Covert Cows by Steve Robinson Summary

Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A
How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand

Print | Audiobook | Kindle

My Thoughts

Covert Cows is a well-rounded book about marketing, sales, hospitality, brand building, and creating company culture. While it focuses on the food and beverage industry, most of the lessons can be applied to businesses in other categories.

If you purchase the book on Audible it has an accompanying PDF with photos from their marketing efforts over the years and diagrams of some of their marketing strategies. The companion PDF is also available in the bonus section of my book vault.

Get Lifetime Access to My Book Vault

My Favorite Quotes

  • I want people to discover what we believe because of how we treat them. -Truett Cathy
  • The use of personal power is so much more effective than position power.
  • Quality attracts quality.
  • Coupons and discounts undermine the value of the brand. They scream “Our products are not worth full price!”
  • Wisdom begins with the question “why?”
  • Asking “why?” forces us to pursue wisdom.
  • When you continually add value to the business, you will stand out from the crowd and be recognized.
  • It is easier to become a success than to remain one. – Jimmy Collins
  • Great relationships require passion.

Key Questions

  • Does this person demonstrate a listening, learning attitude?
  • Would this person thrive in our culture?
  • Is there personal alignment with the corporate purpose and underlying values?
  • Would I want my children working for this person?
  • Has this person demonstrated, and could I see this person generating, followership completely independent of title?
  • Who is building your sales for you every day?
  • Why do I want to do this?
  • Will this benefit others?
  • What do we need to do to be your best client?
  • Will your career be about extracting value from your employer, or adding value?
  • Would you recommend this business to a friend based on your experience today?
  • Are we creating and giving remarkable experiences?

Covert Cows Table of Contents

Introduction

The accompanying PDF for Covert Cows is available for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers here, it has many interesting photos and graphs from Chick-fil-A.

“I want people to discover what we believe because of how we treat them.” -Truett Cathy

Culture is the fertile ground that helps grow a brand. A strong, clear, and understood culture sets up the growth of a great brand. A weak unclear culture will always lead to a weak brand.

Chapter 1: The Formation of a Brand

  • Great brands grow from great cultures.
  • Over the years, the leadership team has established guiding principles that shape how they make decisions.
  • Chick-fil-A’s purpose statement: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
  • You can read more about the company culture at the Chick-fil-A culture and values page.

The Raving Fan Strategy

These three major strategic pillars represent the operating strategy.

  1. Execute Operational Excellence
  2. Deliver Second-mile Service
  3. Activate Emotional Connections Marketing

Relationships, Relevance, and Reputation

  • A successful brand builds a foundation on relationships, relevance, and reputation.
  • Truett Cathy never let financial goals get in the way of personal relationships. He had an aversion to financial goals, that would have been letting the tail wag the dog.
  • Truett would never grow faster than they could attract talent and build management systems.
  • Disciplined growth allowed him to select operators who shared his business philosophy and love for customers.
  • Great brands become great when they are consistent on every key level of execution.
  • The use of personal power is so much more effective than position power.

Chapter 2: Learning and Implementing Brand Strategy

Key Components of the Owner Operator Agreement

  • No up-front franchise fee (operators make a refundable commitment of $10,000).
  • No up-front capital investment by the franchisee.
  • Only one restaurant per franchisee (some exceptions were allowed).
  • Chick-fil-A selects the site, builds the restaurant, and purchases and places all the equipment.
  • Once underway, the operator pays Chick-fil-A 15% of sales for the use of the brand and support systems.
  • After the operator pays all the expenses of running the restaurant, profits are split evenly between the operator and Chick-fil-A.

Operator Selection

  • Quality attracts quality.
  • Operator selection is the most important decision made at Chick-fil-A.
  • Approximately 450,000 customers visit the average Chick-fil-A restaurant every year.
  • Chick-fil-A attracts high-caliber operators who then attract high-caliber leaders and team members.
  • Team member turnover is less than one third of the industry average.
  • One foundation of the chain’s success is the model of highly-compensated, highly-motivated operators, who are in business for themselves but not by themselves.

Truett Cathy looked for these key traits in operators.

  • Ability to attract, develop, and keep great people.
  • Passion – a strong drive to always improve, never content with the status-quo.

