Willsh’s latest post on ‘Advertising is not the thing that you do. It’s the story of the things you’ve done‘ reminded me of one of the most inspirational moments of this year’s SXSW – hearing Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes, tell the story of founding & growing the business, and revealing that from June 2011 it would no longer be just a shoe company, but a wider one-for-one business. His keynote was incredibly moving (quite a few moist eyes in the audience, I may have had some grit in mine too!) and it was absolutely inspirational to hear someone speak with such passion, and equally thrilling to hear about the success of his business given the one-for-one model that everyone thought would never succeed. For the uninitiated, TOMS is not a charity, but a for-profit company which (currently) sells shoes – whereby for every pair purchased, TOMS give a new pair to a child in need:
So far, TOMS have given away over 1m shoes to children all over the world. It’s pretty awe-inspiring stuff (their 2010 giving report is worth a look, as it’s totally full of win).
Mycoskie made it absolutely clear that it wasn’t the shoes that made the company such a success. It was the story behind the shoes. People weren’t just buying any old shoe, but they were buying into a movement. And the word-of-mouth generated as the company started to grow was incredibly powerful, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that this was because the purpose and story of giving was at the very heart of the company. People believed in its mission, and wanted to share it with others.
Putting giving at the heart of the business didn’t doom it to failure, as many naysayers said when it launched. It’s what made it is today. Firstly, because customers become your greatest marketers, because they have a story to tell, and secondly because it’s better for attracting and retaining employees, because people want to be part of something.
I also saw another lovely example of giving as central to a company’s business model, weirdly while randomly channel-hopping, and stumbling across a BBC3 programme called Working Girls, which happened to feature one of my earliest kindergarten friends, a girl called Priya Lakhani who I shared Sticklebrix with when I was 3. She’s now a very successful businesswoman, who jacked in a career in the law to set up her own company selling fresh curry sauces. Yes it’s great curry sauce, but it’s curry sauce with a difference. For every sale of a Masala Masala pot, a hot meal is given to a homeless person in India. This little startup has given away over 50,000 hot meals to people in need and business is booming.
Masala Masala has a four point charter about how the company intends to support people in India:
On the ground by giving away free meals, providing education to slum children, ensuring healthcare is available in the slums and supporting sustainability projects by lobbying governments
“I think it’s really important we mix corporate social responsibility with commercial enterprise. If I ever start up any more companies, which I hope to do, I’ll do the same thing,” Lakhani insists. “I won’t start up a business without an ethical arm attached to it,” she adds, defiantly.
People aren’t just buying the curry sauce, they’re buying the story behind the curry sauce, and the difference that can make. It’s a genuine point of difference, in a world where we’re bombarded with choices.
So many brands spend aeons trying to devise campaigns to create a sense of differentiation where there is in fact little to no difference between them and their competitors. I know, I’ve worked on them. It’s really not very satisfying.
Conversely it’s so delightful to see examples of brands which really do have genuine ‘reasons to believe’. What’s brilliant is that these are hugely successful, for-profit businesses. Giving as your business model isn’t just some naive happy-clappy ideal. It’s also not a token nod to CSR. It’s fundamental to the brand and business and something that provides true market differentiation. It gives people a reason to buy your product. It creates a story – a genuine story rooted in a fundamental truth, not a brand story created for an ad campaign – which people want to buy into, and share.
Good business is good for business. And how much more successful would brands’ campaigns be if there was a genuine story at the heart?