Monday, September 28, 2009

Seven Elements in Toms Shoes Buzz

So here we go, I’ve started my international tour which will focus on how word-of-mouth marketing can promote positive change. My first stop was last week in Los Angeles where I gave a talk to PR professionals and got to meet some real veterans in the entertainment PR field including Julian Myers who’s over 90 years old and remembers working with Marilyn Monroe. (He also still runs marathons. What an amazing guy!)

Anyway, we’re here to talk about word of mouth and positive change. I have two LA stories. I'll post the second one shortly.

On Friday I visited Toms Shoes in Santa Monica, a company that does a lot of things right. Why are they getting so much buzz? As always, the answer is multifaceted, but here are seven elements that explain it.

1. Strong message – For every pair of shoes you purchase, Toms will give a pair of shoes to a child in need. The same idea from some committee at a large corporation might have transformed to: “Proceeds from our shoe sales go to children in need. Limited to one pair per customer. Some restrictions apply. Review our web site for full details.” No! Toms shoes’ message is simple: One for one.

2. Good simple story – The story can be summarized in three sentences. This guy Blake Mycoskie goes to Argentina and sees cool shoes. He also sees kids with no shoes. He puts two and two together and starts a company that will make cool shoes and will donate a pair for every pair it sells. The story is supported with videos and pictures that show that the company is delivering on its promise.

3. Mass media – If you read my book you may remember that the first big push for Toms came from an article in the Los Angeles Times. As a result of that article, Blake got 2,200 orders in 24 hours. Blake continues to get a lot of press. He’s been on Good Morning America and other shows. If you live in the U.S., you probably have seen the AT&T commercials that feature him. Don’t underestimate the role of mass media in building buzz. (More on this in my next LA story).

4. Participation – Customers are involved in delivering the shoes to children in need. Last year I participated in one of their “shoe drops” in Booneville Kentucky and I’ve been talking about it ever since (picture above). It was an unforgettable experience—measuring the kids’ feet, fitting the shoes, helping the kids decorate their Toms. Last Friday I met people who participated in shoe drops in places like Argentina and South Africa, and their stories were moving and memorable. Since most people cannot go on a “shoe drop”, the company encourages participation through Facebook, by buying the shoes and by spreading the word.

5. Social media with a purpose – At every contact point, the company encourages you to spread the story. For example, after you buy the shoes, you’re encouraged to tweet “I just bought and gave a pair of TOMS Shoes to children in need. You can too at !” And this type of thinking is not limited to social media: The box with the shoes arrives with a TOMS sticker and a flag (!), so they encourage you to create visual buzz in the real world, too.

6. Self expression. We all love talking about what we create. TOMS encourages its customers to put together “Style Your Sole” parties where people decorate their own shoes. There are some beautiful designs that people put together and those end up on Flickr, Facebook and on blogs. And again, people love to show what they create to friends, so there’s visual buzz in the real world.

7. Ongoing – I’ve been following the company for awhile now, and this is one of the more impressive aspects of TOMS: They are constantly coming up with new stuff to talk about. New styles, new partnerships, new promotions. The core message never changes though: For every pair of shoes you buy from Toms Shoes, this company will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need.

I can go on and on about this company (see here for what Ben McConnell wrote about them), but I just wanted to share a few thoughts. I’d love to hear yours! Soon I’ll post another good buzz story from LA. Next week I’ll be in London and Hamburg. The following weeks in Stockholm, Istanbul and Sydney. For exact dates, check out

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