March 21 2018
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In a recent article with Claire Suddath for Bloomberg Businessweek, Brooks Running CEO Jim Weber said that “running is not really a sport” and that, despite the fact that Suddath and many runners like her run marathons, they’re not really runners and should instead be classified as “self-defined runners.”
As a result, runners were confused at best and furious at worst, asking for an explanation on social media and on the Brooks Running blog. They got one, but we recently reached out to the man himself, who was willing to discuss the Brooks brand in general and its running sphere specifically.
First, we read the entire Bloomberg Businessweek article and thought about what was reported over several long runs (naturally) before taking the opportunity to speak with Weber via conference call. After this discussion, we came to the following conclusions; even so, we urge you to read all of the material and draw your own.
The title of the Bloomberg Businessweek article is, “Brooks Needs Runners Who Hate to Run.” Suddath goes on to explain how this $500 million dollar company has the running market conquered and now needs to get “everyone else.” How do they solve that problem? By trying to get everyone to buy running shoes, even if (or especially if) they don’t run.
Weber joined the company in 2001 with the understanding that performance running shoes were the company’s best asset. “We anchored in on a purpose; in fact, we wrote it on the wall and it was the only thing on the wall.” The stated purpose Weber is referring to is this: To inspire everyone to run and be active. Weber and the entire Brooks company stand behind that purpose.
Brooks recently hired its first-ever chief marketing officer, Melanie Allen. Allen came to Brooks straight from overseeing seasonal marketing for a company you may recognize by its Pumpkin Spice Latte. I don’t even need to tell you the name of that company, do I? Brooks is betting that Allen can perform the same marketing magic for them. In fact, she was the brains behind Brooks’ recent campaign extending everyday runners the chance to sign a contract with the shoe company, offering to pay each athlete one dollar in sponsorship fees. Sixty thousand people signed up.
Many within the running community shirk the “runner” title with every possible excuse (I’m too slow, I haven’t run ‘x’ distance yet, I haven’t been running long enough). How can we expect people who really don’t spend their time running to invest in running shoes?
When asked about handling this specific hurdle, Weber explained that the answer lies in the quality of the shoe, no matter who is wearing it. “We love the tension in our brand. We have invested in more research and design, moved toward a more natural motion [in our shoes] and even expanded on our already extensive biomechanical research.” All of this work represents an effort to appeal to runners and non-runners alike. “We are not spending a penny on marketing to those who don’t run; we’re trying to inspire more people to run.”
Weber acknowledged that the Brooks brand may be less familiar to non-runners and that word of mouth, with a quality product to back it up, goes a long way. “From a marketing point of view, runners are a very discerning group and will not buy something of low quality and standards,” Weber explained. This is why he suggests that everything Brooks builds “is going to be runnable and the best in its category.”
The Bloomberg Businessweek article states that more than 19 million Americans participate in a road race every year, but most are not racing to win anything more than bragging rights and a medal. Running is mostly personal, save for the few elites who make professional careers out of it and are the “real” runners to whom Weber was no doubt referring.
The next time you are in a social setting, ask someone who their favorite runner is and for which shoe company they run. After they give you a blank stare or ask what you’re talking about, follow up with a query into who their favorite basketball player is and for what team they play. The individual may even have a fantasy league in which they participate. You now have your answer and a new question: Have you ever heard of a fantasy running team?
“Running may be the most inclusive sport the world has ever known,” Weber said, going on to explain that everyday runners can literally run the same race as the professional and elite runners. This is something no other sport offers–not even in fantasy leagues.
Most runners enjoy a love/hate relationship with the sport. In fact, when you ask a runner why they keep running, they may say, “Because I love it,” but most will talk about how much it hurts or how disappointed they are with their pace, distance or time. Even so, most runners ultimately never return from a run wishing they hadn’t gone.
During our discussion, Weber delved into Brooks’ “run happy” tagline, explaining how the label is deliberately centered around the diversity of the runner. “’Run happy’ is celebrating your specific, personal run,” Weber said. “[Running is] so diverse; there is something for everyone, from the Olympics to the 5K to the run down the street. Running is so individual and powerful. When you look at behavior, even people who don’t like to run love how they feel afterward.”
Runners are a mystery, sometimes even unto themselves, and Brooks is trying to figure it out so it can sell more running shoes. “We are the most focused company in this category,” Weber said. “We’re the only ones who only do running. It reflects who we are and the fact that running is for everyone. If you choose to do it, you feel better afterward–and if you add up the days, it can change your life.”