In March 2018, Chick-fil-A opened its largest restaurant in its history on Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. Chick-fil-A fans showed up in droves with a line stretching down a full city block.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. All over the country, at various times throughout the year, campers huddle in tents overnight to be one of the first customers at one of a multitude of Chick-fil-A’s Grand Openings, with the first 100 customers receiving
free Chick-fil-A for a year. As the New York Post said, “Chick-fil-A is on fire. The fastest growing chicken-sandwich franchise is poised
to become the third-largest fast-food chain in the country in 2019, replacing Subway, according to Kalinowski Equity Research.”
With all of the fast-food choices in the world, Chick-fil-A has created a brand that people not only recognize but connect with on an emotional level. So, what is it that differentiates Chick-fil-A from all other fast-food restaurants and what can this
restaurant chain teach us about branding in the cremation industry?
When analyzing the funeral industry, and particularly the cremation space, what business similarities do most cremation providers have? They all offer caskets, urns, flowers, GPLs, and standardized practices. Unfortunately, there are far too few differentiating
characteristics within cremation service providers. The challenge of all businesses, but especially in businesses that have common product and service offerings, is how to distinguish themselves from the competition.
When considering the success of Chick-fil-A, it is important to ask what it is that differentiates its brand amongst their competitors. Here’s a test: see how quickly you can answer these questions:
- What is the color of the Chick-fil-A logo, and what animal is hidden in the letter “C”?
- What is Chick-fil-A’s tagline and what mascot delivers the tagline?
- What is it every Chick-fil-A employee says when you say, “Thank you”?
As a consumer, you should have quickly been able to identify the red logo with a chicken hidden in the letter “C.” In addition, the cow has been campaigning for you to “Eat Mor Chikin” since 1995. And last, “It’s my pleasure” is the simple line that uniquely
positions Chick-fil-A in its delivery of exceptional service. All three of these differentiating factors help establish the company’s brand and identity. The company has clearly defined a distinct image, message, and brand.
With this example in mind, what are some ways a cremation service provider can distinguish itself in the cremation space and begin creating a unique brand image? Ultimately, it comes down to superior branding, in addition to the unwavering quality of
service. Following are strategies you can incorporate to create a thriving brand with a distinct identity in a competitive market.
Establish a Brand Ambassador that Puts Service Above All Else
More than just the Chick-fil-A cow mascot, it is the people that truly make your experience at Chick-fil-A a memorable one. They play a vital role in differentiating Chick-fil-A by going the extra mile to clean up your table when you are done eating,
taking your order before you even reach the drive-through menu, or simply handing you a card for a free sandwich when they make a mistake. Creating brand ambassadors by providing exceptional customer service is what differentiates Chick-fil-A from
all other fast-food restaurants. Who differentiates you or your firm in the market place?
Speaking with hundreds of firms around the country, most of them feel they do a “good job” at getting out into the community and representing their firm. However, we live in an at-need world, and, when the phone rings or when we are on coroner rotation,
we have to go and serve.
Many times, the constant pressures of the at-need business pull us away from opportunities to further the brand. This is known as working in the business and not on the business. To combat this, you must dedicate time to get out into the
community and represent your brand.
In some firms, the owner takes on this responsibility. In others, it may be shared by a couple of individuals. Whomever you choose as your brand ambassador, it is important that someone is visiting the hospice centers and the nursing facilities, attending
community functions, etc.—someone who will become the face and voice of the firm. This means not only being a recognizable face in these places, but being the face of a firm that cares, provides exceptional service, and sacrificially gives back to
the community. Over time, your firm will become known as part of the fabric of the community. You will see your brand grow because people will know they can trust you and the brand you represent.
The following story within the cremation space demonstrates the absolute necessity of having a brand ambassador. A little over ten years ago, a recent college graduate had an idea for entering the cremation market in the Pacific Northwest. He found a
location to start his business and began to hustle. He attended every chamber of commerce function he could. He met all the hospice organizations, and he got to know the officers and deputies of the local police department and sheriff ’s office.
