July 01, 2013

8-3-2012: Citizenlink Stone Interview

LINK: Citizen Link, http://www.citizenlink.com/2012/08/03/friday-5-chris-stone/

"Friday 5: Chris Stone

by Karla Dial


You may not be familiar with Chris Stone — but if you made a point of buying a meal from Chick-fil-A this week, Chris Stone is familiar with you. As the CEO of the Stone Agency and founder of Faith Driven Consumer, a four-year-old national organization based in North Carolina, Stone spends his time researching companies to find those that are most compatible with Christian ideals and connecting them with shoppers. He spoke with CitizenLink this week about Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day and the actual buying power of faith-driven consumers. His findings might surprise you.

CitizenLink: Chick-fil-A isn’t releasing its sales numbers from Wednesday, but from all the anecdotal evidence we’ve seen, it was a record-setting day. What do you think was behind the huge outpouring of support?

Chris Stone: Recently, I attended a meeting where (Chick-fil-A President) Dan Cathy was speaking and had a chance to ask him a couple of questions. He said, “Successful brands are the ones that can tell their story the most effectively.” What I believe we saw (Wednesday) was consumers, when faced with a media and cultural attack on Chick-fil-A, said, “No, that’s not the Chick-fil-A I know, and we’re going to rally behind it because they respect our values, and we’re going to honor them as they honor us.”

CL: Tell us about Faith Driven Consumer. What have you found in your work there?

CS: We have quantified and qualified a sub-segment of the Christian marketplace, which we call faith-driven consumers. We’ve determined that they think differently — often very differently — from the Christian market as a whole. I’ve told many people who are running for office or engaged in campaigns that they will not win without these people showing up. Those are the people who really live their faith, and those who really are voting not on a fiscal platform as much as a social platform. The Republican Party is so focused on this, “it’s the economy, stupid” (line of thinking), but our research shows the economy is fourth on the list of priorities for faith-driven consumers. They are 15 percent of the population, 46 million people. It’s proof positive that these people can make a difference.

We really see connecting people with brands as our ministry and our occupation, and to help other companies reach out to those consumers. It’s not all about the gay agenda. That just seems to be the hot button of the moment. It’s about people who are serious about living their faith — whether it’s a CEO or Susie Homemaker.

We never saw ourselves as being about boycotts. We always saw ourselves as being about buy-cotts. It’s not that I don’t shop at Home Depot, it’s that I do shop at Lowes. They are more compatible with my values.

CL: Forty-six million is the number of people liberals said didn’t have health insurance, and that’s why we needed to pass ObamaCare. That’s an awful lot of people! How does that stack up against other segments of the population?

CS: When was the last time you called a corporation and they didn’t give you the option to press a button for Spanish? Forty-six million is approximately the number of Spanish-speaking Americans. We’ve now proven they can be motivated to action. This is a rapidly emerging, powerful market segment that people need to acknowledge, because they’re there. Since most people in business react to people based on their spending power, by our estimates, they have a spending capacity of $1.75 trillion.

The rest of them pale by comparison. The Hispanic market has a spending capacity of $1 trillion a year, African-Americans, $950 billion, and the LBGT market has $750 billion.

We found this in study after study. The people who did them are nonbelievers. It’s gotten their attention.

CL: What is the most surprising thing you’ve found in your research?

CS: About a month ago, I had the chance to have a conversation with Dan Cathy. I asked him how companies can go about reaching out to faith-driven consumers, and he said, “That is not what we’re about. We’re about reaching out to all consumers and honoring them and welcoming them.” That honestly wasn’t what I was expecting him to say!

The CEO’s responsibility is to enhance shareholder equity. It is reaching out to a ready, willing consumer. Faith-driven consumers are actively looking for these places. We’ve established that they are extremely loyal and actually willing to pay more to do business with someone who respects them.

We asked faith-driven consumers, “What’s the most important and least important thing to you?” out of four things. The most important thing was to support companies that share their values. The least important thing was boycotting and complaining. Most people who have a strong faith, it’s out of character to engage in those conversations, because they’re hostile. It’s hard to love people while being hostile to them. But (Wednesday), they came and stood in line, and there was no need for police to be moderating the crowds. There was no pushing or shoving or complaining. Everybody was happy. That community that Chick-fil-A has built through its culture showed up and shared tables with people they didn’t know. Nobody came for a discount.

CL: Do you think we will see this same kind of turnout at the polls in November?

CS: There is a lot of effort to get out the vote and to register people to vote. I have seen anecdotal information that says many Christians don’t vote. If they did, the results would be different. I have made a number of attempts to reach out to significant people in political organizations and say, “These folks are here and they do not respond to the same message that you’re using for everybody else.” It’s no different—I would not speak to a Hispanic audience with a message that resonates with a non-Hispanic audience. They have yet to grasp that, and that’s curious to me.

I’m convinced that if people of values and faith do not vote in numbers, what we had in ’08 will repeat itself. But many churches separate politics from their message. We believe God gave us everything we have, including our government, and He gave us the privilege to select our government.

What we have in this country is an aberration. If we don’t steward it, that blessing God gave us, He might just take away.

Learn more about Faith Driven Consumer.
Read Chris Stone’s blog, FaithNomics.
Learn about Focus on the Family’s Commit2Vote 2012 project.

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