Chief Customer Experience Officer at Brooks Running Company talks about transforming brands into a badge of honor for the consumer.

By Jahla Seppanen

Based in a sleepy family neighborhood near Seattle’s Puget Sound, Brooks Chief Customer Experience Officer, Anne Cavassa, keeps running and storytelling close to heart. Although she’s always loved marathon running and doing Ashtanga yoga in the quiet town, her background in the active lifestyle industry is more characteristic of a metropolitan mover and shaker, with previous positions as General Manager of U.S. Retail for Nike Town/Nike Stores, Senior Product Line Manager at Reebok, Design Manager for Tommy Bahama, Designer at Eddie Bauer, VP of Brand at Ibex Outdoor Clothing, and Senior Director of North America Merchandising at The Timberland Company. “My path hasn’t been linear,” Cavassa told SGB, “But when has a good run ever been straight?”

How did you get your start in the industry? Straight out of college I went to work as a sales associate for Nordstrom. At the time, I thought it was a great idea to both pay my rent and help subsidize my clothing habit while I was figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life. Little did I know, it would turn into a 20+ year career in the industry and be the foundation of my customer service belief.

And now your resume has some big names and titles on it. How’d you get so good? I do have an unusually curvy career path, it’s definitely not linear but it makes complete sense. I spent about 10 years in apparel design, designing and leading design teams and then my thirst for more control over the outcome of my product lead me to take the leap to product management.

I loved product creation and for the first couple of years I questioned my decision, I missed being closer to the product. However, I developed a second love: the consumer. And more specifically, engaging the consumer with stories and brand experiences. Over time, I developed greater leadership responsibility and more ownership of the business, ultimately leading to general management. I then took a step back, as many women do to focus on the greatest love of all, my family. After a few years with less P&L responsibility and lots of diaper changes, I decided to join forces with Brooks Running Company. It’s a dream job. I work with amazing people who have incredible passion for what they do, and together we build product and tell stories to runners everywhere.

“My path hasn’t been linear, but when has a good run ever been straight?”

So at the heart, you’re a storyteller? The wonderful thing about running is that there are stories everywhere. Every run has a story, and every runner has many. Running is about the journey, it’s the little things and the monumental things. They are all unique and all meaningful.

Does your degree in psychology help? I think it does. It relates to the study of human beings — what motivates, inspires, and connects us. I have an unending interest in both the psychology of an individual and the sociology of groups. It has definitely shaped my leadership development as well as how I approach storytelling. I get the most reward out of relationships and experiences when there is a meaningful connection, and I think most people and consumers feel the same way.

Can you give us a peek at Brooks’ next big story? We are bringing to market four years of thoughtful leadership bundled into a concept called Stride Signature. It’s revolutionary and will change a 30-year conversation with runners. In addition, we’re launching a global brand campaign called, “Live the Way You Run, Run Happy.” In all of its forms, the campaign will showcase, celebrate, and invite runners to reflect on the role running plays for them personally.

What are some of the best marketing stories out there? My current favorite campaign is Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign. Another all-time favorite is Apple’s original “Think Different” campaign.

What are the biggest trends in the industry you’re seeing this year? I think there are two macro trends that every brand is trying to figure out how to be a part of: athleisure and digital technology. Every brand from Old Navy to Gucci has active pieces in their line. The casualization of true performance gear in both apparel and footwear is staggering. I’m lucky to be part of a brand that is focused on building product that performs and will stand the test of time. As far as technology goes, more and more brands are partnering with technology brands or digital communities. Finding ways to connect with the digital native is new territory that we are all having fun experimenting with.
For Brooks, we’ve been on a journey over the last couple years repositioning apparel. Steeped in runner insight, we made incredible progress designing and developing a new line of performance running apparel, and this is done by focusing on the fundamentals of the product creation process.

Where is the biggest hurdle for Brooks apparel? It’s twofold: the athleisure trend and the relative size and scale of our brand. People can find active clothing almost anywhere at any price. We build performance running apparel, and fundamentally, our materials cost more than those that are just building product to play with the trend. It’s hard to convince a beginning runner that a $40 sports bra will be worth it when she can buy one for less elsewhere. But believe me, and all of our female runners, the right bra can transform your run.

Photo courtesy Brooks Running Company