Under Armour’s Kevin Plank: What the customer needs is a dream

On Tuesday morning at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show, Kevin Plank, founder, former CEO and now executive chairman and brand chief of Under Armour, was interviewed by Rod Sides, Deloitte’s vice chairman and U.S. leader for retail, wholesale and distribution practice.

Sides began by sharing a few points from Deloitte’s ongoing consumer research. “Of the people we talk to, 73 percent said they spend a lot of time online today. About 19 percent said that when they’re a part of a community, they spend more time online,” he said.

How do we create community? How do we remain relevant in the lives of consumers?

Rod Sides, Deloitte

“The question for retailers is, how do we create that stickiness? How do we create community? How do we remain relevant in the lives of consumers? It’s about promise. It’s the promise of, ‘Here’s what my brand is all about.’ It’s about being able to connect with the consumer in a different way, and it’s about being able to deliver on that brand promise.”

All of which was preparatory to bringing on Plank, whose company is famously (and strategically and successfully) aggressive in building and maintaining a sense of community with its customers.

Under Armour has some 1,200 stores, 300 of which opened last year, most in the Asia/Pacific region. “Today we’re in 60 countries representing about 10 miles of storefront, or 170 football fields. So, we’re alive and we’re thriving, but we stay aware that you’ve got to bring it to life every day,” Plank said.

“When a consumer walks into a retail store, there’s two things they need to know and understand,” he said. “What’s your personality, and what’s your point of view?” To provide a coherent answer to that question, it’s essential to understand who your target customer is. Under Armour’s, Plank said, is the “focused performer.” Within that, Under Armour focuses on being “the human performance company. Everything we do is focused on helping that customer make himself or herself better and better, of solving that performance problem.”

To help solve their performance problems, the Under Armour community has access to a vast library of diet suggestions, exercise routines, performance statistics and other supportive data. “The world did not need another competent apparel or footwear manufacturer,” Plank said. “What the customer needs is a dream.”

Noting that a new Under Armour brand campaign starts this week, Sides asked for a little insight onto how it impacts human performance. “Storytelling is so much a part of what we are doing,” Plank said. The idea of a tight-fitting shirt a football player might wear under a jersey, for example, led to the “Protect this house” campaign of a few years ago. This led first to “I will,” and then to “We will.”

The theme, of course, is the need for tenacity, grit and the need to endure fatigue and pain to accomplish a testing goal. Plank said Under Armour has spent the last three years “in the engine room” preparing to capitalize on what it has learned and invested during this period. Out of team building and revising mission statements has risen the latest campaign, also based on a sports metaphor: “The only way is through.”

In closing, Sides asked Plank what lessons Under Armour might offer retailers seeking the same kind of success his company is having. One essential is listening, Plank said, because the world is changing with lightning speed. “Listening, having a process, having a system, making sure we have the data we need — balancing all that with a little paranoia is probably what you need to be a great retailer today.”

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