Why Your Brand Needs a Chicken Sandwich

Look, it’s really simple. If your brand doesn’t have a chicken sandwich as part of its merchandise offering, you might as well just close your doors.

Soon, every brand will be judged on the quality, availability and deliciousness of their own chicken sandwich. Think of it as a new arms race. Or in this case, wings race.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t sell food. A chicken sandwich will be the cost of entry to every consumer transaction.

And you can point the chicken finger in one direction.

Blame Popeyes.

Believe it or not, the current chicken sandwich frenzy has implications for your brand. Read on to learn how…and to see my definitive ranking of the top 5 chicken sandwiches.

Yes, it’s all Popeyes’ fault. The brand escalated the chicken arms race (wing race?) this summer with the introduction of its new chicken sandwich, which prompted long lines and even longer waits as the restaurant chain sold out of the crave-worthy sandwich. Just this week, Popeyes reported a 42 percent sales increase year over year.

42 percent. That’s $1.3 billion in sales.

All thanks to a chicken sandwich.

This blockbuster launch sparked a nationwide chicken sandwich frenzy as every fast food and fast casual restaurant launched, relaunched or staked their claim to the best chicken sandwich money can buy. Who could have foreseen that chicken sandwich supremacy would lead to Twitter beefs? What juicy irony.

McDonald’s franchisees implored the great Ronald McDonald and his executive team to give them a chicken leg up in the race, a chicken sandwich of their own to compete in the market against the Popeyes poultry powerhouse. Other fast food brands followed suit.

What Popeyes and these other fast food brands saw was a consumer base with a quite literal craving for something new. Not even new, technically, just the scent – and taste – of newness. The chicken sandwich isn’t new. And Popeyes certainly didn’t invent it. Yet here we are. Neck deep in a chicken marketing blitz.

What can we – brands, marketers, sandwich aficionados – take away from all this? Few brands in the world sell something truly unique. There are always and will always be competition. Followers. Copycats. Knockoffs. Options. Brands stand on their corners and entice customers to choose their chicken sandwich – or non-sandwich products – over the others, touting theirs as better, crispier, fresher, juicier, whatever.

Standing out in a crowded marketplace isn’t easy, especially when you’re selling a commodity like, say, a chicken sandwich that just about everyone else sells. But here are three key takeaways from Popeyes declaration of war in the “brand-wich” battle for sandwich dominance:

What do your competitors offer that you don’t? Popeyes is a popular spot for chicken, but they never made a splash with a chicken sandwich until now. It’s certainly within their merchandise category – it’s not like they suddenly introduced a burger. The chicken sandwich fits their identity. Popeyes saw Chick-Fil-A’s ever-expanding dominance of the sandwich market, saw the appetite for the product, and saw an opportunity. In the wake of the success, other brands – like McDonald’s – followed. If you’re going to make waves in the market place, you must do it in a big way, like Popeyes did. Make a spectacle. Make it buzz-worthy. That’s what will get customers to stand up and pay up.

Make it good. Almost sounds too easy, right? But that’s what Popeyes did. They made a chicken sandwich that people wanted, so much that it sold out in its initial run last summer and still generates long lines in its return today. Look at Apple. In the early 2000s, Apple introduced the iPod. It wasn’t the first mp3 player, but they made it so good, people had to have it. That craving for something better, more delicious, will always exist. Others may sell what you have, but how can you make yours different, better and desirable? It’s a recipe for success.

When you’ve got a hit, you know it. Lines out the door. Sales through the roof. The demand was more than Popeyes expected at the start, and they responded by ratcheting up production. Make something people want, then make sure they can buy it.

No, your non-chicken brand doesn’t need to add a chicken sandwich. But the lessons are tasty. Look at the success of Popeyes and ask yourself: what’s our brand’s chicken sandwich?

And now, because I know you’ve been dying to know, here is my definitive ranking of the Top 5 Fast Food Chicken Sandwiches:

  1. Wendy’s
  2. KFC
  3. Shake Shack
  4. Popeyes
  5. Chick-fil-A

Do you have a beef with my chicken ranking? What’s your favorite chicken sandwich?

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