Consumer demand for the chicken sandwich is holding steady, but the real category growth is how more competitors are making premium versions. Sure, fast-food chains have had chicken sandwiches on the menu but usually shoved into some inconspicuous place. Now, more and more fast-food restaurants are getting into the gourmet chicken sandwich game, putting their own unique spin on this classic meal.
Even with more competition, Chick-Fil-a continues to differentiate itself through hospitality and customer service. This pairs well with having the best marketing strategy in the industry.
“My pleasure” really makes a difference. And let’s be honest, those billboards of lovable cows promoting perfectly seasoned chicken on a toasted buttered bun helped. This was a home run advertising campaign that catapulted sales during their early growth years.
However, the diversification in media consumption and the smartphone revolution changed the game. Billboards and tv ads lifted Chick-Fil-a to the national brand, but may not be enough for the future.
Chick-fil-a operators needed to adapt. Those that have are creating marketing strategies that leverage local point-of-purchase (POP) marketing signage and digital marketing tools.
With every drive-thru featuring a delicious chicken sandwich, this fast-food chain must take their innovative advertising and leverage it across all channels. Now more than ever, the Chick-Fil-a restaurant owner is a part of the overall marketing campaign.
A Pivotal Point in Chick-Fil-a’s Marketing
Many know of Chick-Fil-a thanks to their marketing genius, and rightfully so. But marketing wasn’t always at the forefront of Chick-Fil-a’s business plan. In fact, it took 40-years before they had an internal marketing department.
While they had advertising programs and local marketing, Steve Robinson led the initiative that made Chick-Fil-a a household name. The tipping point occurred: the cattle industry came calling.
In Steve’s book “Convert Cows” he recounts a story when Truett Cathy called him into his office. He became fearful as to why he was being summoned.
John Smith, the head of the Georgia cattle association, was less than enthusiastic about the new billboards Chick-Fil-a was promoting. He was in the office to discuss his distaste for the chicken promotions plastered on large signage. He felt the words said about his beloved cattle industry were too harsh.
We might attribute Mr. Cathy’s agreement with Steve when stating “the signs shall stay” for their future success. Who knows, if Chick-Fil-a would have buckled and taken a more conservative route, they may have remained a small company.
Chick-Fil-a VS. Other Fast-Food Chains
Apart from food quality and customer service, faith continues to be a differentiator between Chick-Fil-a and other fast-food restaurants. But it isn’t only prayer and Biblical values that make Chick-Fil-a unique amongst its competitors. There’s no other national competitor who puts their boots on the ground, and hustles harder.
Their revenues validate this point. In 2021, Chick-Fil-a generated 16.7 billion in systemwide sales. Compare that to the 13.7 billion from the previous year and you have a gain of 22%.
This restaurant chain continues to see serious growth throughout the current year, capturing even more market share.
Why such incredible growth compared to other chains? Well, leadership will say that every team member is responsible for Chick-Fil-a’s success. Individual effort contributing to company success is more than hyperbole being preached from the pulpit.
Even as a household name, Chick-Fil-a continues pushing forward with a guerrilla marketing strategy. From the marketing director to the restaurant operator, all the way to the entry-level employee. They all play a role in Chick-Fil-a’s success.
All the while being closed on Sunday…
Chick-Fil-a Marketing Strategies
We’ve set the stage for Chick-Fil-a’s so that their advertising and marketing strategies can shine. Now, it’s time to look at what they’ve done well in the past and ways they can see marketing growth in the future.
Point of Purchase Marketing
While everyone knows Chick-Fil-a has one of the best chicken sandwiches (cows everywhere nod in agreement), there’s more to this brand than poultry. They have several other lesser known products that are equally delicious.
For local fast-food restaurants to capitalize on brand awareness received through national advertising, operators use on-site POP signage. This form of marketing showcases lesser known products to both new and loyal customers.
Have you visited a Chick-Fil-a drive-thru at lunch time? Then you know their real estate gets more impressions in several hours than many billboards do in a day. With long yet fast moving lines, Chick-Fil-a Franchises can create marketing conversations throughout the drive-thru experience.
A small yard sign promoting breakfast with their delicious chicken biscuit or Chick-n-Minis is a really smart move. Better yet, three signs that enhance desire helps increase present and future purchases. Here’s what it would look like.
- The first sign shows the chicken and biscuit separated by a message stating “what happens when two favorites come together?”
- The second sign shows the chicken and biscuit embracing like two long lost loves.
- The third sign introduces the sauces and shows how easy dipping the sandwiches can be.
