Under Armour’s success: image, attitude and execution
The US athletic apparel and footwear industry is tough, gritty, fierce and competitive, a reflection of many of its consumers. For the past fifteen years or so, the industry has been dominated by Nike and Adidas. However, Under Armour has recently surpassed Adidas to become the second largest sportswear brand in the US by sales (for US apparel and footwear UA did roughly $1.2bn in revenue in 2014, Adidas about $1.1bn and Nike $8.9bn) thus supporting the saying, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
How did this Under Armour dog get such a big bite? Often, some kind of “disruptive technology” leads to the displacement of an industry leader by an upstart, rendering the incumbent’s product or service obsolete, an example being Netflix’s displacement of Blockbuster’s hard copy offerings with its streaming video services. However, Under Armour has no disruptive technology. Its product offering is good, but not differentiated from its competitors’ offerings. So how did they get such a big bite if not from product quality or innovation? Under Armour is competing on image, attitude and execution.
Under Armour’s gritty performance image is beautifully communicated with its recent women’s line campaign: #IWillWhatIWant. This campaign is meant to empower women and girls to take on their toughest challenges by channeling will power and ignoring the opinions and doubts of others. The campaign features three gritty (and beautiful) female athletes: Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn, ballerina, Misty Copeland, and supermodel, Gisele Bundchen. It also helps to have three-time Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady (also gritty and beautiful), as part owner of the company (he signed a deal in 2010 that included Under Armour stock).
The Baltimore, Maryland based company has exhibited significant confidence, especially through its CEO, Kevin Plank. One recent example is the huge risk the company took in signing relatively unknown, 21-year-old golfer, Jordan Spieth. Under Armour does not have a dominant position in the golf world in apparel, footwear, equipment or accessories, but it signed the unproven Spieth to an extended 10-year contract this past January, locking him into a deal just as he hits his golfing prime. Against the odds, Spieth recently won the prestigious Masters Tournament this past April, dressed head to toe in Under Armour gear.
Kevin Plank is unabashed in articulating his ambition. From the very beginning, Plank has been focused and determined in chasing down Nike and Adidas. In fact, he recently told CNBC that he “wants Nike and Adidas to know what it feels like to be No. 2 and to get used to it”.
In addition to its confidence and fierce competitiveness, much of Under Armour’s “bite” comes from its ability to execute. A prime example of excellent execution was its quick response to the Lululemon “transparency” crisis. Always ready to seize an opportunity to build its brand, Under Armour immediately responded and discounted its similar black workout pants claiming, “We’ve got you covered.” Another impressive example is the company’s recent purchase of Endomondo and MyFitnessPal to establish the largest digital health and fitness social platform anywhere. This infrastructure will most certainly lead to dominance in the competition for relationships with millennials, the core market for athletic wear.
This past quarter, Under Armour issued a press release stating that the company posted its 19th consecutive quarter of over 20% growth in its top line. With no signs of slowing down, Under Armour continues to chase top industry leaders and apply pressure with its powerful image, strong attitude and meticulous execution. Nike, though the undisputed leader right now, should prepare to get bitten.
*Image courtesy of Under Armour