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What's the Beef? Chipotle Faces Loyalty Issues Over Meat Standards

What's the Beef? Chipotle Faces Loyalty Issues Over Meat Standards
Image credit: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

It's not easy being a brand. It requires having a clear proposition consistently applied to the entire business, including the marketing. Customers have to know what the brand stands for, each and every time they interact with it. And the brand has to use that positioning to guide its every decision, each and every time it faces a challenge.

If you take a stand on something as a brand, be prepared to face close scrutiny over your decision. Take Chipotle Mexican Grill, which was in the news this week for reportedly considering changing its standards on using antibiotics to treat cows in its beef supply chain.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has a well articulated positioning: responsibly raised food, to paraphrase their words. As an example, the brand promises not to use meat from animals treated with antibiotics -- and has consistently stated as such, like a brand should. As a result, it's made a unique emotional connection with its customer base, who in many cases chooses Chipotle because of this positioning.

But faced with a challenge of a declining supply chain, the brand must decide if it will relax that positioning to include "some" meat from animals treated with antibiotics (again, paraphrased). Can it change "some" parts of its brand, arguably a part that is core to how it's defined?

It will be fascinating to watch how Chipotle responds to the challenge, mostly because it has so articulately and consistently stated its position. Not only will the brand have to change some of its policies, but it will have to change some of its brand as well. Will those emotionally charged customers respond in return? Time will tell.

A clearly articulated positioning that is executed consistently can make for an immensely successful brand, but you have to stick to it. It's the consistency that drives brand loyalty, and it's those tough decisions that drive respect.

As a business owner and brand, use your positioning to guide your decisions -- even the hard ones. Respect and loyalty will likely follow.
 

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Jim Joseph is the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, part of the media company WPP Group PLC. He is the author of three books, including the latest, The Personal Experience Effect (Happy About 2013). Joseph also teaches marketing at New York University and blogs at JimJosephExp.com.

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