"For Generation Y and Generation Z, KFC is the most relevant food and beverage brand in China. This is phenomenal success considering it's a brand that's existed in China for a while," said Jean Lin, CEO of digital agency Isobar, who helped lead KFC's digital transformation in the country.
Speaking at a recent Advertising Week Asia event, she explained that the first step involved the creation of a digital version of the order experience to reflect millennial priorities: mobile-first, fast and convenient across the brand's 5,000 physical stores.
(For more on how KFC engaged with young Chinese consumers born after 1995, read WARC's report: KFC's hi-tech makeover targets China's millennials.)
"We have mobile payments, and we developed super-apps that help integrate every experience together for people," Lin said.
"You can order KFC from home, or on the way to work – first on the mobile, and then just pick it up while travelling," she added.
Research revealed that many young people who had moved to Shanghai from China's provinces were reluctant to speak Mandarin to staff in KFC stores due to embarrassment over their heavy accent.
With this insight, KFC worked with Baidu to develop an AI concept store in Shanghai and launched Du Mi, the first ever AI service robot in the fast food industry in China that can understand different accents to take orders.
Through AI technology, such as natural language processing, multi-level computing and internet data mining, Du Mi accurately recognises accents from the three largest dialect systems in China. The robot can also tell and give order recommendations based on this information.
KFC also made over its in-restaurant experience with Gen Z in mind. A QR code on in-store collateral allowed guests to download songs directly to their mobile devices, and KFC suddenly became a place where this generation went to find new music as well as buy food.
"The music in a quick-service restaurant [is] something that people always said is lousy. We found from research that was actually impacting people's perception of the brand and the dining experience," Lin said.
"We worked with all the up-and-coming emerging artists, bands, and singers in China, encouraging them to use KFC stores as a platform for them to launch their new songs."
Data sourced from WARC