Media manager outlines brand strategy for students

Published on October 13, 2010

Marketing strategy at fast food chain Chick-fil-A Inc. aims for emotional connections and customer satisfaction rather than the movie merchandising tie-ins and big-budget campaigns of its competitors.

“We’re trying to create raving fans,” said Chuck Bradford, Chick-fil-A’s manager of media integration, who spoke at Harper Center October 13, an event sponsored by the student-led Christian Business Student Association and Family Enterprise Group. Such fans visit the restaurant more often, pay full price, and recommend Chick-fil-A to others, he said.

A first step to creating this kind of brand loyalty is to “execute with excellence,” Bradford said. Along with food quality, this means quality of service. Employees are expected to go the extra mile by carrying trays or helping the customer in any way they can. Such extra attention to service is offered instead of the typical dollar menu proffered at other fast food chains, he said.

Instead of plastic toys in kids’ meals, the chicken franchises give out books. “The hope is that you’re going to develop a trust relationship with the customer,” Bradford said.

The strategy appears to be working. The chicken chain spends $27 million a year on advertising media compared to about $1 billion for McDonald’s. Despite a smaller advertising budget, Chick-fil-A brings in a $3 million average annual volume per restaurant compared to McDonald’s, where average annual volume per restaurant stands at $2.35 million, Bradford said.

McDonald’s, the largest competitor, pulls in a total of $31 billion a year in sales; Chick-fil-A, a comparatively modest $3.2 billion.

Faced with such competition, Bradford said his company takes on a “David and Goliath” mindset to do business. “We’re going out to try to slay some giants,” he said. One of Chick-fil-A’s biggest marketing successes was conceived for a billboard campaign during the 1996 Summer Olympics in the restaurant chain’s home city of Atlanta, Georgia. One billboards featured Holstein cows with their message: “Eat Mor Chiken.” The cows, an instant hit, remain to this day in the advertising campaign.

The company also bought the rights to a college football play-off game, the former Peach Bowl, now known as the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “That became one of our media pushes,” Bradford said. “We actually bought it to activate marketing events at the game because we couldn’t afford a lot of other media.”

A family-owned business, Chick-fil-A requires its franchises to remain closed on Sundays. Franchisees split their profits 50-50 with the company, after paying a franchise fee of 15 percent of sales. Most franchises operate at a 10 percent to 12 percent profit margin, Bradford said. It costs $5,000 to become a franchise operator. Potential operators are vetted for six months to a year and are chosen based on character, chemistry, and competence, Bradford said.

The privately held family-owned chain has 1,518 restaurants in 38 states and Washington DC and boasts 42 years of consecutive sales growth, “usually double digit,” he said.

Bradford also talked about the significance of compassion and personal excellence, challenging students to choose love over money.

Adam Allen, a second-year student in the Full-Time MBA Program, said he enjoyed how Bradford talked both about the business side and the personal side, about having a mission in life. Chick-fil-A’s marketing strategy “sounds like it’s been a success,” Allen said. “There’s no need for me to question a company that seems to use less advertising dollars than McDonald’s, and on a revenue-per-advertising dollar basis, far outperforms it.”

—Mary Sue Penn