Thinking Out Loud

December 5, 2020

Under-educated Cows and the Power of Marketing

Book Reivew: Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A by Steve Robinson

There’s nothing like a business success story, and several times in my life I’ve taken the time to read a few of them. It’s interesting and inspiring to know how certain companies succeeded and why they succeeded, and this story of the American fast food chain Chick-fil-A is no exception.

I hadn’t planned to review this 2019 book, so I’ll keep this short. Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand by Steve Robinson is the story of the fried chicken sandwich chain told through the eyes of the person who served as its Chief Marketing Officer for many years. It doesn’t strongly purport to be a biography of Truett Cathy, the founder of the chain, but as a personality-driven enterprise, his signature was all over everything the company did and every decision they faced.

Strangely, I’m writing about a restaurant I’ve only stepped in for one minute, a sandwich I’ve never eaten, and an advertising campaign I’ve never experienced.

Truett Cathy was outspoken about his faith in Christ. To this day, the restaurant locations remain closed on Sunday. Writing for Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, Steve Robinson is free to enumerate the Christian principles which drove the company and quote the relevant scriptures. That same faith is present in Robinson and his family.

When those principles and related comments concerning LGBTQ-related issues caused protests in 2012, that incident is barely referenced in a few short sentences on a single page. Most of the attention is given to the developing a work culture which truly serves its customers, and a corporate culture that is marked by great generosity. With the latter, Chick-fil-A’s sponsorship of various college-level football events is a huge part of their corporate identity.

This is a book you would give someone — hate to stereotype but probably male — who reads business books or biographies, or someone supportive of Christian ideals but not having crossed the line of faith, still willing to read a soft-message Christian book. Or maybe just someone who likes the cows in the advertising campaign. Everybody loves the cows.

…I hate to mention this, but I felt it was ironic that a book outlining how Christian values have driven the company’s desire to create the finest customer-service experience, that in the conversion of the book from hardcover to paperback they referenced a number of photo insert pages which were simply omitted in the paper edition, one of which is referenced on page 171. Maybe the purpose was to show what a less-than-pleasant customer experience looks like.

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