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TOMS Shoes Teaches Consumer Empathy With a Day Spent Barefoot

Day Without Shoes

Need your customers to know your brand better? Expose yourself. That's what the shoe company TOMS did with their One Day Without Shoes campaign earlier this month. The impact was amazing. A quarter of a million people participated in over 1,600 events worldwide, posting their photos, videos, and stories. The end result is brand building the right way—through consumer empathy.

The model set by TOMS Shoes is admirable. Its brand reflects the compelling truths of the company with its One for One business model. For every pair of shoes sold, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. Can you imagine the brand capital that TOMS is building throughout the world, just by being a good steward? Beyond the day without shoes, the TOMS Web site invites users to get involved every day by telling TOMS stories and hosting a "sole party." There are now TOMS evangelists working hard for the company throughout the world. Celebrities like Olivia Wilde adore the brand and what it stands for.

TOMS No ShoesKnowing your consumers' interests and feelings associated with your brand pillars will bring you closer to them. Through consumer empathy, we can build our brands in the hearts and minds of our public, based on what they believe to be of the highest value. That's very different than the tendency of most companies, which is to push their new brand onto their consumers and demand that they like it. TOMS's approach, for example, gives their customers a very literal way to experience the benefit that they are providing to children around the world every day.

It's one thing for a company to spend money developing or repositioning its brand to be more relevant and fresh. But what happens once the standards are complete, the new Web site is up, and the business cards are passed out? You must then live the brand everyday. From the way the phone is answered to the way you tweet about your brand, every employee must be a brand champion and every transaction must come from the truths of your brand. Sounds easy, right? Well, why aren't brands doing it?

TOMS Venice walk

The executives at TOMS may intuitively know what a study just out from Brand Keys 10th Annual Fashion Index found. The report says fashion brands are again more important to consumers than anytime since the 1960s. But do most fashion brands really try to relate to consumers and create value, or just strut their egos in the hope they are attractive to their target? It's still mixed. For men in particular, Nike comes in at #2, preceded by "favorite sports team." The Nikes, Ralph Laurens, and Levi's of the world have done a pretty good job over the years of bearing themselves to their customer. They're all in the top 10 for both men and women. But maybe the fashion world can learn something from the sports world: Most sports franchises go out of their way to connect emotionally with their consumer.

Does your company's message reflect your empathy with your consumers? Do you know what value your customers place on your brand pillars? Do you even know what the compelling truths of your brand are? If not, it just may be time to expose yourself to get closer to your customers.

Jamey Boiter's Brand Innovatr blog
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Jamey Boiter is a nationally recognized brand strategist and practitioner. As BOLTgroup's brand principal, he oversees all brand innovation and graphic design teams. He has received numerous awards, ADDYs, and citations for his work in brand development, packaging, and corporate identity, including award-winning projects for AirDye, Lowe's, IZOD, Nat Nast, G.H. Bass, Marc Ecko, and Forté Cashmere. Jamey has been involved in strategic brand development and design management programs with world-class brands such as Kobalt Tools, Ryobi, Coca-Cola, Kraft, IZOD, and Phillips-Van Heusen, and has been a featured speaker at national conferences and college campuses on the subject of brand strategy, innovation and development.