It turned out to be “Chick-fil-A week” here at TopRight. We’ve been reading and thinking about their products and brand strategy so much lately that I got a serious hankering and swung into a nearby location for lunch. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t somehow forgotten what the experience is all about.
Can they really be that friendly? It’s true, they are. Is the chicken that good? In fact, it is. And that’s why Chick-fil-A is the prime example of the brand that truly lives out an authentic, memorable Story. Dining there can make you forget what a traumatic experience it once was—say back in the 1990’s or 2000’s—to get a meal at most major fast food restaurants. The typical service was (and still is) transactional, the food forgettable, the floors dirty, and the dining experience altogether, third-rate. These establishments may have been living out their own Stories as well, but it can’t matter much when your Story is just, “Eat here – and eat quickly!”
Everything about the Chick-fil-A marketing approach will send you back to a central Story, which is focused on making the customer the hero and providing a memorable experience (not just a quick meal). As Founder, Truett Cathy once said, “We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”
It could be that much of the ongoing transformation of the fast food world will turn out to be a result of the Chick-fil-A revolution. If the industry is going to elevate its standards across the board, it will be at their insistence and because of their influence. It’s about time. Below are eight ways Chick-fil-A is making an impact on their customers’ lives and authentically living out their brand Story.
1. They say they sell a quality product, and they do.
Their chicken is free of trans fat, antibiotics, and preservatives or hormones of any kind. In fact, they seem to care a great deal about that sort of thing, and they respond when customers have concerns. And it shows. The food is prepared fresh daily and tastes great. They source the potatoes for their famous waffle fries and the chicken for their sandwiches from hand-picked U.S. farms that are accountable to rigorous standards. Each restaurant prepares fresh food in-house – they hand roll the dough and bake buttery biscuits every morning, squeeze fresh lemons for homemade lemonade, hand bread the chicken breasts, wash, prep and chop the produce. Other fast food joints can’t seem to make those claims. More importantly, though, even if they say they do, customers aren’t likely to believe them—and often for good reasons. At the heart of the Chick-fil-A Story is quality and care, and their customers know it.
2. They do not mess around when it comes to franchising and quality control.
Starting out in 1946 as a small, fried chicken stop called Dwarf House in Hapeville, Georgia, the first restaurant called “Chick-fil-A” didn’t open in Atlanta’s Greenbriar Mall until 1967. They now have franchises in 47 states, Canada, and South Africa. It has been a gruelingly slow process. But intentionally so. It’s famously difficult to be selected to open a Chick-fil-A, and the reason is clear: corporate wants to ensure that all locations maintain their standards, practices, and beliefs—their Story. They know that if any of the locations lose sight of the brand’s reputation and southern heritage, then they risk losing all credibility. In contrast to a place like Subway—which has tens of thousands of locations and is likely to open up a new one in your driveway—Chick-fil-A knows that it takes time and conviction to maintain real quality and a brand that lasts.
3. They are strategic about brand extension.
While Chick-fil-A will always be most famous for its original, premium-fast-food restaurants, they have taken a strategic approach to brand extension. The Chick-fil-A Football Hall of Fame museum located in Atlanta is a clear indication that they have a true understanding of their customer base (one that lives and breathes college football). And, have you ever heard of Truett’s Grill? Most people in Atlanta, actually, have not. It’s owned by Chick-fil-A and named after Founder, Truett Cathy. Truett’s Grill is the 50s-style diner version of the same Chick-fil-A restaurant, with many of the same sandwiches but a still wider selection and a homier, eat-in atmosphere. It seems that they want to move into the family dining market, with an emphasis on healthier food and grilled chicken. And because they have already elevated the fast-food dining experience, they really may succeed with it (imagine if Burger King tried this, it simply would not work). But, whether or not their newest venture into Meal Kits will succeed…that’s still up for debate.
4. “My pleasure!” They really are courteous and polite.
It’s actually stunning how polite they are. Part of that might be Southern hospitality, but mostly it’s because it starts from the top. Chick-fil-A values their employees, and in turn, those employees treat customers well. Beyond that, no matter what role you serve in the restaurant, you are taught that every interaction makes an impact on customers’ lives. Just check out this video called “Every Life Has a Story” that they created for employee training purposes:
The bottom line: every customer matters and that’s evident by how they’re treated.
5. Locals love to gossip about Chick-fil-A, in fact they won’t shut up about it.
For a person coming through Atlanta for the first time, you’re likely to hear talk about these larger-than-life figures—God, Coca-Cola, SEC Football, and Chick-fil-A. The place is a southern institution now, beloved by all. Don’t talk bad about the Spicy Chicken in church or disdain the waffle fries in front of grandma, you might get a slap upside the head. Chick-fil-A, of course, actively nurtures this subculture of what former CMO Steve Robinson used to call “raving fans.” And there are orders from the top for stores to maintain personal relationships with those individuals (often appearing in “Kow” suits on gameday) who identify as such. The latest target demographic includes college-age sports fans, and their online presence, TV commercials reflect a widening of this approach. In other words, they have mastered the magic of the Shareable Story.
6. Their online presence, including the app and website, deliver a great User Experience
The user interface on Chick-fil-A’s app and website are optimized for mobile use, functional, attractive—all the things they really should be. It’s amazing how many companies get this wrong. Apps can often be annoying, buggy, and underwhelming, and the websites can be confusing, or worse, not mobile friendly. (Download the app now and become a member to earn points.) Their site is a perfect rendering of their brand, and it brings a consistency and familiarity that nearly jumps off the screen at you. Consistency in your Story and consistency in your customers’ experiences of that Story can ultimately determine the success or failure of your business – and this is one area that Chick-fil-A has nailed.
7. That warm and fuzzy (and possibly controversial) feeling.
It’s part of their Story too. The religion, the politics—it’s all a package deal. And especially for Southerners, most of whom grew up with cultural complexities and who, more than others, are prepared to live and even thrive on contradiction, that religious undertone just makes sense. It doesn’t mean you have to love it or agree with it, it just means you won’t ever get Chick-n-Minis™ on a Sunday. And because of their authentic approach to customer engagement, for the third year in a row Chick-fil-A has copped the top spot on the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index.
8. They have the human touch.
And their new TV commercials show it. Simplicity, friendliness, humanity: it’s as easy and yet as difficult to execute as that. Chick-fil-A is famous for making the customer the hero, it’s a big part of their Story. At every new location opening, for instance, the first 100 customers get free food for an entire year. Not only is that good marketing, but you know what? It’s the classy thing to do.
A truly great Story makes a real impact. It’s when customers gain a little something more than just a new product or service. And that is the secret of Chick-fil-A’s success—making it about more than just delicious chicken.
If you liked this post, please stop by our blog, Insights, early next week for our Strategy piece on the promise, progress, and pitfalls of Bear Naked Granola from Kellogg. And if you want insights into transforming how your customers interact with your brand, plus tactical tips to accelerate growth, take a look at my Transformational Marketing ebook.