From in-person, day-in-the-life projects to remote research, the Run-Sight Lab at Brooks Running managed to take the shift in stride.
One of the running giant’s core values is to be “runner centric”—putting their user at the forefront of new initiatives. With the pandemic shaking up everything, the team sought to learn more about how the runner was adjusting.
With a new strategy, the Run-Sight Lab partnered with dscout. They wanted to spend less time with logistics and more time executing scrappy, iterative, panel-based work. The team wanted to be more nimble with their research, just as runners were with their new environment.
During this time, the team not only discovered shocking new runner insights, but doubled their team. Ultimately growing their scope, scale, and impact with the help of dscout tools.
We sat down with Connor Skutches, Runner Insights Research Manager at Brooks to talk about team growth, flexible research, and how they injected actionable empathy across their organization.
On fostering a runner-led remote research practice
During the pandemic, we were looking for any indicator of how the situation was affecting runners. Prior to being remote, our team was heavily reliant on in-person research. We often conducted research at the participant’s home and spent the day with them.
In person, we were able to get into an empathetic space really quickly. Under normal circumstances, a day-in-the-life is often pretty representative and drives a lot of inspiration. But with in-person being off the table, we needed to create something that allowed us to chart changing perceptions over time and still get immersed in people's lives without being in their homes.
dscout was the perfect solution for us because it allowed us to do both. We could chart the ever changing perceptions that were basically day to day, hour to hour, depending on the moment in time during the pandemic. It allowed us to understand all that.
Plus, the platform allowed us to be in participants’ homes without actually being there. They brought us into their lives, shared videos, and delivered really great write ups. I'm amazed by how vulnerable they were in those moments, how open they were to sharing.
What we thought early on was, "Retail's basically shut down. We don't really know how the runner will react to that." But after talking to people on dscout and looking at other indicators, we were able to say that, "Hey, people might not be buying things right now because it's such a scary time, but we really think that running participation is going up and we think it's going to be a really unique relationship with running."
Throughout the course of that research for several months, we saw that people were taking up running for many different reasons. Some people were running because they were inside snacking all day and wanted to get active.
But others took up running because they needed that mental release. That was the biggest surprise for us. It was shocking how quickly some people were able to jump into running and quickly move to this relaxation space—it’s pretty rare.
On supporting and scaling research approaches
When we started doing remote research, we found that dscout was sort of this new playground. When you’re in person, you're flying to a city, and everything has to be pretty large-scale. You can only be so nimble because you’re bringing all the materials into the room with you.
One benefit of being in person is that you’re able to sketch things out or create games on the fly, which is awesome, but Live Missions allow us to keep that ability.
With dscout, the thing that really helped us be nimble was going into the project like, "Okay, we're going to have a six-week study and we’ve locked in the primary questions we want to ask.” After setting those baselines, it allowed us to follow where the conversation lead.
We wanted to be open to surprising insights and our safety net of primary questions gave us the opportunity to follow up with what people were saying. It allowed us to explore a bunch of different opportunities that were really interesting.
We were able to create prototypes or concepts, iterate on them really quickly, and test them with some of the participants. It allowed us to get a little bit of a mix of qual and quant. The Express Mission was a really great tool because it allowed us to explore things that we were curious about that didn’t yet have a fully formulated hypothesis. We could get some early indicators without spending extensive time on the logistics.
It's amazing how much you can get from the two-minute Express clips. People are willing to share their perceptions, and if you set it up right, you can really challenge some of your initial assumptions.
On socializing insights beyond the lab
At Brooks, one of our main values is to be runner centric—it's all about putting the runner first. And when things go awry i.e. the pandemic, it just re-instills that value and why it's so important.
When we approached these projects our strategy was, "Let's uncover insights and perceptions that the runner is having and let's share those with the brand because that is what's going to motivate people through a really tough time. We’ll use the insights to continue creating solutions for the runner and to continue to work in service of the runner." We thought about this a lot.
Everyone on our team was stuck at home, and the longer you're locked in your house, it's very easy to lose perspective. You can very easily lose your grasp on what's real.