Chapter 3: “Test Me”

  • Chick-fil-A introduced fast food dining to shopping malls more than ten years before food courts became a normal part of mall design.
  • Coupons and discounts undermine the value of the brand. They scream “Our products are not worth full price!”
  • They determined they would not be a transaction chasing brand, they would build through relationships.

Hiring and Recruiting Practices

  • When hiring, they seek competency, character, and chemistry.
  • Every selection needs to be a wise one.
  • Competency: be less concerned whether they have a specific skill. Evaluate whether they have the ability and desire to be a learner. Does this person demonstrate a listening, learning attitude?
  • Character: would this person thrive in our culture? Is there personal alignment with the corporate purpose and underlying values? Would I want my children working for this person?
  • Chemistry: has this person demonstrated, and could I see this person generating, followership completely independent of title? This person should be able to cast vision as well as demonstrate great listening and processing on their feet.

Chapter 4: Purpose

  • Crisis does more than reveal and shape character, it is also a primary catalyst of learning and creativity.
  • The corporate purpose statement of Chick-fil-A: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Chapter 5: A New Brand Paradigm

  • Truett encouraged operators of restaurants in malls to become the “mayor of the mall.”
  • David Salyers (marketing executive) would often ask the operators “Who is building your sales for you every day?”
  • The home (corporate) marking office focuses on what only they can do. Which is creating tools and resources that drove emotional connections and brand value.
  • Local operators and local operator teams provide 80-85% of tactical and financial support for execution of brand marketing.
  • Marketing under a “transaction paradigm” doesn’t look anything like what marketing does under a scenario of relationship and emotional connections.
  • Operators developed an “area marketing director” (AMD) concept. The AMD would find and negotiate local partnerships.
  • An investment at the personal engagement level is many times more efficient and effective than a media-weighted strategy.
  • Chick-fil-A would not be able to outspend their competitors on media and marketing, so they focused on creative ways to be effective with marketing through relationships and strategic marketing such as 3d billboards in high profile locations.
  • Every business has three constituents: customers, operators (operations), ownership (shareholders).
  • This priority order is critical, never move ownership ahead of customers.
  • Truett built an environment within the executive committee where they were free to challenge each other and force hard conversations (always respectfully).

Operational Excellence and Customer Benchmark Data

  • If you want to grow, and want to have a viable brand, you have to deliver consistent operational excellence.
  • They developed operational standards for every detail, down to how lemons are cut.
  • They completely elevated every measurement instrument in their business to execute and improve operational excellence. The goal being zero defects.
  • The ultimate output measurement for them is “customer benchmark data” which they can review for every store and every market.
  • Customer and operational performance data, not sales and profits alone, became a crucial piece of determining if an operator might have an opportunity for a second restaurant.
  • Wisdom begins with the question “why?”
  • Asking “why?” forces us to pursue wisdom.

Chapter 6: Brand Journey

  • “We know we will never be your biggest client, but we want to know what we need to do to be your best client.” This is a question David Salyers asked the three final candidates during the discovery process of selecting a marketing agency to work with.
  • Chick-fil-A selected The Richards Group as their marketing agency.
  • Will your career be about extracting value from your employer, or adding value?
  • When you continually add value to the business, you will stand out from the crowd and be recognized.

Three Great Advertising Lessons

Three virtues apply to any advertising that is truly brand building.

  1. Engaging – can’t be missed, grabs your attention.
  2. Endearing – people love the advertising and look forward to the next execution of it.
  3. Enduring – has creative underpinnings for a long-run with multiple creative executions of the campaign.

Outdoor Advertising

  • Chick-fil-A decided to dominate outdoor advertising as a brand builder instead of competing for TV advertising.
  • Instead of using billboards to push a price point or tell customers where to turn, Chick-fil-A went against the prevailing thinking by using billboards to build their brand.
  • They won by putting a limited number of billboards in high traffic areas with creative that people talked about.
  • How did they evaluate creative? Every execution had to make them laugh, it had to be endearing.
  • It is easier to become a success than to remain one. – Jimmy Collins

The Chick-fil-A “Moo Manifesto”

  • Chick-fil-A created these guidelines for the cows to ensure strategic clarity in the cow campaign.
  • The cows always act in a renegade manner.
  • The cows are not on the Chick-fil-A payroll – they always act in the interest of self-preservation.
  • The cows have a simple sense of humor.
  • The cows cannot spell.
  • The cows are low-tech.

