UA Protects It’s House
Companies like retail sports brand giant Under Armour, have excelled through the development and promotion of a memorable brand story that is the center point of their success. Under Armour’s founder, Kevin Plank, had just finished his college football career as a special teams player for the University of Maryland when he had the idea to create a no-drip athletic t-shirt. In 1996, he started his now multi-billion dollar athletic/leisure apparel business out of his grandmother’s townhouse in Washington D.C. It did not take him long to build the Under Armour brand into one of the most passionately followed companies in existence.
The three principles that Plank accredits for Under Armour’s rise to iconic fame are “Passion, Vision, and People.” Plank credit’s this principle-centered knowledge philosophy to a Chinese businessman he met early in the development stages of Under Armour. In an interview with Wharton School of Business, Plank explained how these principles related to his brand, “My passion is to build the biggest, baddest brand on the planet,” Plank said. “My vision is that I want to stay focused. We want to make sure there is nothing that prevents us from doing what we want to do with our brand. Finally, we want to have the best type of people – team, team, team. I can’t underscore that need [enough].” Those three ideas are the foundation of the Under Armour brand story and the company illustrates those values in everything they do.
They do this because they want to make sure that anyone who is exposed to Under Armour’s products, marketing, or word of mouth buzz is exposed to a clear outline of the expectations associated with the brand. Those expectations are effectively transferred to others through a content plan centered around their brand story.
This gives the like-minded who encounter the Under Armour brand the ability to:
- Identify the gritty, bold attitude of the company
- Recognize the powerful determination and drive they have to exceed expectations
- Anticipate the direction that the “Under Armour experience” will help lead them
They consistently shine a light on these values through their messaging – and the results are undeniable. Under Armour is building Brand Celebrators on the inside with motivated and inspired employees and on the outside with passionate and loyal consumers who proudly support the company’s “X icon.” This success is fueled by a brand story whose core values are easily recognized and appreciated by the like-minded inside and out. On the inside of their organization, Under Armour stresses the importance of their story and how everything they do must contribute to the story. The value of committing to that process is seen most notably in the way they stress two statements associated with their brand story, “We Must Protect This House” and “I will.”
Plank says that the first statement, “We Must Protect This House” relates to the fact that “you must protect your brand or you will ultimately fail. If you slap a logo on it, it might sell right away, but the brands that will endure are the ones that respect the consumer.” This statement makes it evident that the Under Armour story is centered around the building of long-term relationships, protecting their core beliefs, and preserving the value of the brand’s story. You cannot stress the importance of living in accordance with the brand any clearer than that.
Plank suggests that the two statements are meant to go together. He says that the second phrase “I Will” is in fact, a response to their “We Must Protect This House” statement. “Under Armour became a household name when the brand asked athletes everywhere to ‘Protect this House.’ The response in the iconic commercial, and throughout the years, has been the same: I WILL.” The “I Will” statement emphatically aligns the like-minded as Celebrators. It represents an affirmation of the bold attitude, the iron will, and gutsy determination that accompany the “We Must Protect This House” mindset. This statement is the ultimate brand story mechanism because it can be personalized to attach a wide array of people inside and outside of the brand. Plank suggests that the two statements are meant to go together. He says that the second phrase “I Will” is in fact, a response to their “We Must Protect This House” statement. “Under Armour became a household name when the brand asked athletes everywhere to ‘Protect this House.’ The response in the iconic commercial, and throughout the years, has been the same: I WILL.” The “I Will” statement emphatically aligns the like-minded as Celebrators. It represents an affirmation of the bold attitude, the iron will and gutty determination that accompany the “We Must Protect This House” mindset. This statement is the ultimate brand story mechanism because it can be personalized to attach a wide array of people inside and outside the brand.
Together, these storytelling tools set clear expectations and create a synergistic ripple effect that explodes through their entire organization and into their passionate customer base. The clarity creates a foundational message strategy that has helped Under Armour to grow their brand.
Another reason for the growth is the way the Under Armour brand story has consistently fueled the conversion of internal Brand Celebrators. Their team doesn’t just work for Under Armour, they are all about “Protecting their House.” This conversion occurs because Under Armour team members clearly understand the significance of their Brand Story from the start. The feeling of personal affiliation that team members have blossoms as they recognize their role in the story. As they learn more, the relationship then matures into an aura of inspiration — as they become motivated to participate in the celebration of the story. That’s how internal Brand Celebrators are made.
On the outside, Brand Celebrators are developed when the relationship is guided from an impulse connection to the Under Armour story — to personally valuing what the brand has to offer to them — and then to a comprehensive appreciation of their Brand Story. UA’s management of this conversion process is seamless. When people are drawn to an Under Armour commercial, web advertisement, or social media posting, the goal is to advance the relationship. Then they make every attempt to shift their curiosity into an inspiring connection with their brand. They want to show the individual how they fit into the Under Armour story by personalizing the brand message. It’s all about inclusion.
This type of connection allows a like-minded individual to recognize value through their own association with the brand attributes. It bonds them on a deeper level and motivates the individual to learn more, do more and eventually find a way to take part in the brand’s story themselves.
Under Armour has a seemingly innate ability to create this kind of conversion. This ability to acquire passionate believers via their brand story is not only fueling connection, but it is also building a strong foundation for long term success. In fact, Kevin Plank says that he sees the ability to “tell a great story” as one of the “pillars to greatness.” He said that “Every great brand is like a great story. Every commercial we run, every product we make, is like a chapter in that book.” Every chapter aligns with the overall story and every chapter strengthens their brand by connecting to different groups in different ways.
The power of their Brand Story has given them a clear and consistent vision for their management, employees, and strategic partners. This vision fuels them to work like a focused, well-oiled machine. It has allowed them to personalize their story and to inspire a diverse range of external Brand Celebrators. From today’s youth who passionately support Under Armour with everything from backpacks and ball caps to the most intense and passionate athletes who swear by the brand’s sportswear for premium performance — UA’s story stays consistent and it resonates with a wide range of like-minded individuals. The range is so wide in fact, that the UA Brand Story even inspires professional athletes to be Brand Celebrators.
One example of this is Under Armour’s relationship with future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Kevin Plank is on record saying that he realizes that Brady is a mega-star who could have signed endorsement deals with anyone. However, Plank takes great pride in knowing that even though UA did not have “the biggest check,” that Brady said that he signed with them because they shared “the same right-minded values.” When this type of attachment occurs, the relationship goes far beyond a shallow paid endorsement. It is a participatory relationship. Brady understands the Under Armour story, he relates to it, and he is inspired to take part in that story. Plank says that Brady “gets it”, and that is why he wanted to be a part of it.
The Under Armour story is the catalyst for this kind of bonded relationship, not just because of the way they tell their story, but because of the way they live it everyday —and celebrate it through their actions. Building that mindset begins with the development of the story and extends through an emphasis on educating others about the brand in new ways through storylines every day. That’s how you continually tell a great story.
Under Armour has used their Brand Story to excel in the Age of Participation because they are focused on building relationships through Culture Development Marketing. They are consistent inside and out in the way they express their bold yet cool attitude, they are big believers on maintaining the same quality and uniqueness in every UA product, and they are all about preserving and extending the experience that their brand creates. The brands that build value in this way by protecting and promoting their core beliefs, while staying focused on long term relationships — are the ones who excel at creating Brand Celebrators.