Over the weekend, I stepped out of my comfort zone and bought my first pair of “bio” shoes.  I picked up these Converse “look alikes” from The Natural Shoe Store.   Admittedly, I had no clue about the manufacturer, but trusted the Natural Shoe Store to carry sustainable lines. Just a week after settling into my bio shoes, a short TV spot reminded about the great work that TOMS Shoes is doing.  I have wanted to write about TOMS for a very long time, but just never got around to it…so here goes.

TOMS Shoes has a very simple, but powerful & single minded cause related marketing idea built into the very fabric of their overall brand equity…for every pair of TOMS Shoes you buy, TOMS donates a pair of shoes to a child in need.   Effectively, TOMS uses Cause related marketing as a continuous and ongoing activity, building purpose into everything that they do.

TOMS, as a company, is entirely set up to drive a singular social benefit; the ‘social thing’ is not just an add-on (see ClearlySo for further info on social businesses).  TOMS is profitable (from what I understand) and is simply making an impact every day.  What is interesting about TOMS is that they don’t have to think up new social benefits when they roll-out a new initiatives.  When expanding to coats or whatever, they can simply stand behind their strong “like for like” donation idea.  I thought they would do this for their shirts, hats, etc., but for the most part they still donate 1 pair of shoes if you buy any of these items (though in the case of the skateboards, they also give an equivalent skateboard).

Why TOMS works

1.  The consumer is the winner & is part of the solution:  TOMS puts the consumer in focus & makes the consumer the hero for buying a pair of shoes.  TOMS simple idea makes you feel like you are helping children instantly.

2.  Enabling people to live the cause and take part:  TOMS does a great job of deeply involving people in the cause.  Friends of TOMS is a non-profit that is integrated into the overall TOMS website.  Friends of TOMS coordinates volunteer experiences around TOMS “Shoe Drops”.  If you want to organize your own shoe drop within your organization, Friends of TOMS can help you there as well.

3.  TOMS Customer Story:  This is just a guess, but TOMS seems to have done a pretty good job at selling their story with key customers.  For a social start-up, they seem to have relatively strong distribution after only a couple of years in market (the first line of shoes apparently started shipping in 2007). All to often we forget how important the customer story is…it seems like TOMS found a way to convince retailers on the proposition and I am guessing that this has been critical to their success.

4.  Strong online WOM and community:  TOMS seems to have an active online community and they do a good job in participating actively in key online social channels.  Their blog is regularly updated as well.

5.  Authentic leadership:  I don’t know much about TOMS, but when I saw founder Blake Mycoskie’s interview on TV…I must admit that I was impressed with his passion and vision.  It felt like this guy really was focused on the social good piece of his business.

So, after writing about TOMS and spending a few more minutes looking at their site, I think I will put them on my purchase list.  Perhaps my blue “bio” shoes will not last too long & I will need to pay TOMS a visit sooner than I think.  Strangely I didn’t see TOMS in the Natural Shoe Store.  Maybe I missed them…?  Hopefully they are working the enviro side of their story…it would seem like a natural fit for the brand.

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