The curiously thoughtful person in the photograph above is Dave Larsen, VP of Marketing & Light Hauling for Brooks Running. Brooks is the number two performance running brand
on the planet and it continues to grow and prosper. Focused on real running product,
Brooks President Jim Weber has been wise enough to surround himself with a tremendous
team of key players, from Rick Wilhelm to our interview focus, Dave Larsen.
Larsen is possessed with a finely tuned sense of humor, and for a VP of Marketing, that is
an important attribute. He also does not take himself too seriously. Over the past three years,
Brooks, under Larsen’s watchful eye, has launched ad campaigns that translate from digital
to print, and catch the runner, who first looks, perhaps in amazement, then, with a smile. Last
year’s world’s biggest running sports fans was well received.
Larsen is embarking, with his sports marketing manager, Jesse Williams, into some pretty visible elite athlete sponsorships, several who showed up at the USA Outdoor. We asked him
about Lisa Koll, the NCAA 10,000m/5,000m champion, who is the focus of some sponsorship
discussion. Larsen, you will note, did not play his cards–we will know on a need to know basis.
Dave Larsen did set a new RBR record for response to an interview query. Just the facts: I ask the focus for the interview, then send questions, then edit, then post. I hope you enjoy reading the interview!
RBR, #1. How did you get involved in sports?
Dave Larsen: I’ve been involved in sports since my Day One–baseball,
soccer, wrestling, tennis, running, basketball. I ended up being best at
tennis and became a ranked junior later playing varsity tennis at Stanford. As
for running, I ran 5x a week for years, mostly to keep me fit for my other
sports. I did compete for a couple years–yes, I ran the 880 yard dash for
North Mercer Junior High School‘s track team (Seattle area), which gives
a good indication of how old I am–yards, 880s and junior highs are things
of the past.
RBR, #2. You were at Nike for a time, what did you do there?
Dave Larsen: Almost 10 years from 1992-2002. I started as the head of global
tennis marketing, then spent 3 Â½ years as their Director of Marketing in
Germany and ultimately came back stateside to run U.S. brand initiatives–launched
Presto, Shox, Cross-training, Freestyle Basketball, PLAY and more. A great
company that I will always admire.
RBR, #3. You are director of communications and light hauling, please explain?
Dave Larsen: Just my way of keeping it real. Nothing too small. (Actual
title is VP of Marketing.)
RBR, #4. Tell us about the development of your Brooks superfans last year?
Dave Larsen: We wanted to reinforce our positioning as the authentic brand
that has some fun celebrating the run. Utilizing hot up-and-coming comedians
Randy and Jason Sklar to be running’s ultimate superfans underscored our
brand’s unique point of difference. As one of our specialty retailers put
it, “Brooks takes its product very seriously, but doesn’t take
itself seriously”. We created a dozen superfan videos, had a microsite
home telling their story, had a print campaign and even brought them to the
Boston Marathon to hold 17 shows in our “running revivalist” tent
complete with chorus, organ and noodle sculpture of Brian Sell–an homage
to all things running. One of the campaigns our team is most proud of.
RBR, #5. What was the response at the Boston marathon to your superfans?
Dave Larsen: The first response from these elite, “I qualified for
Boston” runners was weird head turn, then an incredulous smile. Everyone
is imaging running in the same way, so our fresh approach was welcome. The
blogs and YouTube videos made it all worthwhile.
RBR, # 6. Last year, you took on sponsorship of the Competitor series, formerly
the Rock N Roll series, how has that gone?
Dave Larsen: We have had fantastic success. Our RnR branded merchandise is selling
well and we have been showcasing and selling both Brooks inline apparel and
footwear as well as Moving Comfort sports bras and apparel much to the delight
of the runners, many of whom did not know the extent and quality of our lines.
The Competitor Group is a great partner. They know how to run a first-class event
and have gone overboard with allowing us to maximize our presence.
RBR, # 7. What special opportunities did sponsoring the series provide for Brooks?
Dave Larsen: The biggest opportunity is to connect with 330,000 new runners.
What a great stage to tell our story. We have activated our sponsorship in
ways never before imaged in our industry. We created a carnivalesque expo
experience called “The Brooks Run Happy Cavalcade of Curiosities”.