So while we were all separated, we decided to create a weekly newsletter to send out to the whole company. The goal was to provide insight on: what's going on with the runner, interesting anecdotes, things that are delighting them, and things they are having a hard time with.
It gave people a very real look on the things we were learning. The feedback we got ended up being consistently positive, because one of the main sources of joy that people were able to consistently reach into was running. It ended up being a really uplifting resource.
On leading a growing team
The Run-Sight Lab only started in March 2018, so it's a pretty new team. The pandemic came along only two years after our inception, so we really found ourselves in a space where we needed to show our value while re-strategizing
dscout really helped us during this period by allowing us to tell stories faster and gave us much more visibility into the runner. Before that, we didn’t mean for there to be a barrier, but there was. You have all this camera equipment, you bring it home, you put it onto the shared drive at Brooks, and the research is kind of buried in there.
If you wanted to go look into it, you had to sift through hours and hours of footage, unsure if you’re even going to get what you need. With dscout, anyone who wanted to dig in had really quick access, everything was really digestible.
It gave us this ability to put things out into the company more quickly; people were able to run with those insights a lot faster. If it's an exploratory project, they don't need to wait for five months to get the insights; they can get it and turn the corner on it. That was key to showcasing our value across the organization.
Previously, we skewed heavier on the qualitative researcher team. Now, we have balanced out our design research and quantitative research functions. Building out these teams more has given us the ability to create prototypes and test more ideas with the runner through the design team and also gain a deeper understanding of runner/consumer behavior through new (for us) quantitative methods.
This balance has helped us offer fresh and innovative ideas to the brand while also giving them confidence that these insights aren’t solely based on insight found in qualitative interactions.
On remote research advice
When you start doing remote research, I’d recommend looking at it like a sampler platter. dscout gave us an opportunity to start with a trial and we were able to use it to get our findings out into the business as quickly as possible, that was the biggest thing for us.
With remote research you can prove quickly that you can be more resourceful. You can use it to tell deeply emotional stories efficiently. Even when things go back to in-person, it's still a great resource because you're able to cast a wider net. We can go across the country to talk to consumers and say, "Hey, let's launch an Express Mission or a Diary study while we're heading out," and have even more data to work with.
If you're pitching dscout to your boss, a key argument is being able to capture a larger spread of the U.S. For instance, because we can talk to runners in all 50 states, we're able to be more exact with our recruitment. No more leaving it in the hands of a recruiter who only has so many people in their panel. dscout has over 100k scouts—that's a huge selling point.
The ability to share your research and collaborate with people in your organization is major. With in-person methods, there's only so many people you can pack in a room. For other remote tools, there are barriers to live streaming. Plus, if it's not safeguarded in a platform like dscout, you worry about liability issues.
dscout gives us a lot more confidence to share things with stakeholders and it gives you different modes. It's all built-in. So, it's less lead time. You actually have resources at dscout that help you up your game in terms of your research.
We've tried to be pretty experimental in our approach, but one thing I've loved about working with dscout is collaborating with their team. We can throw something out there and say, "Hey, we want to learn this. Here are some ideas of how we might get there," and their researchers respond with, "Oh, have you thought about taking this approach?" They bring unique ideas to the table that we can build on and run with.
On what’s next for Run-Sight Lab
We want to place an emphasis on the types of runners that the industry hasn't really prioritized in the past. Whether that's income, race, level of participation, those are things that we really want to place a focus on, so far it's honestly been a huge win for us with dscout.
We have goals about who we want to speak with to create really diverse participation and we’ll be able to do it easily with dscout. With Recruit we can cast a wide net and then from there, really make sure that we’re capturing groups that might have otherwise been overlooked.
It will really help us check our blind spots, check our bias, and put us in a place where we're able to get perspectives that we're not used to getting. So we're not solving the same old problems for the same old people. We want to create more inclusivity in the sport, not just within Brooks, but just in running in general.
Stevie Watts is the Content Strategist at dscout. She enjoys telling compelling user research stories, growing social channels, and exploring all things video production. As a newer Chicagoan, you'll likely find her at a concert or walking her corgi, but undoubtedly heads down looking at Google Maps.