What a Native Chinese Has Learnt From a ABC Brand

It’s a friday night. Normally, I would go to In-n-Out to buy a combo as my dinner. But this time I pick Panda Express which is 0.5 mile away from In-n-out. Having stayed here for almost 1 year, I paid my first visit to the Panda Express street location. I don’t know why this comes so late since I was attracted by its logo when I first saw it in the first month I arrived US. Anyway, this maiden voyage is impressive.

First of all, I am impressed by the popularity of Panda Express. Although it’s located at a less outstanding location than in-n-out nearby, there are a lot of customers waiting in line. Then I Join the line, pick the food and pay the bill. The process is streamlined and it’s very efficient. I think it takes less than 10 mins to process around 15 customers in front of me. I also buy a gift card so I can get a free combo and I know I will drop by more often in the future. When I leave the restaurant, I see the waiting line grows longer and it is 9:00 p.m.

I go back home and enjoy the food with my wife and talk with her about what I have experienced. She is also impressed. I see Panda Express employs several good business principles.

  1. Outstanding brand design. The name of “Panda Express” is very straightforward and unique t0 express “Chinese fastfood”. Panda is a very well beloved animal around the world and is always associated with China. Personally, I think panda is one of the best candidates to be considered as part of a chinese brand or a brand for chinese. First, the pronunciation of “Panda” is ideal. It’s like “Apple”, “Google”, “Twitter”, very easy to remember. Second, the visualization of Panda can be simple and eye-catching since panda possesses the classic black and white color scheme. The logo of “Panda Express” does take advantage of those and with a red background and stroke around, which makes it more outstanding among others.
  2. Killing key features. It’s a fast food, while the food still maintains a high quality. Unlike other fast food restaurants, where user can pick from several similar combos, panda express gives the user the choice to combine different entrees. I know some of these attribute to the diversity of chinese food itself. But it’s a big challenge to port it to a different culture with a totally different eating habit. Since I have taken the food, I can say “Panda Express” does a good job in maintaining the balance between authentication and localization.
  3. Good user experience. Good user experience should be conducted in every aspect of a product. But the only thing I want to mention in this context is the fortune cookie. Fortune cookie is a very special stuff, here is a quote from wikipedia ” introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately … consumed by Americans.” Yes, I have never seen it in China while I have seen it is offered by some of chinese restaurants here. I think it’s a very good user experience practice. It’s the last thing of a meal and normally first/last impression is much more important. Fortune cookie is a right fit for providing such good experience. It tastes sweet and the “Fortune” inside always conveys an encouraging quote. While it’s hidden in the cookie, which brings up the curiosity of the human nature to explore what’s inside. Unlike pandora box, the “Fortune cookie” always delivers the good stuff. To give another example, consider the cheap and tasteful ice cream offered at the cafe in ikea. Have you ever noticed that the cafe is always located at the place where you checkout? Yes, it serves the same purpose. All in all, this looks like an “invisible hand”, and it actually pushes the user experience to a high standard.

Now the remaining question is why “Panda Express” hasn’t entered the chinese market. The food itself shouldn’t be an obstacle and there doesn’t exist a big player conducting a similar business practice in China. So, why not?

Just checkout the “Panda Express” website. It is the largest chain of Chinese fast food restaurants in the United States with over 1300 units and 18000 associates. And this all starts from a restaurant run by two native Chinese, opened in 1973 in Pasadena, CA. Impressive!

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