Brands as Stories

Establishing a brand’s cultural legitimacy – Toms Shoes

In order to capitalise on the cultural connections that help people make sense of the world and anticipate and identify patterns they can utilise, brands need to establish cultural legitimacy in the areas in which they are able to play.

This cultural legitimacy is established both through a brand’s positioning, for example, Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ as both a conduit and catalyst for happiness, and also its ability to monitor, identify and act upon cultural patterns.

In turn, cultural legitimacy and the attendant ability to take a lead role in whichever area of culture they’re operating becomes a catalyst for a brand’s story, embedding them further still in the cultural discourse and allowing for more meaningful interaction with consumers new and old.

The strongest brands put purpose at the heart of what they do. This helps consumers navigate choice as they expect brands to play more meaningful roles in the world we live in.

‘70% of people in the UK believe that brands should play a role in improving quality of life and well-being.’ Meaningful Brands Index

Tom's shoe - orginal image from Flickr

Toms shoes is a company built on the founder’s story, a story that the company’s whole ethos stems from and which gives them their cultural legitimacy. Inspired by founder Blake Mycoskie’s travelling experiences, Toms shoes is built on the principle that for every pair you buy, a pair is donated in the developing world.

The well-told founder’s story is a powerful cornerstone for a brand and Toms is a particularly inspiring one. While travelling in Argentina, Mycoskie joined a charity trip to rural villages to distribute second-hand shoes to local kids. Shocked by the poverty he saw, he was inspired to create the Toms shoes brand.

The business was built on selling the local ‘alpargatas’ shoes in the west with the promise that for every pair sold another would be given away to kids in the developing world.

Staying true to this founding story has allowed the company to expand into sunglasses, with sight-restoring surgery or treatment being given for every pair sold (US glasses brand Warby & Parker [] is also making waves in a very similar manner). They’re now looking at other sectors such as hotels where this ‘one for one’ principle can be expanded upon.

It’s this story and guiding principal that keeps customers coming back to the brand, growing their cultural legitimacy, differentiating them and fostering brand love.

“Growth for growth’s sake doesn’t interest me. But growing Toms into one of the most recognised global brands next to Nike, Starbucks or Apple, that interests me. Not for my own ego, or even for the people we’re helping, but all the people that we’re inspiring to think different.” – Blake Mycsokie, founder and CEO, Toms Shoes

For more about our Brands as Stories approach, view the Slide Share below...