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Brand Battles: Kentucky Fried Chicken vs. Chick-fil-A

Brand Battles: Kentucky Fried Chicken vs. Chick-fil-A

How a niche-brand surpasses a global giant

Summary: Two brands face off, measured across brand impact determinants and evaluated by their performance data in our latest study The 360° Advantage: How Whole Brands Dominate.

In this Brand Battle, Chick-fil-A takes on Kentucky Fried Chicken. Only one ranks at the top of our survey's restaurant category—outperforming even McDonald’s on our Whole Brand Index—and far ahead of its most direct competitor. The key to its strength: scoring high across the entire brand spectrum, with especially strong dominance in all things related to their workforce and the customer experience provided by that team.


Kentucky Fried Chicken is an iconic, global brand. In terms of brand power, it is up against one of the most successful brands in our study, Chick-fil-A.

Except for women’s apparel, no category in our study is as competitive as quick serve and fast casual restaurants. Because so many brands occupy this category, and it competes to win a finite number of consumer dining occasions, it’s essentially impossible for one brand to dominate the category.

While that’s not even conceivable for a behemoth like McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A shows what is possible when a brand works hard to excel at everything.

The brand wins this category in terms of the Whole Brand Index with a score of 66, three points ahead of runner-up McDonald’s and 12 points ahead of KFC. It is second in Total Performance Score at 149—just four points behind McDonald’s but 109 ahead of KFC. 

Chick-fil-A’s success in the marketplace against these two giants is especially impressive because it contends with just 2300+ locations, compared to 36,000 for McDonald’s and 23,000 for KFC. It’s score is only two points ahead of the mean score for all brands in our study, but don’t take that as a weakness. Chick-fil-A is one of the powerhouse brands in America today. Because of how it must compete, it goes head-to-head with much larger brands and must win against them despite being at a disadvantage for physical availability.


With a footprint about 1/10 of KFC, Chick-fil-A can dramatically outperform its much bigger rival.

A look underneath these numbers—and the numbers of its most direct competitor, KFC—reveals the true power of a whole brand. Out of the ten brand determinants that comprise the Whole Brand Index, KFC outscores Chick-fil-A on only one: ads/messages seen most often—by a score of 54 to 51.

That’s not surprising given the scale and traditional marketing that drives the KFC brand. But even with KFC’s advantage in reach, Chick-fil-A outscores them on the communications metric of “most relevant messaging”—57 to 50.

Chick-fil-A shrugs off its size disadvantage by winning everywhere else, and not just in a one-to-one contest against KFC. It crushes the rest of the category with daunting scores on the dimensions related to workforce/customer service and customer experience—averaging 75 on these crucial metrics. These dimensions are important for any brand in any category, but it’s especially true for restaurant brands. KFC averages 53 on these elements. The nearest restaurant competitor to Chick-fil-A on these dimensions is Panera at 68.

This chart decisively shows that Chick-fil-A’s investment in customer service, a knowledgeable and attentive workforce, and all aspects of the customer experience contributes to their “whole brand” impact. 

TAKEAWAY: For brands looking to make a mark against a much larger competitor, build your brand across the board. Don’t surrender ground on any of the important brand dimensions. Brands can reasonably specialize in what they sell. Chick-fil-A, for example, is unapologetic about their passion for chicken.

When it comes to competing, the brand has an innate understanding that it wins with a full-court press: great product, an endearing workforce, a one-of-kind customer experience, a distinct design system, and on-point communications. Not only does this formula work for them in the brand battle against KFC, it even puts them on a par from a brand level with the Golden Arches, that iconic global brand that’s part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Never underestimate the power of a whole brand.

Read more about The 360° Advantage: How Whole Brands Dominate.


Unless otherwise stated, Barkley does not have a business relationship with the brands mentioned in this article. All Barkley clients are clearly noted throughout the Whole Brand Index and Whole Brand Project website.

Barkley US

Jun 17, 2020

filed under:
Brand Battles, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Research, Restaurant, Whole Brands


Brand Battles, Healthcare, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Research, Whole Brands
Brand Battles, Finance, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Whole Brands
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