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Kevin Hochman, Chief Marketing Officer for KFC US

Ever want to interview your next boss? We did it for you with the following Q&A.

There may be no one in the world who has more reverence for Colonel Harland Sanders than Kevin Hochman. The Chief Marketing Officer for KFC US loves telling stories of the Colonel’s quirks, misadventures, and most of all, why and how his legacy survives today.

In less than two years with the company, Hochman has earned status on Forbes Magazine’s 2015 list of World’s Most Influential CMOs. In a recent visit to his office at Yum! Brands’ Restaurant Support Center, Hochman talked about his vision for the brand and what continues to make KFC one of the region’s best employers.

Here’s what Hochman had to say:

Talk about your long-term goals around KFC marketing.

Our long-term goal is to restore KFC back to greatness in its home country. The brand is 64 years old. KFC is phenomenally successful elsewhere in the world. In some places, it’s the most successful fast food business. The industry has evolved a lot faster here than it has overseas and the environment is very competitive here in the U.S. My hope is that people will think of KFC as the great American brand that it’s always been.

UPDATED Insider Talent - KFC development positions (3) 6-5To do that, we have a very robust plan to upgrade 70 percent of our restaurants over the next three years, about 2,800 stores. Through smart design, the assets team has greatly reduced the cost to remodel. It looks like a brand new restaurant. Yum is providing significant incentives to get franchisees to accelerate the remodel. They’re focusing on big impactful things that will cost less. We’re also updating the menu. We’ll always be a chicken-on-the-bone restaurant but we know we need to innovate to remain relevant.

We’re also investing millions in advertising. So we’re finding our North Star as a brand. Three of five Millennials have never even tried KFC. But if you actually distill the values of the Colonel, they’re very relevant to Millennials, they just don’t know the story. One of the guys at the ad agency we’re working with, Wieden + Kennedy, was the lead on Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign. And he says, “The Colonel is way more interesting than our guy, and your guy is real.” The stories about him are crazy. We’re trying to remind people what a character he was.

Did you know the Forbes honor was coming? What has the response been?

Usually these things are PR driven, but we didn’t lobby for it in this case. This was actually decided by a computer algorithm. They looked at all the news articles that were shared and liked about marketing campaigns, so it was a rack and stack process. We’ve had such virality in the Darrel (Hammond) and Norm (McDonald) ads. We had more views on our “Colonel switches” ad than anything we’ve ever done. The award is more about what the group has done than anything I’ve done. It’s really an honor for how successful the brand turnaround has been. And we’re on track for that to continue. We’re on a global stage. There are always going to be naysayers no matter what you do. You always wonder with marketing, if it’s really working, even as sales continue to grow. But when you see something like this Forbes honor, it confirms for us that it’s definitely working.

Your last position was North America Business Line Leader for the cosmetics division at Proctor & Gamble, where you were responsible for 1,000 employees and $1 billion in annual retail sales. What’s it like to move from consumer products to fast food?

I knew KFC would be a cool brand to work on. I got to work on Cover Girl and Old Spice at P&G, but this is a brand that’s important to people. When you tell people you work for KFC they say, “Oh, I haven’t had Kentucky Fried Chicken in forever.” And when I ask them to tell me about a time they remember having it, it’s always a fantastic story. It’s never associated with a bad memory. It’s always a very positive experience. It represents people coming together, like a lot of those traditions that have gone by the wayside. That’s why I got excited about the opportunity.

Another big difference is, we control the story here. With P&G, they’re providing a product to Target or Walmart, or the supermarket chains. At KFC, we own the entire store, and therefore can control the complete customer experience. A big part of eating the food is the experience that comes with it. It makes the job harder but more exciting.

What drew you to this field originally?

I started in finance, and this field kind of found me. I was able to get in the entry level and build the skills over time. The thing I like about marketing is that it allows you to be of service to people – to your franchisees, to the customer, to the rest of the company. I was on a plane yesterday and someone saw my KFC phone case and said, “You work for KFC? Oh, those ads are a riot.” It got him thinking about trying KFC again.

Can you provide a glimpse into the day-to-day workings of your team?

We work in many different disciplines. Yesterday, I was in Arkansas talking to the farmers about sourcing. Virtually all of our chickens are raised on family farms, not some conglomerate. Which is why they’re more expensive than a grocery store chicken because they’re smaller, more tender, and cost more per pound. So we’re trying to figure out how we tell that story. We want to defeat some of these urban legends about where our food comes from.

Quote-FriendsWe also just finished shooting ads for our Nashville Hot Chicken that debuts this year. It’s an amazing product. I can’t tell you the content of the marketing, but it’s very exciting. What goes into that is a ton of pitches, and once we get to a core idea, we build from that.

The pace is very fast, and it’s a lot of fun. We get to do things like put the Colonel on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

What are some of the ways you work to inspire and support your team?

You have to give people counsel and coaching, but if you’re on their back about everything, you’re never going to get anything done. It forces you to be a better manager. This is definitely a company that empowers its people. Everybody is leading with influence. The idea for Nashville Hot Chicken came from a restaurant employee.

ApplyHereYum! Brands is hiring

You can work alongside leaders like Kevin Hochman. A KFC Brand Marketing Manager position is currently open on his team, as well as jobs in Yum! Brands’ various divisions, including business development, food innovation, finance, human resources, IT, legal, and operations. Find out why Yum is attracting the region’s top talent.

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