Building Strong Brands and Strong Cultures

Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best forms of marketing – it always has been, and it’s becoming more relevant everyday, through influencers, social media, and more. Many times we conflate the world of marketing with advertising–spending money on billboards and TV commercials. The truth is, if we think honestly about what influences our daily decisions, it’s typically someone we trust making a recommendation we believe in–it’s word of mouth. When someone you know or look up to encourages you to buy from a specific brand, you are much more likely to listen and buy from the brand than you would be if you saw it on a billboard driving down the interstate. People will believe in a brand if others are raving about it. That’s why in my time at Chick-fil-A, we had what we called the Raving Fan Strategy. It was broken down into three parts:

    1. Part one was Operational Excellence: doing what customers expect with excellence. If they come to you and they don’t get what they expected, you might get some word of mouth, but it likely won’t be good word of mouth. So, step one is, we’re going to give customers what they expect to receive with excellence.
    2. That enables part two to happen: Second Mile Service. Second Mile Service is giving customers things they don’t expect with excellence. This is the point in which people begin to make remarks in a positive way – they organically begin telling their friends or coworkers about a surprisingly pleasant experience they had that exceeded their expectations – whether that is through stellar customer service, an unexpected feature or bonus, or something else that left an impression.
    3. Part three was Emotional Connections Marketing. Emotional Connections Marketing can be thought of this way: how do we use our marketing funds to invest back in the customers we’re serving? Instead of spending money on an ad campaign or other traditional marketing tactics, it’s choosing to invest in a local fundraiser, daddy-daughter date night, or something important going on in the community. The more personal something is, the more powerful it is. For example, I know of Chick-fil-A leaders that have overheard that a longstanding customer’s birthday was coming up and ordered them a cake. It doesn’t have to be a charitable event or expensive, but it’s making something that is important to your customer important to you. The underlying idea is that in order to make an emotional connection, we must first find out what is important to our customers and then make it important to us. If you have kids in a local school and I support that school, I’ve supported you – my customer. I’ve used the resources I have to show that we care about them personally. That’s Emotional Connections Marketing.

Let's first find out what is important to our customers and then make it important to us.

Taking a step back, before we can create Raving Fan Customers, we must first create Raving Fan Employees through a strong sense of brand values and culture. When we look at the building blocks of a strong culture, it is important to note that culture is more caught than taught. A lot of people think, “Let’s set up a class and teach our employees about our culture.” I actually think modeling behaviors and values on an ongoing basis is far more crucial to culture building. One of the things I noticed at Chick-fil-A was how culture wasn’t taught in a classroom settingit was learned through valuable conversations in meetings. And, most importantly, through the behaviors that were role modeled for us.

For example, you almost never walk into the Support Center at Chick-fil-A without the door being held open for you. If I’m walking into Chick-fil-A and I see somebody coming up behind me, I instinctively hold the door open for them. Not once in my 37 years at the company did someone have to tell me to hold the door open for people. There was not a class that taught me to do that, but as others role modeled it for me so consistently, I did it, and then visitors picked up on it too!

Dan Cathy was another great example of role modeling. He cared about simple things, like picking up the trash. It wasn’t uncommon to see him go around the home office, stop to discreetly pick up a napkin on the floor and quietly throw it away. Not only would he do this at his own office, he would do it wherever he went! I remember being on a trip with him in New York City with the president of a major Fortune 100 company. While Dan was walking down the streets of New York City, he would stop mid-conversation and suddenly would reach down and pick up trash to throw away – all without breaking eye contact. It’s safe to say he had an impact, because it wasn’t long before the President of the company started picking up on the habit a little bit into the trip as well. I genuinely believe the strongest way to “teach” cultural values is to bring clarity around what they are and then empower leaders to role model them consistently – through their everyday actions.

When a company reflects its own values in the day-to-day actions, you’ll find that it is deeply aligned with its culture. Values and cultures can be thought of like a magnet; with a magnet, you have two ends, a positive and a negative. One side attracts, but flip it around and it repels. 

Strong cultures either strongly attract or strongly repel people depending on their values. When a potential employee is a fit, there’s this sense of attraction and a sense of alignment around mutual values.

In an interview, I would always be really clear about our values and see if the person is strongly drawn to them. If their answer was, “Yeah, I could live with that” or, “I’ve always wanted to work for a big, successful brand” versus something like, “Wow, that’s the kind of company I’ve always dreamed I could work for,” it’s incredibly revealing. You’ve got to surface the values during the interview and then look for the degree to which there’s a strong emotional connection to those values within the candidate. These seemingly small alignments will all accumulate and serve as the building blocks to the strength and potency of the culture as a whole. 

It is interesting that 80% of what we do at Chick-fil-A is exactly the same as what everyone else does – we buy land, we build buildings, we have bathrooms, we clean restaurants, we manage cash flow… but 20% of what we do is very different. So I always sought to make sure potential candidates were drawn to and aligned with that 20%.You must have clarity on the uniqueness of your brand and the best candidates will be those that are strongly drawn to that 20% that is truly unique.

I’ve never seen a great brand come out of a mediocre culture. Start with building a strong culture, then let your brand story be an overflow of that success. Raving Fan Employees (culture) leads to Raving Fan Customers (brand) every time.

I’d love to connect with you on social media, you can find me on these platforms:

Together, we can Spark a Revolution of brands more defined by meaning than money, brands that achieve success in a manner that redefines it.

David Salyers
Founder, Spark A Revolution

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