Chick-Fil-A’s PR nightmare & 3 ways to avoid it with your restaurant’s brand

In case you haven’t kept your ear to the ground on latest news, Chick-Fil-A has been under intense fire regarding their support of heterosexual marriage and anti-same-sex-marriage organizations. I’ll leave the debate over the actual issue for other venues, but for our purposes, I’d like to address the situation from a brand standpoint. Here is a quick snippet of the situation:

The latest uproar began this month when Dan T. Cathy, whose deeply religious father, S. Truett Cathy, started the company in 1967, told a Christian news organization that Chick-fil-A supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

Mr. Cathy, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said later in a radio interview, “As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ “

With that in mind, is this REALLY as big a scandal as some may think? Let’s talk brand.

Chick-Fil-A’s brand has been visually defined by the infamous Cow Campaign, but everyone knows how devoutly religious the organization’s owners are. That, too, is a big part of their brand (being closed on Sundays, support of religious groups, etc). These things all build the Chick-Fil-A brand as they do for every brand out there.

When we talk about “brands” and “branding” we’re talking about consumer perceptions. Consumer’s perceptions of a restaurant are built through actions, whether it’s an experience had during a visit, an advertisement, charities they support, or public comments made by ownership. These all combine into a single perception for a person.

For a fellow Baptist, or person who supports hetero-only marriages, Chick-Fil-A has developed a stronger bond by taking a stand on a very touchy situation. For supporters of same-sex marriage, they have turned their backs, alienating an ever-growing part of the population. Was this a good move? That remains to be seen. However, how can YOU avoid such a dramatic backlash with your restaurant?

1. Define Your Brand. Brands go beyond the food and service. Your restaurant’s brand is built from EVERYTHING. You must define who you are, what you stand for, and, sometimes more importantly, what you do NOT stand for.

2. Choose Wisely. Don’t just give to every charity or organization. Choose ones that support your brand. For instance, the restaurant concept we branded in Hawaii, GRYLT, supports health, fitness and general well being. Therefore, we know we want to sponsor athletic events, childhood obesity initiatives, etc.

3. Be Like Sweden: Neutral. Taking a stand is a good move for your personal life, but as a brand ambassador your life is different than the average joe. You’re in the public eye and therefore are always working. Stay away from touchy subjects like religion, politics, etc. It’s just not worth it. Make it a policy to avoid taking sides and be sure to gracefully back out of conversations involving those subjects.

Regarding Chick-Fil-A, the damage is done and the population is split. Taking a stand is a great way to build a brand, but this topic should’ve been left alone from a corporate perspective. We’ll see how it pans out.

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