The Power of Stories: Success of the TOMS Company and the cult of Conscious Consumerism

Vikram Madineni

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, has redefined social consumerism. His organization can claim to have helped 150,000 people to have had their sight restored, and donated ten million pairs of shoes around the world

According to Ty Montague, Los Angeles social entrepreneur Mykoskie has been engaged in not just story telling but in story doing. TOMS is referred to as a “storydoing” company owing its success partly to what has been described as conscious consumers, who want to be involved in giving back to the society.

Often companies spend huge amounts of money in advertising to create brand awareness and recognition but storydoing companies rely on their consumers and employees to be their advertisers. Montague coined the word “Metastory”, a story told with action. He says that consumers are the biggest storytellers and company should strive to connect with a Metastory.

One for one shoes

Blake Mycoskie started TOMS in 2006 with a powerful story, support children in need, and with a radically different business model – “One-for-One”. Mycoskie’s model is based on a simple concept – sell a pair of shoes today and give a pair of shoes tomorrow. Mycoskie says that people who support TOMS are more than customers, they’re supporters. Mycoskie attibutes the company’s meteoric rise to supporters’ belief in his story and their passion to be part of it.

One for one eye products

TOMS extended their business model in 2011 to eyewear and helps to restore eyesight in the new one-for-one program for each pair of eyewear sold. Mycoskie believes in the new age of conscious capitalism – businesses in addition to making money want to connect with supporters and make an impact in the world together.

FEED Projects, a company with commitment to feed the poor, is another great example with a similar business model to TOMS. Lauren Bush started FEED Projects in 2007 with a promise to feed 1 child for a year for each bag sold. FEED Projects and the foundation have donated more than 60 million school meals to children around the world.

Businesses that had not incorporated “giving back” in their strategy model joined the new age movement and embraced social responsibility. Chu refers to several such companies:

Figs Scrubs (donates a set of scrubs to health professionals in need for every set of scrubs sold), Two Degrees (donates a natural health bar to a hungry child for every one sold), One world Futbol (donates a soccer ball to disadvantaged communities for every soccer ball sold), Bobs By Skechers (donates a pair of shoes for every pair sold).
Businesses have realized that given a choice between two brands, consumers tend to support and want associate with the one that is committed to a social cause. Recent studies also revealed that businesses tend to retain or attract talented employees based on their commitment toward social responsibility.

Are such social businesses making a difference?

It’s a challenge for the businesses to build the trust and loyalty among customers. How can they narrate a powerful story? Does every story connect with the customers? Do the companies truly believe in servant leadership? TOM’s shoes model has been questioned – does it really address the root cause of poverty?

There’s growing evidence that conscious capitalist organizations can thrive and succeed. Consumers. It could be said that their supporters are in lookout for the transformational leaders. Leaders have a challenge not only build their trust, but also overcome ethical dilemmas.

Vikram Madineni is a Senior Electronics Engineer, Ingersoll Rand.

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