Everyone knows that your brand should stand for something, but what happens when that stance is unpopular? This question came to mind as I witnessed lines around the block for Chick-fil-A this past weekend in South Carolina, despite the turmoil generated by their public opposition to gay marriage.
Until recently, Chick-fil-A was seemingly doing everything a brand should do: it was well positioned in the market, delivered a strong product and message, and had deep ties with its customer. The brand has always stood for good, wholesome Christian family values. They close all of their locations on Sundays so that their employees can spend time with their families (even doing so during the 1996 Olympics). And of course, these values resonate strongly in the Southern Bible Belt where the brand has a strong presence. But this week, Chick-fil-A’s “family values” backfired with the confirmation that they support organizations that oppose gay marriage (among other anti-gay initiatives).
Chick-fil-A is holding strong to their position and their actions, fully owning up to and disclosing their beliefs. This honesty has come at a cost, though. The mayors of Boston and Chicago have both stated that the company is not welcome in their city and boycotts are planned nationwide. Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet Toys from Kid’s Meals and is now making donations instead to organizations that support gay rights. Meanwhile, Christian conservatives are calling for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and conservative politicians are rallying around the brand. And, in South Carolina this weekend, I watched the lines at local Chick-fil-A: they were as long as they always were, indicating that their core customer has remained loyal to the brand.
Leaving personal beliefs aside, Chick-fil-A is a good case for why it’s important to know your target audience. The brand’s values resonate strongly in the Bible Belt, and the brand remained true to them (and those customers who believe the same thing), despite the uproar. Chick-fil-A is not “flip flopping” their position as some companies (and politicians) have been known to do. And they have avoided much of the volatility that comes from lack of transparency or complete honesty.
The sacrifice that Chick-fil-A makes (aside from negative press) is that they now have a limited potential customer base. However, they most likely consciously made the decision that limiting the pool to those customers is a sacrifice they are willing to make to continue to support the organizations of their choosing. I imagine, based on the strength of support that is currently being shown for the brand in its key markets, the brand will most likely continue to be viable among its core constituency.