This helps capitalize on lunchtime Chick-Fil-a traffic. It also promotes a daypart or product consumers may have yet to consider.
Here are several POP marketing strategies we’ve seen Chick-Fil-a locations create to increase revenues during and for future visits:
- Banners: Mounted on restaurant property promoting the benefits of the Chick-Fil-a app. They can also use this to promote an upcoming event in the restaurant.
- A-Frame Signage: Visuals that promote gallons of lemonade and sweet tea. They place these signs up-stream in the drive-thru as add-ons to your order.
- Window Clings: Quick yet effective reminders of seasonal items, such as the Peach Milkshake. These clings are front and center right as you walk into the dining room.
- Hanging Menu Board: menus that promote seasonal Chick-fil-a catering. Perfect for graduation parties, Halloween parties, college football tailgating, and holiday parties from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
- Real Human Beings: Hospitality team members helping guests download and place a mobile order through the app.
- Table Signage: Front and center messaging that promotes the best selling foods for other meal times. Or the dessert you forgot to order the first time around.
- Guerrilla Signage: Promoting the mobile app through many advertising locations such as the drive-thru, in-restaurant signage, and cards dropped into carry-out orders.
Chick-Fil-a Street Team
Involvement in the community was, is, and hopefully will be as important to Chick-Fil-a as their national advertising campaigns. Each restaurant takes up the reins in all local marketing efforts. Here’s a few do-good examples of their branding and marketing that build brand loyalty and increase revenues.
Chick-Fil-a leans on local sponsorships. Additional distribution points (ADP) such as schools or festivals are opportunities to connect the local restaurant with guests. Whether it’s bringing the celebrity cow, providing chicken sandwiches, or handing out gift cards, local sponsorships bring the restaurant into the consumers heart.
Examples of local sponsorships may include:
- Local recreation leagues: Corporate and community leagues are opportunities to get in front of an active social circle. In some capacity, these tend to be decision makers.
- 5k running races for charity: Runners and walkers at charity events can remove from their daily stressors to support a good cause. This is the right time for a brand to create a positive association between consumers and your business.
- Elementary school fundraisers: Parents love businesses who support their kids. Involvement doesn’t mean cheap coupon books like McDonald’s offers, but personalizing the support for each school event.
- Local church or non-profit events: provide catering for events like a Night to Shine, Feeding America, or Chick-Fil-a’s Shared Table Program.
- Military Appreciation night: offering local military men and women and their immediate families a free meal to thank them for their service.
Chick-Fil-a creates its own initiatives and aligns with some of the biggest non-profits on the planet. We can find a full list in their social responsibility report. Here are the national campaigns where the local restaurant can get involved.
- Operation Christmas Child: Host a packing party, possibly partnering with local churches to bring in supplies and pack shoeboxes for Christmas.
- Feeding America: Hold a cookie fundraiser donating a percentage of cookie sales over one week to Feeding America.
- Junior Achievement: Teach kids financial literacy skills like maintaining a budget and learning to operate a business by sponsoring simulated storefronts at local Junior Achievement facilities.
Through a corporate and local collaborative, Chick-Fil-a is the most involved fast-food chain in the community. Being known as a business that cares is perhaps the best marketing strategy that exists.
Free Item Cards
When you have a product this good, it makes sense to give it away. Free item cards are a great way to remind people how great the food tastes. It’s also a great way to surprise someone with a gift they will be excited about.
Here’s some ways Chick-Fil-a can make the most out of these free item cards.
- The Chick-Fil-a cows: The cows love the guests and the guests love the cows. Restaurants can leverage their beloved cows by handing out free sandwich or meal cards with the Cows. We can do this at local festivals, events, 5k races, local sporting events.
- Food Warming Bags: Offering a free lunch to nearby businesses. This is a great way to earn the opportunity to serve local businesses with future catering.
- Drink Backpacks: Who doesn’t love lemonade? An operator could put their street team to work by walking around with lemonade filled backpacks and giving out drinks to thirsty workers. Then, give them a free drink card they can use with their next meal.
These strategies are great ways to gain traction on social media through social proof. A picture with the cow or showcasing your act of kindness works to the benefit of the restaurant.
Chick-Fil-a Digital Marketing Strategies
In the last few years, the digital marketing landscape has exploded. Chick-Fil-a operators have plenty of tools at their disposal. This has been one of the biggest opportunities for growth in the local restaurant.
Now, each Chick-Fil-a restaurant can use digital campaigns to target within a mile radius of their restaurant. This lets operators reach local guests with focused messaging curated to their customer.
