In 2006, a man named Blake Mycoskie befriended children in an Argentinean village and saw that they didn’t have adequate shoes with which to protect their feet. Called to action, Mycoskie founded TOMS, a company whose business model is a simple phrase, “One for One.” For every pair of shoes or eyeglasses sold, TOMS donates one pair of shoes or eyeglasses to individuals in need. This philanthropic “for profit” retail business model has made quite a splash: TOMS has given more than 10 million pairs of new shoes to children in need. The transparency, consistency, and centralization of this “One for One” principle seems to resonate with consumers.
The wearing of TOMS shoes has become more than a social statement. TOMS have become a fashion statement as well. But the line between these statements has become quite blurred. Many questions arise: Does wearing the shoes say something about who you are? Would those exact shoes sell as well without the philanthropy? Would TOMS be as successful of a brand without its altruistic business model? The reality is consumers enjoy the products and are empowered by what they represent. This charitable mission resonates with consumers and is a strong argument for other benevolent business models.
The message of TOMS shoes resonates especially with millennials, aged 18-24. Millennials want to wear clothes that represent who they are, and those who don casual canvas TOMS shoes are empowered to represent themselves as socially-conscious, charitable individuals. They say the clothes make the man (or woman). For millennials, clothes are a way to showcase values, personality, hobbies, and more. Clothes are a way for millennials to distinguish themselves from the masses. In a crowd of loafers and pumps, the guy or gal wearing TOMS really stands out, and sends a very strong message about who they are.
For millennials, this personal expression doesn’t stop at just clothing. Millennials also rely heavily upon their career and occupation to make a statement about their values. Millennials are increasingly more and more concerned with social good. They want this social good reflected in not only what they wear but where they work.
At OneDegree.com, one of the things we track in our career network database is Social Responsibility, sometimes referred to as “corporate citizenship.” When people fill out their One Degree profiles, one of the questions they are asked deals with socially responsible companies. On one end of the answer spectrum is “Socially responsible actions are central to company’s mission” with “Social good is best handled by the individual” at the other end. We find it is a metric that sits rather high on the list of attributes people seek in an ideal job; millennials especially want to work for companies that have Socially Responsible actions as central to their mission. In a survey by USA Today, Social Responsibility was listed as one of the top five qualifiers for a “dream job.” At One Degree, we were stunned when our database reported that nearly 70% of our users saw Social Responsibility as central to the mission. So… is social good a way to differentiate from competitors?
The same folks who find this compelling may be shocked to realize that the corporations who gave back most generously in recent years (in pure dollars amount) were Walmart, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Chevron. These are brands that aren’t heralded for social good in the way TOMS is. Why is this so? Because TOMS’ social good is absolutely central to every aspect of working at the company. Every member at TOMS is working toward these socially-responsible values; by contrast, it could be argued that a majority of Walmart employees, from cashiers to executives, are possibly unaware of Walmart’s financial generosity.
Millennials – the generation that makes up 36% of the workforce today and will represent nearly half of all working people by 2020 – clearly care about social responsibility. These emerging “socially-minded millennials” appear to care less about donating the largest sums of money and more about providing social good as a core tenet of the company. Even if the largest donors of money are delivering the very same value, it can often be dismissed as a PR stunt or simply a tax mitigation technique. While this perception is perhaps cynical, perception is often the reality.
Blake Mycoskie and companies like TOMS seem to reap the benefit of this positive benevolent buzz, creating not only a better workplace, but a better planet.
Sean Storin is the CEO/Co-founder of OneDegree.com, a site that aims to revolutionize the way people find jobs. He is based in Chicago. Sean has 20 years experience in start-up technology companies, business and management consulting, HCM- Staffing and IT Services. He is also a writer now and again.