Building an Army of Brand Advocates, One Shoe at a Time

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There are brand advocates . . . and then there are super hero brand advocates. TOMS Shoes, a company that started just four short years ago, knows how to attract super hero brand advocates - they’ve been able to very quickly build a community that includes millions of followers worldwide. How did they do it? With a unique offering that positioned TOMS outside the reach of other shoe companies and a very compelling brand story.

That story started in 2006 when TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie traveled to Argentina and found that an astounding number of children didn’t have shoes to protect their feet. He then created TOMS, with the promise of matching every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. They coined the phrase “One for One,” to describe their business model and began calling it a movement, and they’ve been using it ever since to help strengthen their brand and excite customers into becoming “super” brand advocates.

Their simple message resonated with the fashionably trendy, yet socially-conscious Gen Y and Gen X set - but its not just messaging that sells their shoes. Among those who love TOMS, they are considered as essentially hip, stylish and “must hav” as an iPhone. That’s because TOMS very smartly used their brand story to help build an internal and external brand culture that attracts fresh, hipster-type creative talent to the company, talent that has helped TOMS stay “in the know” with their customer base and ahead of the design curve.

Today, TOMS is selling not just hundreds-of-thousands, but millions of shoes around the world, with retail locations in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Australia. Celebrities like Demi Moore and Jay Leno and high profile brands like Nordstrom, AT&T and Element Skateboards have bought into the TOMS “One for One” movement.

The company has definitely found its “onliness,” that unique space of differentiation that separates it from others in the market. And, its been wildly successful in leveraging that uniqueness to build and strengthen their brand community, which is made up of brand advocates who are near religious in their loyalty to TOMS and willingness to go out and evangelize its mission.

From college campus clubs to”Style Your Sole” shoes parties to a global “One Day Without Shoes” event, TOMS is using its status as a company that does good to expand its “movement” worldwide. And it’s working. Go to the TOMS Facebook page, and you’ll find more than 700,000 followers. Their Twitter page has nearly 600,00. And the TOMS YouTube channel? Well, it has had nearly 2 million upload views.

TOMS has also been brilliant in using documentary filmmaking to share their brand story with customers. The power of the images they capture and the story that supports them, paired with the power of social media to push them viral, has been instrumental in spreading their message.

When it comes to building customer communities that are practically cults, TOMS has found their magic formula. But can they sustain their momentum? The fashion industry is notorious for throwing today’s “must haves” out with tomorrow’s trends. Is TOMS brand story strong enough and its community loyal enough to carry it through being the current trend of the moment? Perhaps, that depends on how the company evolves as the market changes. Will TOMS be able to remain relevant in the long run? What are your thoughts?

Also, if brand advocacy is something you’re challenged with or are interested in, then join us for the Liquid Brand Summit on March 1 to discuss this and other issues associated with “transformation” and how brands and brand marketers stay relevant and competitive.

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