Under Armour – The Underdog Story of Sports Merchandise

by Anne Rivers – June 2013

How to break into a mature market

The giants of athletic gear (Nike, Adidas and Reebok) traditionally dominated the sports merchandising brand space through partnerships with sports franchises and collegiate athletics. In mature, lucrative industries like this, the question for others is always the same: How do you break into a market that already has strong leaders?

In the brandscape of athletic apparel, Under Armour is considered one of the newest contenders. Kevin Plank, a former University of Maryland football player,  founded the company in 1996 on the grounds of wanting to create a t-shirt that provided compression and kept perspiration off rather than absorb it. This highly differentiated product helped set Under Armour apart from its competitors, but was unable to break out of its relatively new and niche space in their desired market for several years.

UA Brand Equity Pillars

Being Different

In the BAV, UnderAmour, along with 3,500 other brands are surveyed by over 17,000 respondents on 71 metrics including 48 emotional attributes in the U.S. every quarter. Through the data, we spot key trends to help the brand grow into and/or maintain their leadership position.

Energized differentiation (ED) is a key indicator of future brand performance and a driving force for the value of sports brands. In 2007, Under Armour performed well as a differentiated brand with high esteem (E), but lacked in relevance (R) and knowledge (K). Their products set them apart from other sports merchandise giants of the United States, but needed more consumers to relate to and know about the brand and what it stood for.

Grassroots Marketing

How did they start to capitalize on their high differentiation from the other brands? Under Armour  desperately needed to increase the relevance and knowledge of their brand among the general population. Grassroots efforts to gradually grow Under Armour through influencers provided the brand with authentic, passionate advocates who generated enthusiasm for the brand.

UA Niche Market Approach

Evolving strategy

The brand had to first appeal to smaller segments of the overall desired target audience. For example, Under Armour sponsored a few professional athletes like  Ray Lewis, Tom Brady and Miles Austin, as well as college teams from Northwestern, South Florida, Texas Tech, and Boston College. By learning how to appeal to smaller segments of athletes, Under Armour gathered enough momentum to appeal to the mass market.

UA Brand Positioning

 

Understanding brand essence

Under Armour benefited from its dedicated approach to consistent, true-to-self branding efforts, becoming a leadership brand in the midst of a recession and continuing to catch up to the category leader. Today, Under Armour outperforms Nike on these key attributes of their brand essence that drive consumer choice:

  • unique
  • simple
  • innovative
  • independent

Continuing to exhibit values that resonate with Americans’ emotional needs since the recession help Under Armour maintain its leadership identity today.

Sports franchises

Using the BAV’s assessment of consumers’ perceptions of brands we can predict stock values of publicly traded companies. Using the BAV’s scores of energized differentiation for pro franchises, we can predict Forbes’ annual valuation of franchises. Sports teams, and individual players for that matter, can diagnose what elements of their brands are contributing to success and which hold opportunity for improvement. Just like Under Armour, there’s no quick fix. But, with appropriate diagnostics and strategy, teams can gain ground on the leaders in their markets.

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