Chapter 7: Connecting with College Football Fans

  • Use data to inform decisions, but don’t let data make the decisions for you.
  • Use “informed intuition” based on facts and emotional fit when making decisions.
  • The most enduring brands are the brands that are endearing. – Stan Richards

Chapter 8: Transitions

  • in 2001, Truett Cathy decided he wanted Chick-fil-A to eliminate all debt and rely only on profits and cash flow for growth. He wanted to be debt-free before he died.
  • The team developed a plan to eliminate the $250 million in debt within 10 years, and became debt-free in 2012.
  • This made them grow more slowly but put them in a strong financial position.

Chapter 9: “My Pleasure”

  • In 2003, Truett and Dan Cathy co-wrote a leadership message “My Pleasure” explaining the philosophy of using the phrase.
  • “My pleasure” is an expression from the heart to show that they want to go the extra mile and truly care about the other person.

Common Traits of Great Brands

If you build a great brand, three good outcomes occur:

  1. People will come more often.
  2. They will pay full price because you are delivering value beyond the functional benefits.
  3. They will tell others about their experience with your brand.

Raving Fans

  • Customer satisfaction can ultimately be measured by this question “Would you recommend this business to a friend based on your experience today?”
  • This concept was recommended in The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld.
  • Chick-fil-A surveyed customers with this question and measured results.

Three broad categories of activities, all working together, that created raving fans for Chick-fil-A:

  1. Executing operational excellence.
  2. Delivering second-mile service.
  3. Activating emotional connections marketing.

Second-Mile Service

  • Chick-fil-A learned from Ritz Carlton and asked them for advice on delivering second-mile service.
  • Ritz Carlton has twice won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for it’s commitment to customer service.
  • Chick-fil-A had Horst Schulze (co-founder of Ritz Carlton) meet with several of their staff, operators, and executive management.
  • Don’t look to be better than other fast food restaurants, instead aspire to the next level of service, try to offer the same service as restaurants with price points at least double that of Chick-fil-A. This was advice given from Horst.
  • Horst suggested that goal for every Ritz Carlton guest to experience elegance, the goal for Chick-fil-A should be for every guest to experience cheerfulness at every visit.
  • During a hurricane in Houston, a customer could not get through to 911 and called Chick-fil-A to ask for a rescue boat, the manager sent one.

The Core Four Behaviors

Behaviors they want team members to extend to every guest.

  1. Create eye-contact.
  2. Share a smile.
  3. Speak with an enthusiastic tone.
  4. Stay connected to make it personal

Service and Hospitality

  • They sought advice from Danny Meyer on service and hospitality.
  • Service is the way you deliver the meal, the presentation, the consistency, the quality.
  • Hospitality is how you add value after the meal has been delivered, the second-mile.
  • Hospitality adds connection and unexpected surprises.

Four Habits that Fuel the Execution of the Raving Fan Strategy

  1. Focus on giving, not getting.
  2. Focus on remarkable, not ordinary.
  3. Focus on the emotional, not just the rational.
  4. Focus on active, not passive.

Chapter 10: Innovation

  • It was not unusual for employees to have outside coaches.
  • Cross-departmental relationships triggered innovation.
  • This chapter had a lot of good information about innovation but I didn’t take a lot of notes.

Chapter 11: The Cows Go to the College Football Championship

I didn’t take notes on this chapter.

Chapter 12: Life and Legacy

The Core Values that Shaped and Filtered Most Decisions Made by Chick-fil-A Management

  • Being a good steward.
  • Building long-term relationships.
  • Providing hospitality.
  • Taking personal responsibility.
  • Choosing personal influence over positional power.
  • Having fun.

They spent a lot of time, effort, and money on continuous improvement, training and education, and moving people around to new assignments to keep them sharp.

If I ever have to use position power to influence somebody, I am probably only going to get to do that once. If I have to do that at all, it doesn’t bode well for their future.

They look for people who can create followership and get things done completely independent of their title. If influence and performance depends on a title, you are the wrong person for Chick-fil-A.

Related Book Summaries

Here is a list of all my book summaries.

Leave a Reply