The Chick-Fil-app makes this all possible. In the app, each restaurant can create a customized experience by including a personal picture and signature. They can adjust the copy on the location page.
A tremendous benefit to the local restaurant is the ability to send personal emails one at a time. Here are two examples:
- Email new or infrequent customers with free reward redeemable through the app.
- Email regular customers about seasonal items and new initiatives they might like.
Chick Fil A Digital Media Marketing Campaigns
As a collaborative partnership between the operator and corporate, Chick-Fil-a uses social media to promote the brand. They do a lot more than just show off their delicious meals and satisfied customers. Their campaigns bring awareness to lesser known revenue streams and build upon their strengths.
Here’s a look at some of what makes Chick-Fil-a’s social media marketing so successful.
Marketing Examples: Chick-Fil-a Style!
The team at The Nine worked to create a list of specific strategies that a Chick-Fil-a restaurant (or its competitors) can use to increase sales.
Want to grow afternoon snack time? Run a Facebook campaign geo-targeted with a 1-mile radius around the restaurant. Feature a picture of a melty Peach milkshake with copy reading “Who wants an afternoon snack?”.
You can even schedule it to run for the hours of 1:30-4:30. Then operators can measure sales in the afternoon for the duration of the campaign. This way they can see how they compare to the week before.
Is your restaurant blessed to be in a region where tailgating for college football is a big deal? If so, schedule your social campaign Wednesday through Saturday.
Feature a picture of a team member. Have their face painted with the local school colors while holding a large tray of chicken nuggets. Include a copy that states: “Who’s ready for game day?! Go team!”
Speaking of catering, Google ads can help convert people around a Chick-Fil-a restaurant when searching for “catering near me”.
Hiring has been a challenge for businesses across the country. A digital ad linking potential candidates to text-to-hire campaigns creates a pipeline of applicants for a restaurant’s hiring process.
Create local images of team members with messaging or testimonies about the Chick-Fil-a culture. This differentiates their ads from other quick-service restaurants using the same strategy.
Deliver on Delivery
Chick-Fil-a restaurants have capitalized on the explosion of the personal meal delivery service. Restaurants use digital media to launch the delivery arm of their business through geo-targeted social ads..
Launching delivery with a general awareness campaign geo-targeted at the delivery area is a great way to get the word out which will only be amplified by the branded delivery vehicles driving around. Once awareness is established, schedule daypart campaigns for the 3-4 hours around the meal time you want to promote as people are often deciding where to eat in that time frame. Execute this correctly and you will need additional scheduled delivery drivers to maximize this growth opportunity.
Strategy: What can we do with delivery to both delight and entice? Email customers a free delivery coupon at the beginning of the week. Then, send it out again to those guests who redeemed it. This compounds your ability to stay in the front of the consumer’s mind.
Mobile App Orders
Apps aren’t new for most of us. However, because of the pandemic, placing orders with local businesses on apps grew exponentially. Previously, trying to convince someone to adopt a new process when ordering their favorites from local restaurants was like pulling teeth. Now, the reminders of why they love the app will be the focus of Chick-Fil-a.
The app allows customers to place orders ahead of time, save meal preferences, and earn points towards future visits. Digital marketing through social media helps find the tech savvy people. It makes sense since these are the most likely to use apps to remind them of the benefits.
Once onboard with the app, messaging through push notifications, surprise treats, and restaurant promotions keeps Chick-Fil-a restaurants top of mind.
Localized marketing Funnels for Chick-Fil-a Operators
So here’s what the funnel looks like holistically from the two perspectives discussed above. Digital marketing allows the restaurant to geo-target new and existing customers. They can use this feature for goal-specific imagery with messaging centered on dayparts, product categories, delivery channels or hiring needs.
Once on grounds, strategically placed point-of-purchase signage further reinforces or introduces guests to these initiatives. Local restaurants can maximize their efforts by aligning the timing and product messaging with Chick-Fil-a national promotional calendar.
My Local Chick-fil-a
A localized strategy gives the Chick-Fil-a restaurant permission to tell their story and connect with guests through their unique voice and personality. It’s no secret that the operator and their unique impact on the restaurant differentiate them from other quick-service restaurants and from other locations. This produces loyal customers with a personal connection to their local Chick-fil-a.
We Love Digital Marketing
We hope you enjoyed this article as much as we enjoyed writing it. Chick-Fil-a is an inspirational brand that companies in and out of the restaurant business can learn from. If you would like to strategize similar or personalized digital marketing strategies, we would love to help.
The Nine is a digital marketing agency that blends strategy, technology, and execution into a delicious revenue generating result.