TOMS Builds a Movement One Customer at a Time

June 20, 2014

By Ken Beaulieu

TOMS, the altruistic online store founded in 2006, has transformed the way companies view social responsibility. Its inspirational buy-one-give-one business model has provided more than 10 million pairs of new shoes to children living in poverty and helped restore sight to over 200,000 people in communities around the world.

“We have a unique purpose and mission: to improve people’s lives through business,” says Zita Cassizzi, chief digital officer at TOMS. “It’s not just a slogan; it’s the foundation for everything we do.”

To entice more consumers to join its growing “movement,” TOMS relies heavily on the trio of digital, social, and mobile media. Cassizzi, a featured speaker for the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference, July 13–15 in Dana Point, Calif., discusses the importance of creating digital customer experiences, the evolution of mobile, the art of storytelling, and more.

Q. Your LinkedIn bio says you have an “extreme focus on creating unique customer experiences.” In what ways has that philosophy manifested itself in the digital space at TOMS?

A. Digital customer experiences are important at TOMS because our customer demographic lives and breathes the digital and mobile lifestyle. It’s not something they engage in periodically; it’s a constant part of their lives. And so we’ve made it a priority to connect with our customers digitally. For example, we launched a digital TOMS Marketplace on our website six months ago. It’s a platform that houses a collection of entrepreneurial companies that all share the same DNA and values as TOMS. To date, we have included 40 different socially-minded businesses on TOMS Marketplace. This platform lets customers connect with these smaller, unique companies and learn what they’re passionate about and how they give back.

Another example of a digital component of TOMS is a “digital shopping window” we launched in partnership with eBay last year at San Francisco’s Westfield Mall. It was a huge touchscreen that provided shoppers with information about TOMS and our giving program. The key is that it’s not technology for technology’s sake; rather, it’s authentic to our brand and allows users to experience the brand. We enabled customers to have a physical shopping experience while staying connected to the brand digitally. 

Q. How is mobile helping you reach socially conscious consumers and drive growth at TOMS?

A. It’s a very exciting time for mobile. In three years, mobile will permeate everything we do, and we won’t have to call it out separately. At TOMS, we work hard to live by our philosophy of “mobile first.” For example, our website features a responsive design that our consumers can enjoy on any device, regardless of size. Additionally, most of our sizeable social media engagement all happens on mobile, so we coined the phrase “mocial,” the combination of mobile and social. We believe the two go hand in hand. We want to have a constant dialogue with our consumers, our tribe members, to grow long-term relationships. With mobile, we are just an arm’s length away from connecting with them through social media and search, wherever they are.

Q. Talk about the role of storytelling in engaging consumers online and building the TOMS brand. What are the keys to success?

A. As I mentioned, TOMS is a movement with a mission to improve people’s lives through business. From the story of how TOMS began to the stories of those we have helped, storytelling is one of the most powerful aspects of the brand. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, frequently shares his own powerful story of how he founded the company after a trip to Argentina in 2006. TOMS employees and friends of the brand have also created their own experiences by personally going on giving trips, which have provided them with their own TOMS stories. Customers who join our movement through a simple purchase on our website,, or via a TOMS event also develop their own relationships with the brand that they can share with their communities via social media. These stories that our customers, employees, and founder share with others is how the company grew initially and continues to grow today. For storytelling to be effective, however, the content has to be authentic and resonate with an audience. It’s an art form that TOMS has mastered and continues to perfect. We aim to be passionate, engaging, and inspiring for our consumers.

Q. You spent 16 years at Dell. How did that experience prepare you for your role at TOMS?

A. My 16 years at Dell had a positive impact on me both as a senior executive and a global leader. While a very different company from TOMS, Dell was founded on the basis of entrepreneurship and on a direct-to-customer, customer-driven business model. Both are now powerful elements in today’s marketplace. I learned about leading every aspect of a global direct business, from creating long-term strategies to marketing to leading a multi-billion-dollar P&L and dot-com businesses. I also learned how to manage hyper-growth and how to scale businesses — all critical skills that serve me well today at TOMS.


"TOMS Builds a Movement One Customer at a Time." Ken Beaulieu, 6/20/2014.