THE BLOG
10/03/2013 01:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

These Shoes Ain't Just Made for Walkin': The Cause Marketing Biz Model

"I know it's a lot of money, but for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is donated to help kids all over the world who can't afford shoes."

These were the words of my 13-year-old daughter as she was convincing me to buy her not one, not two, but three pairs of TOMS shoes!

Even though I thought three pairs of shoes at $77-a-pop was a bit extravagant; I justified the decision in my head, telling myself that I would be helping kids who weren't nearly as fortunate as my own.

On the drive home, I learned that TOMS had been a recent topic with my teenager and her friends. I was fascinated. Once we arrived, I asked my daughter, Mikaela, to Google "TOMS," so we could both learn more about who and how this organization was helping.

I soon discovered that TOMS is a leader in the "cause marketing" world.

Since I have consulted for several of the largest cause marketing clients in this "world" for the last couple of years, I not only knew a little something about this; I whole heartily embraced it.

What Is Cause Marketing?

Cause marketing refers to a type of marketing that involves the cooperative efforts of a "for profit" business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.

The term is sometimes used to refer to any type of marketing effort for social and/or charitable causes, including in-house marketing efforts by non-profit organizations.

Cause marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy), because the latter generally involves a specific donation that is tax deductible. Cause marketing, on the other hand, is a marketing relationship that's not necessarily based on a donation.

TOMS Shoes is a for-profit organization that holds a separate 501(c)(3) named Friends of TOMS.

Before we go into what makes TOMS Shoes a leader in cause marketing, as well as in direct-response marketing, let's talk about how they got started, their business model, and what they "really" do.

TOMS Shoes was founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie in Venice, California. It was inspired by a trip to Argentina (where Blake was competing on 2nd season of The Amazing Race with his sister).

After The Amazing Race, Blake went on to found a company that has changed business and PR models alike, by producing ONLY lightweight shoes based on the common Argentine style, the Alpargata. TOMS Shoes offer a simplistic style with a combination of canvas casing and a flexible sole... a casual look.

Mycoskie's business plan is innovative, yet simple. In an effort to take corporate social responsibility to another level, and to advocate for forward thinking, TOMS Shoes is built upon a single philosophy:

ONE FOR ONE - for every pair of shoes sold a pair of shoes would be given to a child in need.

His idea was an immediate home run, and sales and distribution are as follows:
• 2006 - TOMS sold 10,000 pairs for these 'plain' shoes in a short 8-month span
• 2007 - Sales skyrocketed to 50,000 pairs
• 2009 - Sales jumped again to 140,000 pairs
• 2010 - As of January 2010, over 400,000 pairs of shoes have been distributed worldwide.

Three-Pronged Marketing Approach

TOMS uses many of the same marketing tactics that you and I use in our businesses today, including:

• Traditional Media (Regular ads as well as having celebrities wear their TOMS in photo-ops.)
• Social Media (Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube)
• Events (including people of all ages, races, and geographic areas).

Since TOMS relies heavily on word-of-mouth to spread its message, these events are themed and unique. They include:

• GET IT DONE: At these events, TOMS invites artists to come and paint a pair of their shoes, creating a one-of-a-kind, wearable work of art that can be auctioned off. The proceeds are then donated to likeminded charities.
• STYLE YOUR SOLE PARTY: These parties encourage people to come together and paint their own TOMS shoes at baby showers, youth groups meetings, and sorority events... another great way for TOMS to raise awareness and to sell in bulk.
• ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES: Participants go without shoes for a day in order to raise awareness for all of the children that must go without shoes... last year, there were 1,600 of these events in over 25 countries -- with over a quarter of a million participants choosing to go barefoot!

Answer the "Why" Before It's Asked

Like any good marketer (cause or not), TOMS answers the question "WHY SHOES?" before it's even asked.

TOMS lets its potential buyers know that wearing shoes protects against a disease called podoconiosis, a debilitating and disfiguring disease.

Also known as "Mossy Foot", podoconiosis is a form of elephantiasis that affects the lymphatic system of the lower legs. It's a soil-transmitted disease caused by walking in silica-rich soil. This causes one's feet to swell along with many other health complications.

This horrifying disease affects millions of children across the world.

TOMS understands that being an advocate for children, as well as being able to defend that advocacy with ease, will alleviate the price barrier and sell more shoes.

3 Keys for Business Growth

Like many great companies, TOMS grew out of a vision to make the world a better place. The company was able to create and implement this mission by combining traditional direct-response marketing with new media efforts.

Using this model, TOMS was able to achieve a higher average unit of sale, a low refund rate, and perfect "the pass along factor," fulfilling all three of what well-known marketing expert Jay Abraham identifies as the keys to growing any business:

1. Increase your number of customers.
2. Increase your number of purchases they make.
3. Increase your average amount they spend on each purchase.

So today, examine your business. Are you making a CONSCIOUS effort to implement the "keys" for business growth?