The TOMS word “With”
And why I proposed we update our mission statement at TOMS.
We say it all the time. I hear it all the time.
And setting aside that this response often answers a question for which it was a poor choice as a first question to a stranger (to begin with), said response… is still, usually not even an after-thought.
Me? I notice it quite a bit, myself. (Actually, now I can’t not notice it.)
How about you?
Stranger 1, Bill: “Nice to meet you. What do you do?”
Stranger 2, Barry: “I work for Company B.”
Branding and marketing have always interested me, but even having changed majors six times or so in college, those two did not make my short list.
Well… lo and behold, in the Spring of 2009 I was two years out of university and a marketing intern at the headquarters of TOMS Shoes in Santa Monica, CA. Now, the One for One company known solely as TOMS (pun if you want to; we did all the time).
At the time (and ever since) I had been reading quite a lot of books and blogs on where business and capitalism in general, were thought to be headed. (Seth Godin among them, of course.)
With giving at its core, TOMS Shoes is the epitome of a for-profit company with a social mission.
TOMS has proved that it is possible to do good and still do well at the same time.
Blake Mycoskie started TOMS Shoes in 2006, and you could easily propose that TOMS — and Blake — were the on the forefront of conscious consumerism. “Capitalism 2.0”. Actually, many credit TOMS’ very “One for One” slogan as the business model that has now so famously launched a movement of the same name.
At the time, our mission statement read:
Pretty awesome sounding company if you ask me. Or any of the now 35 million other people who have since caught on and bought a pair or two — giving an equal number of new shoes to children in need.
(Knowing correctly, that your customers can be your greatest storytellers and marketers, TOMS began by budgeting exactly $0 for advertising.)
In June 2009, the mission statement at TOMS Shoes changed.
If you look at TOMS.com now or inside the sole of any pair, you will see a slightly different sentence. It reads,
“New” shoes. People would wonder and often ask, “Will the children get the same shoes I buy? Or even new ones?” Fair question. Yes, good clarification.
Adding “One for One.” Umpfh. Yes too, awesome punch!
Words are important; what we say — how we speak — the words we choose to use say a lot. Framing is key.
George Lakoff confirmed this for me.
When people I’d just met would ask me, “What do you do?”,
I never once said, “I work for TOMS Shoes.”
Where capitalism and business are going — or where the smart ones paying attention at least, are going — is toward genuine connections, toward making a difference, and doing something that matters.
It’s important to recognize the mindset typical of your target demographic.
If you’re in the business of changing the world, then I would argue that “your people” probably don’t want you doing something for them or to them.
The people you’re looking for work together, collectively.
We look to make personal connections as we collaborate creatively, changing the world in small and big ways.
Yes, we want to both make a difference and build relationships along the way too.
And we do.
I want to work with you.
Moreover (and admittedly, perhaps a bit tangentially), if we (as in the societal “we”) are going to make it a norm… then in the very least, I want to feel that solid nook between your thumb and forefinger when I shake your hand. I want you to feel mine too and I want you to look me in the eyes as well… if only for that brief moment; that’s one (small) connection.
No sad floppy fish handshakes here. (“Alright, psych degree!”)
Because similarly, when we wear our “consumer hats”, we want to feel connected to the businesses and companies that we purchase from.
It’s our handshake.
Of course, we hope that connection is genuine.
Customers are smart — so in businesses that are too, it had better be.
We don’t want to be heartless cogs and naturally, how we spend our dollar should reflect that.
TOMS gets it.
And that is where smart businesses are going — where capitalism is going.
Where it needs to go.
“I work with TOMS Shoes,” I would say.
On this philosophy alone, there is no better word to be the first word of the mission statement of a company like TOMS than the word “With.”
So literally on the very last day of our internship, with an encouraging alley-oop from my good buddy and fellow intern (now staff), Larry Cohen, I pitched this to Blake in our last intern meeting with him.
I didn’t do it alone.
I didn’t add the word “new” nor suggest the phrase “One for One.”
It’s not a huge change either; it’s literally one word.
That first word.
The essence is still very much the same.
But I did poke the box; Seth Godin would be proud. And that’s pretty cool.
Two last points. The first, on office culture.
- Blake wanted to hear this.
As Boss Man, he worked to create TOMS as a space to allow for it… to encourage it.
2. I hope you’ll join me in realizing too, this is all just semantics.
My entire point here is the real difference.
And the real difference is how you choose to answer that pretty poor first question for yourself, every day:
Are you working with or for?
“Nice to meet you. What do you do?”
Read more about Adam’s internship at TOMS - including his desk of beer cans at AdamGreenberg.com.
Adam’s grateful his 20s were a debt-free decade traveling with intention through work with meaning. It’s time we make it possible for more young people to be able to say the same.
AdamGreenberg.com is the official website of some guy by the same name.