A marketplace for good

A marketplace for good

There are a few organisations that I often use as reference points to demonstrate how to build a brand that is strong and resilient. One of them is Toms, and they have some new things going on that are worth sharing.

For those not familiar with Toms, it was started in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie with the simple promise “For every pair of shoes you buy we will give a pair to a child in need. One for One.” Since inception they have grown, first reaching the milestone of one million shoes, then just this year reaching an extraordinary achievement of 10 million pairs of shoes sold and given to children in need. They also expanded their one-for-one model to include glasses.

Now you’d think that an accomplishment like 10 million shoes would be enough to satisfy the team for a while. However, Toms is always looking for new ways to deliver their purpose. Which brings me to their newest endeavour – the Toms Marketplace, which was launched this month.

In a quote from the Marketplace home page they state:

We believe commerce can be about more than just profits. But it takes more than belief to make this a reality. So we’re giving other social entrepreneurs a platform right here on our site to help them succeed. Introducing The Marketplace, a new destination for making a difference.

The Marketplace is a departure from their core “one-to-one” business model, although some (not all) of the products sold via the site do have their own social business giving back approaches behind them. But that raises an interesting question for Toms and any business looking to work with others – how do you choose?

When your brand is strongly tied to a specific purpose, the decision to get into bed with others can be a difficult one. For Toms, the driving criteria is for the organisations to have a social purpose at their core, or as Toms founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie says, “use business to improve people’s lives”.

To underline the purpose of the wares sold in the Marketplace people will be able to shop by cause they care about, as well as by type of products. A nice subtle way to align the structure with the promise.

Beyond decisions of who, another interesting aspect of the Marketplace is the way it turns the Toms brand from an independent retailer selling only their own products into a broader retail platform that also sells things made by others. After all, how many pairs of Toms shoes can one person own (full disclosure, six and counting, not including those I’ve purchased for others).

It remains to be seen if people will flock to buy the Toms Marketplace products in the same numbers as those who buy their shoes. However, the appetite for conscious consumerism is on the rise so I like their chances of success.

For SMEs, the takeaway from Toms is to look at the full range of what you have to trade and think about other ways you can leverage it. Toms could have just kept adding to its product line and giving them away “one-for-one”. Instead they looked at their underlying purpose and the brand that has been built and found a different way to trade it. Still in alignment with their purpose and values. Still mindful of the promises they are making.

What haven’t you considered that you could trade in new ways?

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan



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