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How The North Face Meets Athletes Where They Are

Vanessa Dillof of The North Face takes us through what it’s like researching a hard-to-reach audience, elite athletes, and how to build empathy and a strong feedback loop.

We sat down with Vanessa Dillof, Senior Director of Consumer Insights at The North Face to discuss her Athlete Intelligence project. A project aimed to overhaul the brand’s efforts at collecting feedback from their professional customers. She covered a variety of topics, from engaging hard-to-reach samples to weaving in stakeholders. Stream it in full, or read on for three major takeaways.

1. Match your data collection to your users

Vanessa’s team needed feedback from their professional consumers (prosumers): professional adventure athletes whose lives—and livelihoods—depend on outdoor gear that meets their exacting specifications. Historically, The North Face relied on email surveys that were both cumbersome for the athletes and not rich enough for the insights teams. She explains:

“We needed a better way, a more useful tool to really reach our athletes where they wanted to be reached. So we chose a tool that we knew that they would have with them at all times: The cell phone was the one thing that would allow us to do that.”

Vanessa’s team found qual research via smartphones both scalable and easy for their athletes. This made for better insights, smarter decision-making, and happier customers.

2. Democratize research to build empathy

Vanessa’s team needed to humanize the athletes and customers that make the brand tick and meet stakeholder deadlines. She decided to invite stakeholders–brand marketing, product design–into the dscout platform as a way to reduce the distance between user and decision-maker. She explains:

“Many of our designers were getting frustrated that there was a lot of wear testing feedback coming through and a lot of changes being asked for in the product that we were creating, but they didn't necessarily know the reason behind that. The dscout platform really allowed us to change that. They understood the broader context behind some of the feedback that they were getting once they saw that this feedback was coming from real people, with real stories.”

Inviting stakeholders into the research platforms used to collect feedback offered opportunities for exclusive insight; they were able to see the raw data, stories, and feedback. This imbued stakeholders with confidence to jump back into the dscout platform and start building projects of their own, scaling her team from the inside.

3. Complete the feedback loop

If your user group is high-value—whether that’s because they’re enterprise users or a hard-to-reach sample—offering them value in return can engender goodwill and encourage future participation. What does this mean in practice? Vanessa shares every deliverable, report, and result with the athlete team, keeping them in the loop about how products and gear will develop and harnessing social proof that others like them are making contributions:

“We share just about everything. Anything that goes in front of our leadership team around what we’re taking out of the platform, it also goes back to our athlete team. If they're going to take the time to give us all this feedback, the least we can do is make sure they're hearing from us on how we're using it and how we incorporated things.”

For more strategies and tips on engaging participants and building deliverables for stakeholders, check out the full webinar— and if you're ready to start building your own research in dscout, sign up for a free account or talk to an account executive.

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