Building a Powerful Brand

About a year ago I read the book Covert Cows & Chick-fil-A by Steve Robinson.  Steve was the long time director of marketing for Chick-fil-A, and was part of the leadership team that drove the amazing success that Chick-fil-A experienced over the last quarter of a century.  In his book, Steve shares the business and leadership lessons he learned while at Chick-fil-A and, in particular, what he learned from its legendary founder, Truett Cathy.

There are a ton of interesting pointers and anecdotes in this book, but the one I found most interesting was how Chick-fil-A thought about financial success.  Of course, financial success was important to Chick-fil-A, but it wasn’t what was “top of mind” for them every day.  It was actually more of a byproduct.  It wasn’t primarily through tracking and chasing financial metrics that they had achieved success.  Rather, financial success was a byproduct of focusing on and pursuing a handful of other specific objectives.  This approach was really eye opening for me, and actually caused me to reflect on how I lead.  My natural tendency is to fixate on financial metrics and drive for them.  And we’ve been pretty successful doing that at Baillie.  But the idea of thinking of financial metrics as a byproduct, a result of something else, intrigued me and made me want to read more!


Chick-fil-A has undoubtedly become an iconic brand over the last 25 years.  Robinson describes in detail how they established, developed and grew their amazing brand.  “Great brands”, he says, “grow out of great cultures, and great cultures start with a powerful purpose.”  In the case of Chick-fil-A, that purpose is “to  glorify God by being faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”

This purpose is inspiring in and of itself.  But what was really interesting to me was how Chick-fil-A set out to achieve their purpose.  Building their brand and fulfilling their purpose came from pursuing three specific objectives: demanding operational excellence leading to Raving Fan customers, providing great service (they called it second-mile service), and making emotional connections.  Truett Cathy insisted on operational excellence from every store operator, from the first day an operator opened his store.  He knew that customers wouldn’t put up with poor operations.  In his mind, operational excellence was the ticket to the dance.  He expected every store owner to execute flawlessly. 

But a steely focus on operational excellence, on great execution, wasn’t enough.  Truett also insisted upon what he called “second-mile service”.  The book contains several examples of how they provided extraordinary service, none more memorable than the customer who got caught on the roof of his house during a flood.  He called the closest Chick-fil-A restaurant and ordered lunch.  The owner knew someone who had a boat.  The owner convinced this person to get his boat out, deliver the food to the customer on the roof, and rescue the customer.  Memorable to say the least.

Related to service is the third element, making emotional connections.  They did this partly through extraordinary service, but they also did this largely through innovative marketing.  The cow who said, “Eat Mor Chikin”, was endearing, and through constant exposure and humor the cow helped connect customers emotionally to Chick-fil-A.

The other thing I found interesting in this book was the Chick-fil-A approach to recruiting and hiring people.  For their leaders, they look for two key traits.  First, the ability to attract, develop and keep great people.  And second, people with passion, with “fire in their belly”.  Sometimes we look at a laundry list of qualifications for leaders, headed by technical competence.  However, Chick-fil-A was convinced that folks who had these two traits could learn what they needed to know.  These two traits were the primary drivers of success for their leaders.  The book also talks about three qualities that Chick-fil-A looks for in all people they hire.  They look for competency, character, and chemistry.  Competency is less concerned about the specific skills the person has, but rather whether they have the ability and desire to be a learner.  If they do, Chick-fil-A will provide the resources and opportunity for the person to be successful.  Second, character.  This may be self-explanatory, but does this person have the character necessary to thrive in the Chick-fil-A culture?  And third, chemistry.  Does the person demonstrate that they will have good chemistry with the team with which they will work?

I’d highly recommend you pick up a copy of Covert Cows.  Lots of great stuff.

Jeff Meyer
Baillie Lumber