The pandemic-spawned running renaissance has pushed a handful of smaller shoe brands to the front of the pack, with Brooks Running leading the way. Melanie Allen, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, explains how the competitive set keeps changing -- and why Brooks' most recent cause-related effort is so meaningful.
Marketing Daily: Running's popularity isn't slowing. Can you put the last few years in perspective for Brooks Running's growth?
Melanie Allen: We saw a steep increase as lockdown began. Tt was a very high roller coaster, just going up, up, up. People liked the benefits of running beyond the physical. They found that everyday routine, just that mental break, was so needed. We call them the soul runners -- they needed it in different ways than someone just wanting to do their first 5K. And these are the people we've found who have stuck with it.
Marketing Daily: And that's how you first teamed up with actor David Harbour, right?
Allen: Yes. He started running at the beginning of the pandemic. We saw that and sent him some gear. He sent back a handwritten thank you note -- that just doesn't happen. And so when we launched our "It's your run" campaign this past summer, we thought of him.
He said, "But I'm not a serious runner." And that's what we love, and the whole point of the campaign. Your run is whatever you want it to be. It doesn't have to look a certain way. Tt's about putting one foot after another.
Marketing Daily: In this latest fundraising effort, you work with Harbour and a group called Back On My Feet for people experiencing homelessness. Why this population, and why this organization?
Allen: We felt like we could help make a difference, focusing on the power of fitness and community support, helping them along their journey. Our purpose is all about inspiring everyone to run their own path, which aligns with this group. And we're excited that we hit our donation amount of $675,000 in shoes, jackets and pants. We're able to outfit them head to toe and support their running needs for an entire year. That's a big milestone.
Marketing Daily: How do you describe the Brooks niche?
Allen: Performance running. It's the only product we make–we don't do lifestyle, tennis, basketball or anything else. And we've done it for 20 years. We have one of the most extensive runner research labs to make sure we understand biomechanics from head to toe. We want to prevent injuries and keep runners healthy.
Marketing Daily: What's your marketing approach, and how has it changed in the last year?
Allen: In 2020, we shifted our marketing mix entirely to digital and started testing many things, like podcasts and Twitch. But as the world got more normal in 2022, we've shifted back to our more traditional mix: about 50% in digital channels and the other 50% in real life.
We do a lot at retail, making sure people get fit properly in stores. And, of course, we're back at events. This past summer, we launched a mobile tour -- a first for us. We went to 12 cities, giving runners a chance to try our products and have some fun with them. And we've moved into more streaming channels, including Hulu and Amazon. That's new and will continue into 2023.
Marketing Daily: Smaller performance running brands, including Brooks, have been consistently outselling big-name companies like Nike and Adidas for some time. Which ones are your major competitors?
Allen: I've worked at a number of different brands in the last 25 years, and I've never seen the competition change so much. It's amazing. And it's good -- refreshed competitors push the whole industry forward. Hoka One One is a strong competitor. On is up and coming as well. And we also compete closely with AsicS.
Marketing Daily: What's your typical age range right now -- and what's the gender split?
Allen: Our typical age is around 35 to 45. And we skew more female than most brands, at about 62% to 64%. The running industry average is closer to 50/50. And we find that male runners are more likely to stick to big brands like Nike and Adidas.
Marketing Daily: And are they all typical runners?
Allen: No. Our focus areas include core runners and people who might not necessarily identify as runners. Maybe they take Barry's Bootcamp or HIIT classes and don't necessarily connect that they're running. And we're also heavily focused on trail running.