Argentina. Blake Mycoskie was enjoying his vacation, exploring beautiful nature escapes, indulging in Argentinian steaks, and, essentially, having the time of his life. Until one day on his travels, he met a group of volunteers who showed him a different side of life: poor villages, just outside the bustling capital, where children have to face the hardships of growing up without the most basic of things. Like shoes.
It shook Blake to his core. As described in his own words: "I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that poor children around the world often went barefoot, but now, for the first time, I saw the real effects of being shoeless: the blisters, the sores, the infections".
In the same year, upon his return to the US, Blake decided to take action. So he founded a shoe company that became one of the earliest examples of purpose-driven retail and social entrepreneurship. It's called TOMS and it's based on a One for One concept, meaning that for every single pair of shoes that people buy, there's a pair of shoes given to a child in need. What began as a simple idea, has evolved into a powerful business model, and now TOMS shoes are sold in thousands of stores around the world. What's more important, though, is that now there are also thousands of children who don't have to walk barefoot.
We couldn't pass by what is probably one of the most fascinating retailers of today, so we spoke with Lisa Hogg, TOMS' EMEA Marketing Director, about sustainability, meaningful retail, storytelling, and the most important retail trend in 2017.
Our hope is that after reading this interview, if you run an e-commerce store, you will be inspired to seek a social purpose for your business. It not only spreads goodness around the world, but it is also one of the most sustainable retail models to adapt in 2017.
Anja: Tell us something about the very special One for One approach that TOMS follows. How did Blake Mycoskie transform this very idealistic and humanistic idea into a well-performing, profit-orientated business model?
Lisa: TOMS started with just a simple idea and has grown into something much bigger than that, but it certainly wasn’t without trial and error. At TOMS we truly value entrepreneurship, innovation, and taking smart risks — something that started with Blake since the beginning and is still firmly rooted in our DNA. We may have quickly grown from a start-up social enterprise to a large social enterprise, but at TOMS it all starts and ends with giving. Giving is truly at the heart of everything we do.
We began over ten years ago giving shoes with every pair sold, but as we grew we wanted to have a bigger impact on people’s lives, so we launched other product categories like TOMS Eyewear and Bags to restore sight and help provide safe births. This also allowed us to diversify and scale as a company. As a for-profit company, we are able to give continuously and sustainably.
It has all happened quite naturally, and we couldn’t have grown so much without the support of our customers and Giving Partners. TOMS brought the groundbreaking One for One business model to the forefront, but we see it as much more than that, we see it as a movement.
Anja: Sustainability seems to be at the core of TOMS and behind their every good deed. What role does marketing play in that? Do you see a need for more sustainability and social responsibility in marketing?
Lisa: At TOMS social responsibility isn’t good marketing, it’s the core of who we are. Sharing our story is a big part of our marketing, but it’s a story that exists even if we don’t tell it to the world. Marketing is only as strong as the infrastructure behind the messaging. When our customers buy a pair of TOMS shoes, eyewear, or bag, their purchase directly helps a person in need. One for One. We want to tell that story, as well as the story of the incredible work our Giving Partners do, and of the people on the other end of that give.
Our hope is to inspire other companies to give back and improve lives through their business, not for marketing, but for the betterment of the world. In 2016, we launched the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship fund to support the next generation of social entrepreneurs that have a similar mission to improve lives. Marketing is a powerful tool to growing an idea, but it all starts with having an authentic and true story to tell.
"Marketing is a powerful growth tool, but it all starts with having an authentic and true story to tell."
Anja: To market this approach (and in a wider sense establish something like sustainable marketing) it is almost inevitable to use storytelling in content marketing. By doing this you are not focussing only on the product values, but on the bigger picture — the bigger raison d'être of the brand. You’ve managed to merge product marketing and storytelling in an impressive way. What’s your secret?
