Nov 15, 2022
Leading with a Purpose: How Under Armour Communicates Authenticity
The whole world changed in 2020. As a consumer, I began re-evaluating the brands and companies I was supporting…and I wasn’t alone. According to a recent Harris Poll, “82% of shoppers prefer a consumer brand’s values to align with their own, and they’ll vote with their wallet if they don't feel a match. Three-quarters of shoppers reported parting ways with a brand over a conflict in values.”
Part of what we do at Icon is help brands adapt to a constantly changing marketplace through branding, ecommerce infrastructure, and more. So when Truman Freshour, Global Communications Director at Under Armour, came to visit Cincinnati, I jumped at the chance to hear what he had to say.
After all, Under Armour went from a $2M company in 2013 to over $5B in 2022. It’s a household name on par with Nike (while only being a fraction of Nike’s size). And Under Armour did it by developing values and a message that resonate with today’s customer.
Here’s what every brand can learn from Under Armour’s purpose-led transformation:
- Slow down to speed up.
Under Armour experienced rapid growth in a short period of time—pushing into new categories and markets and constantly innovating new products—but it was losing touch with its customers. The first lesson Truman shared: Stop going where consumers don’t need you.
Truman pointed to teenagers, the generation that defines trends, as the brand’s “canary in the coal mine.” Once Under Armour pivoted its strategy to focus on defining and embodying a clear purpose, this generation returned in force to shop at their stores.
- Go back to the basics.
Former CEO Kevin Plank started Under Armour to do one thing: Produce a T-shirt that could wick away sweat. This material is the brand’s primary strength—one that made Under Armour one of only three brands allowed to be worn on a professional sports field.
But, Truman says, don’t let your target consumer grow a halo. While professional athletes will always be the most visible Under Armour customer, most customers aren’t wearing Under Armour because of its clout on the runway or affiliation with the pros—they’re wearing it because the product works. Therefore, the core of the brand isn’t performance or achievement—but training, or the journey to improving yourself.
Ultimately, understanding the brand’s core competency (“Under Armour inspires athletes”) and how its customers use its products (“Under Armour makes YOU better”) led to a new, defined purpose: “Empower those who strive for more.”
- Distill values from purpose and apply them at every level of the business.
Under Armour created a set of eight company values that support its purpose, including “Love athletes,” “celebrate the wins,” “stand for equality,” and “act sustainably.” This not only shapes the company’s internal culture, but also helps define the customer’s experience and the brand’s public persona. At Under Armour, every advertisement, internal communication, and interaction with the customer is guided by these eight values.
- Act according to your purpose.
When a brand’s decisions and goals are informed by its purpose and values, it shows. How does Under Armour “live” by its purpose? By breaking down the barriers that keep people from playing sports.
For example—Under Armour actively seeks opportunities to “live its purpose.” Studies show that student athletes tend to perform better in school and graduate at a higher rate than non-athletes. Inspired by that knowledge, Under Armour funds many employee volunteer programs, in which employees (referred to as “teammates”) receive 40 hours of paid volunteer time to support schools and youth athletics in their community. It’s more than good works—it’s a real-world example of the values that Under Armour embodies.
For consumers who are increasingly conscientious about the impact their purchases have on their communities, Under Armour positions itself as a clear and safe investment. Because their values are reinforced with action and results, customers can feel good knowing that the brand they’re supporting with their wallet is authentically aligned with their beliefs.
With revenues continuing to grow despite challenges posed by the pandemic, Under Armour demonstrates that focusing on its purpose and values is a successful way to win over customers’ hearts and wallets.
How well do you know what your target customer values? Do you have clearly defined values and purpose, but you’re not sure how that gets translated in your marketing or marketplace? We can help. Contact Icon Commerce today to get started.