Every company that cares about its brand should work hard to separate its corporate identity from the political and personal views of those who work there. This is good advice for both privately owned and publicly traded corporations.
Chick-fil-A was in the news recently after its president, Dan Cathy, made public his position toward gay marriage. Regardless of persuasion, preference and possible religious views, these actions tarnished the Chick-fil-A brand. Cathy’s statements introduced elements that are contradictory to the brand identity that Chick-fil-A’s advertising, menu and workers have worked hard to establish.
Until last week, the mention of Chick-fil-A conjured up humorous images of cows that could not spell. What also came to mind were unfailingly pleasant employees as well as some of the nicest and cleanest fast-food locations – ones that never made you feel soiled for eating there.
Now what comes to mind is a divisive social issue.
Chick-fil-A’s marketing and continued brand focus over the years was not inexpensive. Judging by the company’s growth, that money was not wasted. Now, by making gay rights a reason to prefer or not prefer Chick-fil-A over other fast-food restaurants, the company has undermined the work it put into that successful brand.
While we live in a country that allows free speech, when it comes to divisive issues, it is smarter to say nothing at all. Stealing market share is all about understanding objections and identifying triggers that will make customers switch. Reduce objections whenever possible, never introduce new ones.
Free speech is an important right and it is certainly Cathy’s privilege to comment about his personal beliefs as much as he wishes. But as result of his outspokenness, Chick-fil-A must redouble efforts to refocus its brand because this chain is not only about chicken sandwiches and silly cows anymore.