Everywhere he went, he carried a few packages of peanut M&Ms in his pockets. As he would visit with people, he would give them a package of M&Ms. He became known as “The Candy Man.” Because he dedicated the time and hard work to develop the relationships,
this young entrepreneur grew his brand from serving zero families to over 1,800 families per year, and the brand is still growing.
Be proud of who you are, and get out to tell your story. Be a dedicated brand ambassador who cares for people and offers them a unique experience that puts service and care for others above all else.
Create a Brand Promise that Differentiates Your Firm
What kind of promise do you think Chick-fil-A offers? As a customer, it is fairly easy to define. They promise to deliver higher quality fast food with exceptional customer service. The consumer understands they are not getting the cheapest fast food,
but they are receiving a great value for their money.
How do you define your firm? What drives your business and the services you provide? What makes you unique and separates you from other firms? If you have not asked these questions about your business, you will not be able to differentiate your brand
from the many other cremation options in the market.
An effective brand promise goes beyond the rational benefits of a product or service and strives to capture the emotional rewards that your firm can uniquely deliver. It is not a slogan or a headline, but a way of describing the commitment you are making
to your customer base as to the type of experience they are going to have with your brand. In addition, a brand promise gives you a tremendous opportunity to create differentiation and excitement around your services and offerings.
The challenge with creating a brand promise is keeping it. You can print all the grandiose words you want about your brand; however, those words are empty if not delivered upon. A firm that continues to disappoint on its brand promise will begin to develop
a much different brand reputation—one that will be difficult to recover from. Kept promises will define your brand. Here are three “must-dos” for your brand promise:
- A brand promise must create unique and compelling emotional benefits to using your firm.
- A brand promise must be genuine and attainable.
- A brand promise must be kept, every time.
Embrace and Implement Digital Marketing
Our world is busy. Coupled with this, the transient nature of families makes it more and more difficult to maintain significant, long-term brand communication with our customer base. Consumers today are arriving at firms with information they feel makes
them well informed on funeral-related issues. Unless you are at the top of the search engine listing and have the highest reviews, the likelihood of you receiving the call from a son who lives five states away for his mother who just passed away in
the care facility a few blocks away is nearly impossible.
Digital marketing is equally—if not more—important than all other marketing, advertising, and outreach activities. Digital marketing helps capture the calls that will never come through the telephone. The firms who understand and adapt quickly will flourish
in the future economy. Death care is not immune to the shift in how consumers select and make purchases, so it is imperative to seek out industry experts to help drive your digital marketing strategy.
There is probably nothing simpler than a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and fresh-squeezed lemonade, but the company has earned the loyalty and trust of millions of customers across the country. The way Chick-fil-A gained our business in
the beginning required countless attempts through advertising, tireless delivery on a promise of quality, and consistency. The concepts of developing a brand are simple but not always easy to execute. By developing a brand ambassador, your firm will
become the go-to firm for cremation needs.
Creating a brand promise that differentiates your firm will establish you as a business that truly cares for families. Aligning your brand pricing with your promise will create value in your offerings, and families will come back again and again. Finally,
by implementing a digital marketing strategy, you will reach more families in your market that you knew existed.
These are simple strategies, but they are not easy. If you implement them, you will differentiate your firm and will help it thrive in the industry, and over time you will be a leading cremation service provider no longer hungry for growth but leading
the way in serving families.
This post is excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 55, Issue 3: Hungry for Growth: What a Chicken Sandwich Can Teach Us About Creating a Thriving Cremation Brand” by Jason Widing. Members can read this article and much more in The Cremationist archive.
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Jason Widing is Vice President of Business Development for Foundation Partners Group.
He has more than 15 years of business development experience in the funeral services industry. Prior to joining Foundation Partners, Widing was Senior Director of Business Development for PRECOA where he was responsible for driving and delivering
new business objectives through strategic partnerships.