NOTE: This blog post was originally written for an appeared on the NEXT Marketing Agency’s website, which is no longer in use. It was produced by my team writer Amy with edits by me (it was Amy’s great idea to write on this topic). I am posting it here to showcase a reference to my portfolio. This post explains the writing I did for this marketing agency: Being a marketing writer / ghost blogger for a marketing agency
When establishing a business, logically it makes sense to wait until your business is successful before donating large sums of money to charity. For TOMS, however, the company started off when owner Blake Mycoskie was traveling through Argentina and noticed that most children went without shoes and thereby were more susceptible to disease and infection. He determined to develop a company that would go against all odds and completely turn entrepreneurialism on its head: it would provide shoes for these needy children. The way he planned to fund this venture was with the ‘buy one give one’ model. The company’s view, to this day, is to send a pair of shoes to less fortunate children every time a pair of shoes is purchased.
How? How did a company give away half of its assets to charity and become an international success story? Let’s explore some of the reasons why TOMS has been so successful with their mission to donate to charity and how they have grown their business with this unique marketing strategy and business model.
Making people feel good and proud to sport the brand with their marketing strategy
In a sense, it is the charity factor that has caused the TOMS marketing strategy to become such a successful one. A major strength for this company is the emotional impact that is attached to buying their product. TOMS has made making a charity donation accessible to young people without making it feel like a sacrifice. In this way buying TOMS doesn’t just appeal to people who want to make a difference, it appeals to people who want to be cool and trendy too. By buying a trendy pair of shoes, consumers can participate in giving to charity and help people at the same time. This is an enticing ‘experience marketing’ ploy that plays to people’s emotions. Buying this product makes people feel even better about their purchase because they are also supporting a good cause.
By targeting people’s emotions, TOMS has figured out how to turn their marketing strategy into a double edged sword. They’re using the “WIIFM” philosophy (as every marketer should) by putting themselves in the shoes of the customer saying, “What’s In It For Me”? (Get it, “WIIFM”). They deliver on that question by providing a trendy, wearable product, but at the same time, they also target a ‘feel good’ emotion. Perhaps this even has an effect on the rate of returns from guilty shoppers who felt like they splurged on a shopping spree. They might feel that because their purchase was for charity they shouldn’t take it back for a refund. (Guilty splurge shoppers are a real thing by the way!)
It’s trendy to wear TOMS, and TOMS is getting trendy
When TOMS started marketing shoes, there was only one style to choose from and this style was very casual and quite frankly a little plain and odd looking. Regardless of how irregular-looking the shoes were, somehow they became popular with a few people and then rapidly became a trend that spread like wildfire throughout North America. Mainly teens and people in their twenties are wearing TOMS, but the company is starting to add more colours and textures as well as newer styles of shoes. There are currently quite a few children’s styles available and some more typical styles like women’s ballet flats and wedges that are more stylish than the original model.
TOMS is obviously doing something right with the “one for one” marketing strategy, since they are still coming up with new plans to further expand their product line and reach more customers. There are now more varieties and styles of shoes, including dressier shoes and even wedding styles. TOMS has also taken the opportunity to branch out into producing sunglasses as a new product.
The greed factor has not taken over because the marketing strategy just works
Sometimes a business starts out with a good intention and then money can make them compromise in favour of more money. With TOMs, though they have been hugely successful as a business, till now they have stayed true to their roots by maintaining a firm policy of donating “one for one” and this pertains to their new sunglasses line as well, not just their shoes. People in developing countries may not need sunglasses, but they do need professional eye care and prescription glasses, so rather than giving one pair of sunglasses for every pair purchased, TOMS gives “one for one” eye care and prescription glasses to people in need. Choosing to market sunglasses to people in North America was a smart business marketing strategy with the proceeds still going towards supporting charity. Doesn’t this make you want to buy sunglasses from TOMS now? It’s not just a fashion company, it’s a charity company.
Their goals are specific, and so is their product development. After all, they are a business
TOMS saw an opportunity when they chose to market sunglasses, but what is interesting is why they chose glasses as their next target after shoes. There is nothing particularly special about glasses or shoes that people in underdeveloped countries need more than other items (like food and water, or other clothing, for instance). But this is where the business mind comes into play, and joins with the thought of “if I can’t fix all the problems, what is the one problem I can fix?” They may have done market research to find out that people here in North America would actually buy shoes and glasses, so those would be the better money makers, and thus the better fundraisers too. If you think about it, they could have started selling T-shirts next to help clothe poor African orphans. But they didn’t. They chose shoes and sunglasses (so far!). There has to be a reason why. And judging by their success, this shows TOMS is not only a charity-focused organization, but they are a real business with a profit objective, and that works for everyone. Running a for-profit company is working in TOMS favour and is allowing popular demand to feed into the cause of charity at the same time. They have collided the world of business with the world of charity – a not so usual combination.
TOMS is not the only company that has established a policy of giving. There are other companies that have followed suit to do the same. Some shoe companies are producing a very similar product to TOMS, with the same one for one policy (it’s a great day for an entrepreneur when big brands start to copy you…ahem, Sketchers). But the point here is that TOMS can be successful because of the way they set up their marketing with the ‘one for one’ policy. Lots of companies write cheques to charities and put charity logos on their websites when they’ve done so, but not many companies have grown and formed entire product lines around the concept of giving back. Coffee companies have been supporting growers and suppliers in third world countries for quite some time, but it is interesting that donating one for one can be done with retail clothing now, and the product can actually go to the third world country, not just come from it.
It will be interesting to see how TOMS continues to grow their business and what other products they will choose to bring to market next. Ultimately it is encouraging to know that some good is being done in the world both by people and companies giving directly to charities and through business models like TOMS. TOMS has figured out a way to succeed in both charity and running a successful, growing business. What an amazing brand!