Case Study | TOMS : How Story Connects Brands to People – Part 5

In continuing with some of the thoughts I’ve put together on creativity, business, and storytelling:

In order to better understand the way creative actions and storytelling play a part in business, it will be helpful to look at three different case studies: the non-profit organization charity: water, the for-profit organization TOMS, and the Harvard Business school case method.

tomsBlake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, has a similar origin story to Harrison’s charity. While working for another start-up, Mycoskie took a vacation to travel around Argentina. As he spent time taking in the culture, he also began wearing the national shoe, the alpargata, a soft canvas shoe worn by most of the people in the country. He briefly wondered if the alpargata would have a market in the U.S., but he never pursued the idea. Near the end of his trip, he met a woman who ran an organization that collected and gave shoe donations to children who needed shoes. Children in Argentina apparently lacked essential footwear, but because this organization was reliant on donations, they could never get the stock they needed. As Mycoskie continued his trip, he began to see how not having shoes affected the children physically. He first thought about starting his own charity, but “then I began to look for solutions in the world I already knew: business and entrepreneurship. I had spent the previous ten years launching businesses that solved problems creatively … Why not create a for-profit business to help provide shoes for these children? … In other words, maybe the solution was in entrepreneurship, not charity” (Mycoskie, 2011). TOMS, or TOMorrow’s Shoes, was born.

Mycoskie made an initial supply when he was in Argentina, returning to the U.S. with a duffel bag of shoes to sell. He began by first asking if his friends were interested, which they were. When he went to the clothing store American Rag to speak to the shoe buyer, his story played an important part of his pitch: “I went in and told her the TOMS story. Every month this woman saw, and judged, more shoes than you can imagine – certainly more shoes than American Rag could ever possibly stock. But from the beginning, she realized the TOMS was more than just a shoe. It was a story. And the buyer loved the story as much as the shoe – and knew she could sell both of them.”

Like Harrison, Mycoskie understands the power of story: “When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors.” He gives a number of tips for using story to further the mission of a company: he advises sharing your story whenever you can (Mycoskie will wear mismatched shoes to start a conversation, so that he’ll be able to share the story of TOMS); like Harrison, he suggests partnering with other companies to further the story, or connect with the everyday people who have joined into the passion of the story; he advises businesses to share compelling stories on social media; finally, he advises businesses to craft the story for the audience they want to partner with them.

Next: Case study: HBS

Last: Case Study | charity:water : How Story Connects Brands to People – Part 4


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