresh does two things off the bat: 1) I’m getting something substantial to sate my hunger. 2) I’m getting something fresh, so I have a positive feeling about that. Though I have to admit, Big Fresh does have rather the same salacious (or phallic) feel to it that a Big Mac or Whopper would (what I lovingly call f0rn). Interested in seeing the next installments.

    • Thanks. Occasionally, my approach gets criticized as being less exciting – since often, I find out that what customers actually want is “unbranding” or a relatively boring descriptive name. “Canada Business” – my recommendation for one of the three main portals off the Canada.gc.ca web page – was one such name. But while the old name “Business Gateway” was more daring (or at least as much as a federal government site can be), people confused it with a dozen other sites, and Canadians overwhelmingly look to government for simple, clear directional names.

      “Big Fresh Chicken Sandwich” (the full name as recommended) had just the right blend of descriptivenes with a bit of character, and paired nicely with “Big Crunch” – which is sold at the same price point.

      Oh, and I’ve eaten two of these sandwiches since Friday. They’re pretty solid. You have a KFC near you? I’d be interested to know if they’ve arrived in Nova Scotia yet.

  2. I don’t know if they have. I don’t even know if the grilled has landed. We do the Crunch, but now that I know you are associated with it to a degree, I’ll try the Big Fresh. Hope it’s juicy…

  3. Pingback: Latitude: the official blog of Atlas Advertising » Blog Archive » How to Name a Chicken Sandwich

  4. Coincidentally I was at a KFC today (before I read this article) and I noticed their banner for this new sandwich.

    However, I must admit that my first impression was something along the lines of “Why doesn’t this sandwich even have a name?”

    Since big and fresh are just regular adjectives and they are not depicted on the banner as a coherent name I assumed they were just describing the sandwich, not the actual name of it.

    I think the problem is that the sign reads like “Here’s a big fresh sandwich”, not “Here’s the new Big Fresh!”

    • An excellent observation Tanya.

      You’re right, it would scan better as “THE” Big Fresh or if they visually paired “Big Crunch” with “Big Fresh”. The name is meant to operate as both a descriptor (the two adjectives) and a name (i.e. The Big Fresh), so if you’re not seeing that, that’s important.

      In this case I named the product, but wasn’t part of the design process, so I’ll pass your thoughts on to KFC.