We have literally brought the circus to each Rock ‘n’ Roll event
town, complete with double-decker bus with upper level gait analysis stations
and a lower level Arcade of Oddities, which is a sort of running version of
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not–world largest shoe, world’s
ugliest bunion and more. In addition we have a show run by a ringmaster that
features a Jesus Lizard running on a liquid facsimile of our DNA cushioning.
We also have games–Pronator’s Peak and Dash for Gold–which runners
can play and win medals and stuffed shoes. It is true edu-tainment that brings
a fresh dimension to the usual tired expo experience.
RBR, # 8. Your brand is number two, solid, in 2010, with strong growth, how do you
Dave Larsen: I’d say our secret sauce is quite simple: top performing
product and best-in-class customer service. Runners love the Brooks product
experience. Retailers love Brooks because we go the extra mile to service them.
Lately we’ve delivered a couple products, the Adrenaline GTS 10, the
Glycerin 8 and the Ghost 3, which are knocking it out of the park. We have
quickly gone from being a growing brand to a hot brand.
RBR, # 9. At the Running Event, and at the Fleet Feet conference, Brooks has done
quite well, what is that attributable to?
Dave Larsen: Both this event and this conference have the same at stake as
Brooks. We live and die by the quality of the running experience offered and
they like our dedication and passion to this. We are joined at the hip with
RBR, # 10. Who is your consumer? Male or female? Young, adult, serious, fitness?
Dave Larsen: Our consumer is everyone who runs or is active. We tend to be
more familiar to a more traditional frequent runner so it is a goal of ours to
become more relevant to a younger more fitness-oriented runner through our
product offering and messaging. Although our footwear sales skew 53% women, I wouldn’t
call us a female-oriented brand by any means. We try and emotionally connect
with the runner in each person before shining the lens on their gender, age or
RBR, # 11. Who are your biggest competitors?
Dave Larsen: We tend to target the more singular running brands like Asics,
Saucony, Mizuno but we try to not worry about them, as we feel that if we focus
on ourselves we can forge our own path. We see ourselves as thought leaders in
the running world. Let us inspire and let others follow us.
RBR, # 12. Tell us about Brooks DNA? The videos were quite popular, tell us about
Dave Larsen: Brooks’ DNA cushioning technology is the coolest consumer
story I’ve ever been involved with…the material instantaneously adapts
to each foot strike regardless of weight, gait or terrain. It organically,
smartly tunes to you. Marketing-BS aside, it really works and is fun to tell
the story. It is also a mouthful so we’ve tried to bring it alive in
fun, educational videos. Showing someone running on non-newtonian liquid without
sinking is fun!
We’ve done several now and we’ve had millions of
views–another one comes out shortly. Irreverent yet totally relevant is
our middle name.
RBR, # 13. Can Brooks become the next billion dollar running shoe brand? Can you stay true to your core and do that?
Dave Larsen: Yes and yes. At only $200 million we are a rounding error
compared to some of our Goliath billion-dollar competitors. There is great
opportunity to grow and stay totally true to our core. The market is growing
and the thirst for awesome product is endless.
RBR, # 14. Run Happy has never gone away, will we see that come back?
Dave Larsen: Run Happy was introduced before I arrived… approximately 10
years ago…and we got off it for a couple years of soul searching. Everyone
kept asking for its return, so we obliged them and have never looked back–it
is glass-half-full, it is different, it is unique and it is empowering. We’ll
stick with it for as long as I can tell.
RBR, # 15. Rumor is that you are about to sign Lisa Koll, is that true, or care to
Dave Larsen: We are looking for women track athletes to represent our brand
in a way that is true to Brooks. She is one we have contacted.
RBR, #16. Where does the sponsorship of athletes play into your marketing plan?
Dave Larsen: We need more stories to bring our brand alive. The right
athletes with the right stories will play more heavily into our marketing plan
going forward. It is tough to battle the big brand machines, so we’ll
never win bidding wars. We need someone who is not only fast, but one who
lines up with our ideals–they are out there. Scott Jurek, Chrissie
Wellington and the Hansons are prime examples.
RBR, #17. What challenges do you see in your brands near future?
Dave Larsen: Our challenges and our strengths are our size. We need to win
on ideas and on our ability to react faster than our aircraft carrier
competitors. We feel confident that we are perfectly positioned to grow–authentic
brand with unique positioning in a house of supportive and well-financed
Dave Larsen: I’ve been lucky to work in an industry I
love. I hope my kids get the same opportunities I’ve had.
A special thanks to Dave Larsen and Tamara Hills!
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