Marketing and Fried Chicken

Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken almost didn’t make it to the market. As the story goes, the Colonel owned a chicken restaurant in the small town of Corbin, Kentucky which did a brisk business until a new highway bypassed Corbin and his restaurant. The story of how KFC began is a great lesson in small business marketing.

The restaurant didn’t have a chance after the traffic dried up, so Colonel Sanders sold off what was left of his business, paid his debts, and wondered how he would live on a $105 Social Security check. Rather than give up, he thought of the chicken recipe that had supported him comfortably and decided he could sell it to restaurant owners.

He began to travel the country, stopping at restaurants along the way to propose a chicken cooking competition using his recipe. If the owner agreed his chicken was better, they would pay him a fee to use it.

What Colonel Sanders Can Teach Us About Small Business Marketing

Although he had plenty of owners willing to take him on for the challenge, no one took him up on the deal. He wasn’t deterred, not even after being rejected by more than 1000 restaurant owners. Sanders persevered and one day ended up in a chicken cookoff at a bar. The bar owner tried the Colonel’s chicken and told him it needed salt — after all, the idea was to make the customers thirsty in order to sell more drinks. The owner sprinkled the chicken liberally with salt and, after tasting again, made a deal with Colonel Sanders.

As Sanders took a bite, he spat it out — it tasted terrible. The Colonel had been on a no-salt diet for many years, and could not tolerate the taste. Still, he added the salt to his customers’ taste and the rest is history. Colonel Sanders understood that success is not pleasing yourself, your family, or your staff, it’s about pleasing your customers.

Let’s say you’ve hired a designer to freshen up your website. You’ve spent time with the designer and talked about your audience or customer base. The designer brings you designs and ideas based on their personas. Do you reject the designs and ideas because they aren’t in line with your personal taste?

Be careful asking the opinion of your staff or colleagues. It’s much more effective to ask for input from those who share your customers’ preferences and needs. You may end up with a website, brochure, or ad you’re not crazy about, but if it appeals to your client or customer and increases sales, won’t it look a lot better?

Here’s what we learn about small business marketing from Colonel Sanders’ story:

Colonel Sanders hated the very chicken that made him rich and famous, but he was smart enough to sell chicken he’d never eat if it made a profit. Your business shouldn’t reflect your tastes and preferences, but those of your customers.

When the bar owner (who knew his audience and business goals) told the Colonel to add salt, he listened. He didn’t argue his artistic integrity, but was wise enough to listen to his market.

Be persistent. Sanders refused to give up. He went the extra mile and then some. He didn’t let his detractors persuade him that his product was a failure. It didn’t happen quickly, but when he changed the formula he became wildly successful.

Think about it: Are you holding on to your favorite color, idea, or marketing strategy because you like it? Do you need to make changes that better reflect your customers’/clients’ preferences?

You May Also Enjoy …

My Last Post

Beth Gramling Sanders passed away Thursday, May 24, 2024, surrounded by her husband, Jim, and her daughters, Elizabeth and Sara Ann; she was 65. Beth was born in Elizabethtown,  Kentucky on November 28, 1958, and raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She attended college at...

Speaking: A Complete Guide to Rocking It

Speaking: A Complete Guide to Rocking It

Speaking is one of my favorite parts of my job. I have almost no stage fright, in fact, I have fun in front of an audience and I try to make sure the audience does too. What I've learned is that it's important to be authentic and relaxed, to be yourself, and to care...

Small Business Marketing: Tell a Story

Small Business Marketing: Tell a Story

If small business marketing is your job, you must learn to tell a compelling story. Stories bring your copy to life. They make the difference between boring copy and words that mean something to the reader. Here’s an illustration of the power of story. I’m a fan of...


  1. finnious

    Great lesson in Customer Discovery, thanks for sharing this.

  2. Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

    Also a cardinal rule of entrepreneurship! Build what the market wants it needs, not what you like or think is cool. Good stuff!


Talk Back to Me