Lisa: So much of our story and DNA is integrated into our product itself, which makes it a natural story to tell from a product and brand perspective. Our classic Alpargata is a shoe traditionally worn in Argentina and the shoe that inspired Blake to start TOMS in 2006 in order to put shoes on the feet of children in one Argentinian village. We give in over 70 countries around the world, and the vibrant cultures and traditions of these places are often interpreted into the shoe designs and materials. Most of all, when you wear a pair of TOMS, you are part of a movement. Your pair of TOMS means that a child in need also has a pair of TOMS, and while you are discovering new places and making memories in yours, that child on the other end is going to school and empowered in theirs. Both sides have a story to tell, and we just facilitate that.
Anja: I’ve heard about the various internal projects you have, which encourage employees to think of ways to improve the world. That is so amazing. TOMS seems to be really interested in people’s ideas. Also externally, with various user-generated content campaigns. Do you transform these ideas into your marketing strategy? How does UGC work, performance wise?
Lisa: So much of what we do and talk about really comes from our TOMS family and community, which is made up of innovative and inspiring people in their own right. Collaboration and being dreamers that do is what got TOMS to this point, and it’s what continues to inspire and energize us. Our customers and the content they create have been important to telling the TOMS story since the beginning: after all, without our customers, we couldn’t give. As people that want to do good, TOMS customers are often natural travelers that are curious to explore new cultures, and TOMS products are their trusty travel companions. To aggregate all of this fantastic content we created the hashtag #travelingTOMS – but it started with our community.
Anja: You sell TOMS products online and offline, what’s your strategy here? Does e-commerce or POS come first?
Lisa: Both online and offline are important to TOMS, working in unison to create one impactful TOMS experience. Our online environment allows us to tell all parts of the TOMS story on a granular level and connects us to our customers that may not be close to a physical TOMS Store or TOMS retailer. Our TOMS Stores, which we call Community Outposts, are special hubs that let our customers experience the brand in a different way and act as meeting place to be inspired and connect with others. All of our TOMS Community Outposts feature TOMS Roasting Co. cafes where you can take part in our giving – with every cup of coffee you purchase, you provide a day of safe water to a person in need. One for One.
Anja: Do you experience an ROPO effect?
Lisa: Yes and no. Our online business is growing at a strong and steady rate. It has allowed us to engage in a much deeper way with our consumer, and subsequently, we’re able to connect and convert with our audiences online. Our mobile traffic shows us that our customers use our online environments much more for researching purposes and down the line, we’ll want to understand how to better connect with them on the move too.
Anja: Have you heard about shoppable content? It means that the gap between the content platform and e-commerce shop is closed, with the integration of products (and the ability to buy them) directly within the content. What do you think about that?
Lisa: It’s an interesting new direction and helps reduce the amount of clicks and searches a consumer needs to go through to purchase a product. Whilst we do use content platforms to promote our product lines, we find it important not to distance ourselves too far from the storytelling side of those platforms and keeping giving at our core.
Anja: How do you measure your content marketing and e-commerce efforts? Which KPIs are the most important to you?
Lisa: We tend to look at the usual suspects: engagements per post, page views, follow growth, click-throughs, view-through rates and of course conversion and revenue. We aim to look at these much more in relation to each other and what the percentage share is between each channel.
Anja: Thank you so much for your time. As the last question: What is, in your opinion, the biggest marketing trend retailers should take into consideration in 2017?
Lisa: Retail is changing constantly and we see the pressure of the economy on footfall and purchase power, as well as the changing environment and expectation of the consumer. It’s time to have real meaning and character behind what you are doing as a brand. Millennial consumers specifically want to align themselves with brands who share similar values; so it’s crucial to make this clear in your communications and presence, giving them the opportunity to connect and identify with your brand.
"It’s time to have real meaning and character behind what you are doing as a brand."
Lisa Hogg is a South African born and raised, Amsterdam resident and Dutch National. Foremost, she’s a mom of two. Recently, Lisa joined the TOMS family as EMEA Marketing Director, hoping to utilize her vast experience to drive the social entrepreneurial efforts and the One for One mission further in EMEA to benefit those who TOMS aims to reach.
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Anja Fordon is Content Marketing Manager at Styla. She creates content marketing campaigns, writes articles about digital storytelling, social media and e-commerce, sharing her expertise on both German and English blogs at Styla. When she's not doing that, she enjoys throwing paint on canvas and reading loads of books.