The opening of Chick-fil-A in Manhattan has brought out protesters opposed to the company’s politics. A New York Times story about the situation prompted us to republish this case study, originally posted September 29, 2014.
Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy passed away earlier this month, but his legacy will live on through his popular restaurant chain.
By openly reflecting Cathy’s own beliefs and values, Chick-fil-A forged a strong identity that has earned broad appeal. As Emma Green explores in an in-depth Atlantic article, the company is well known for sharing Cathy’s deeply Christian views. This stance has spurred controversy—in 2012 the company faced a firestorm on social media for donations it made to anti-gay charities—but it has also imbued its brand with a distinct authenticity.
Employees value company’s culture and values
Employees recently voted Chick-fil-A one of the top companies for culture and values, and, by incorporating philanthropy into the company’s mission, Cathy “pioneered the charitable business,” according to the Christian Science Monitor’s Bryan Cronan. Such honesty and sincerity has paid off, as Drew Harwell notes in the Washington Post:
The chicken chain has inspired a consumer loyalty that is the envy of its fast-food rivals. Just after the 2012 flare-up, consumers told market analysts that Chick-fil-a scored way above average for attributes like “brand image” and “emotional connection,” a measure of whether the restaurant “has a likable personality” and “has values that are similar to my own.” Technomic gave Chick-fil-a another award this year for “social consciousness.”
Building an image online
Chick-fil-A’s social media presence builds on that authenticity and creates a personal connection with their customers. On Facebook “its content captures genuine interaction with Chick-fil-A and their food with relatable captions and messages alongside,” according to digital marketing consultant Jason Muller. Their Facebook updates are an excellent example of balancing promotional messages with more personal content and a general sense of enthusiasm for the brand. This mix has earned the company more than 7,500,000 likes on Facebook and some of the most loyal followers among top brands. It also consistently elicits engagement. For instance, Brand Channel’s Darcy Newell points out that “more than 50,000 Facebook followers ‘liked’ the brand’s announcement of Truett’s passing in the first 48 hours.”
Though it has adhered to its founder’s core principles, Chick-fil-A also understands that it must listen to its customers to maintain such loyalty. Last year Forbes.com contributor Scott Davis talked with senior vice president Steve Robinson about the importance of “raving fans” and popular initiatives like LEED-certified restaurants. “That may not sound interesting to all of our leaders, but it is very important to our customers,” Robinson explained. Similarly, this past February Chick-fil-A heeded public calls to move toward using antibiotic-free chicken.
With its strong values and ability to engage with its customers in a way that is both sophisticated and sincere, Chick-fil-A has built an exceptional brand image. S. Truett Cathy’s ardent vision has proven successful. Last year Chick-fil-A had the most sales of any chicken restaurant chain, even though the previous leader KFC operates nearly three times as many stores.