A company with a mission or a mission with a company.
The difference is what Blake Mycoskie identified early on in his development of TOMS Shoes, a for-profit shoe business that quickly became one of the most successful and influential business models in recent times. TOMS is based on the one for one model: buy one pair of shoes and another pair will be donated to a child in need.
This groundbreaking idea first struck Mycoskie’s entrepreneurial mind when he learned that prevalent issues in the developing world like disease, lack of education, and safety could sometimes be solved with a simple pair of shoes. Instead of finding donors to temporarily meet the need, Mycoskie wanted to supply an endless stream of shoes that wouldn’t dry out when donor gifts did. He crafted the idea of a social enterprise: a for-profit business that incorporates charitable giving into the DNA of its business model.
Over the past 11 years, TOMS has grown into a worldwide company, successfully delivering 75 million pairs of shoes to children across the globe. Yet through its wild success, TOMS has consistently set itself apart through its focus. Rather than driving profit or sales, TOMS has invested the majority of its energy into sharing its story and staying true to its mission.
Personally, Mycoskie’s incessant passion to communicate the TOMS story has catapulted the company to a position of influence in the business and social sectors. With only a story to share and a purpose to join, Mycoskie has shown the world the power that lies within a company that offers not just a product but a greater cause.
The Power of Stories
Mycoskie’s development of a new type of enterprise was so successful that he wrote a book about it. In his book, Start Something that Matters, Mycoskie shares insight from author Kendall Haven. Haven discusses the importance of stories and their impact on the human mind:
“Human minds rely on stories and story architecture as the primary road map for understanding, making sense of, remembering, and planning our lives – as well as the countless experiences and narratives we encounter along the way.”
Studies have proven that people are more likely to remember information, engage emotionally, and respond with generosity when they hear a compelling story. Why? Because stories connect humans and bring humanity together. As stories are shared, relationships are developed, and connections are made. These connections lead to the kind of human cooperation that can change the world.
Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, tested the effects of narratives on oxytocin (the neurochemical responsible for empathy) levels by observing brain activity. Zak explains,
“To do this, we tested if narratives shot on video, rather than face-to-face interactions, would cause the brain to make oxytocin. … We found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative.”
Zak’s study also confirmed an important principle that sustains our world today: Helping makes us happier, and helping comes from connecting with people through stories: “There is a virtuous cycle in which we first engage with others emotionally that leads to helping behaviors that make us happier. [These behaviors] resonate with our evolved brain systems that make social interactions rewarding.”
Telling the Whole Story
Mycoskie recognized this neural power of stories to connect people to a greater cause, and he capitalized on it. Rather than recruit customers who are pleased with a product, Mycoskie’s method of sharing the whole TOMS story helped build a movement of supporters who are each as passionate about providing shoes for those in need as the founder is himself.
While he left the story-telling to the growing customer base, he didn’t leave them without a story to tell. Mycoskie was intentional in sharing the mission of TOMS, the tale behind how it all started, and the vision for where it was going. The more Mycoskie and his team communicated this established vision and mission, the easier it was for consumers to grab ahold, jump on board, and share it with others.
As a result, TOMS gained built-in marketers – individual story-tellers who spread the story to their own networks and connections, producing a completely organic (and inexpensive) wave of excitement and familiarity with the brand. And with exploding organic growth and recognition nation-wide, TOMS became more than just a mission, it became a movement.
A New Definition of Success
TOMS provided a revolutionary model that remains effective for all kinds of businesses today. If brands were to consider themselves a mission with a company rather than a company with a mission, how many more would rise up and join the movement, motivated by an interest in cause over product? What could businesses look like with social responsibility ingrained in the DNA rather than added on as an afterthought?
The definition of success in the business world is changing, and companies must do more than just produce results.
Social responsibility is increasingly becoming the standard. Employees and consumers are looking for purpose – a cause and passion – that is rooted deep within the company culture. But a greater cause is fruitless if the story is not shared and the vision is not caught.
At HMG, we strive to help you become a business that’s driven by mission rather than solely by profit. We use our expertise to help shape your brand strategy and communicate your values and mission with your customers in a way that leaves a lasting impact. In a society where corporate skepticism is high, we believe all businesses possess the unique opportunity to demonstrate social responsibility by finding their internal mission to better impact the external community.
With a story that’s told and a mission that’s shared, watch employee engagement and customer satisfaction increase as you boost your impact on the world around you. The mission is big, but the goal is simple. As Mycoskie would say, just start something that matters.