10 million promises and counting

In October 2010 I featured a story about TOMS Shoes – a social business that promises to give a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you purchase. It’s a hell of a promise and my story celebrated them reaching a million shoes.

This past month they reached the milestone of 10 million pairs of shoes (yep that’s a 10). So I wanted to share the original story with you; there’s plenty to be learned from the work that founder Blake Mycoskie and his team at TOMS are doing.

Check it out here and find out how giving away shoes became a 250 million dollar a year business.

Here’s the original story:

One million promises (kept)

The promise was as simple as it was powerful. One for one – with every pair of shoes you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One million pairs of shoes later it’s a promise that is still going strong.

TOMS has been on my radar screen from almost the beginning. I remember reading about their mission in my favourite magazine Ode and thinking it was a great example of conscious capitalism that would probably go the way of so many other great social ventures (that is to say, by the way of the dodo).

So glad to be wrong.

Four years on and TOMS today is a global brand that has the trifecta of a conscience, considerable clout and a healthy bottom line. In a recent Vanity Fair article, founder and Chief Shoe Giver Blake Mycoskie has this great advice for anyone looking to get a business or an idea started.

“I think the main thing is that you can start small. Everyone looks at TOMS and thinks, ‘Oh, it’s this big organisation. They’re doing all this stuff all over the world, I could never start something like that.’ I remember when I started, my goal was to help 250 kids get a pair of shoes, and that was it. I always tell people now, to really think about starting small, and going from there.”

From a brand standpoint, TOMS’ focus from day one has been around keeping the promise they made to give a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold.

The beauty of the promise is both its simplicity and its measurability. No fuzzy math in sight: 1 = 1. As a customer, my purchase of a pair of shoes to wear results in a child somewhere else getting a pair to wear.

TOMS also uses clever aligned programs and campaigns to increase the reach of their brand and educate people about their mission at the same time. Their “One day without shoes” campaign earlier this year saw 250,000 people participate worldwide!

They are also the darlings of Gen Y and have adopted all the usual social media channels to connect with them – Twitter at any given time is buzzing with gleeful “just bought my first pair of TOMS” tweets.

Then there is the not so usual ways to connect. For example, on the grassroots side, 1200 university campuses across the US have TOMS clubs. That’s brand loyalty and engagement that you CAN’T buy.

And now they have a brand platform with clout, additional projects and partnerships such as their recent “Water Shoe Project” extend the impact of the initial promise even further.

So how far can TOMS shoes go?
Let’s face it, the shoes are pretty basic, not really fashionable, though they are comfortable and durable. But of course, the shoe isn’t really the point.

People love TOMS not because their shoes are cool but because what the shoe stands for means something. It is the promise that people have bought and they have kept… one million times over and counting.

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.

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