“The Only Way Is Through” for Under Armour Founder Kevin Plank

What does Under Armour’s new slogan mean, anyway? “The Only Way Is Through” embodies determination and tenacity. That’s something true athletes certainly understand. The new slogan encompasses so much more than the physical component of excelling in sports and other endeavors. It speaks to the laser focus at the starting line when the world falls away and there’s only that still inner voice whispering, “I want this. I can do this.”

Under Armour, recently under the gun as more startups enter the market, has repositioned itself as the go-to supplier of sports apparel for focused performers. As a human performance company, Under Armour has set its sights on the mindset of a specific type of customer.

“The world doesn’t need another capable apparel and footwear manufacturer; they need a dream, a hope, and that’s the positioning, that’s where our respects play,” said Plank, speaking at the National Retail Federation conference in New York in January.

The company is still working on identifying and reaching this target audience.

What Story Will Customers Tell Their Grandchildren?

Everyone loves a good story. The new slogan taps into something deeper than committing to a single great workout. It’s about building goals and legacies. Grit. Determination. Those are the implied factors that make it possible to get through to the other side of whatever you’re facing.
Kevin Plank spoke with Deloitte’s Rod Sides, vice chairman of retail, wholesale and distribution, about his vision for Under Armour’s future.

“Storytelling is so much a part of what we are doing,” Plank said.

Plank explained that Under Armour’s slogan “Protect This House” was inspired by tight shirts that football players wear under their jerseys. Subsequent slogans like the individually themed “I Will” appealed to runners and other athletes seeking their own standards of excellence, and then “We Will” expanded the concept to setting an example and being part of something bigger than oneself.

The inspiration became tenacity and endurance to push through pain and fight ahead to the goal.

Thus, “The Only Way Is Through” was born.

Plank reported that the company spent three years investing in a brand do-over. Also aptly based on a sports reference, the new catchphrase hits home with those at Under Armour seeking to keep the brand relevant. Sides asked what lessons the company could pass on to other retailers hoping to attain the same level of success as Under Armour. Kevin Plank advised newcomers to listen to their customers and to keep listening to a market that can change focus at light 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,” said Plank.

The Road Less Traveled

The journey that the sports apparel company has followed is fraught with perils. Like creating a winning sports franchise, building a successful company requires pulling together the right team and then repeating the same drills to improve strength while developing game-changing moves the competitors won’t see coming.

For years, Under Armour searched for its target audience. Researchers spoke to many, many consumers in its main markets, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and China. This led to the identification of Under Armour’s core clientele — the focused performer. If you’re young, active, self-motivated, diverse and ready to spend some cash, Under Armour is talking to you.

What’s the Size of the Potential Market?

In December 2018, Under Armour determined that the focus market represented an opportunity of $92 billion worldwide, with $29 billion in North America alone. This sealed the deal for Kevin Plank.
“With that, we’re now creating this platform for what the Under Armour brand is, which is to be the human performance company,” Plank stated at the NRF.

With the current boom in fashion sportswear and athleisure clothing, some pundits wonder if Under Armour is painting itself into a corner. The focus on serious athletes could narrow the company’s prospects in a widening market. According to an October 2019 report by the NPD Group, the research indicates that the leisure segment is growing at a steady rate for lifestyle sportswear, with footwear growing 7% to nearly $4 billion. Meanwhile, the performance sector that Under Armour is banking on fell 4% — basketball, training and running shoes showed negative growth.

Plank remained resolute in the face of these sobering numbers. In fact, Under Armour has gone big with its celebrity endorsements. NBA star Stephen Curry and former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson embody the kind of star athleticism that Under Armour wants for its Hovr franchise.

“We’re not saying, ‘We want to be performance and we don’t want to be fashion.’ We don’t see a difference between the two things. We believe that without beauty, there is no performance. And hopefully, people will see without performance, there’s no beauty,” Plank said.

A Focus on Technology

Under Armour relies heavily on technology to design its innovative products. It’s evident in every aspect of the rebranded sports clothing manufacturer.

“Innovation is at the heart and soul of everything we do,” Plank said, emphasizing its Hovr products. For example, Hovr smart sneakers record distance and rate better than a smartphone.

Data insights include the calculation of the average run — 3.1 miles for example — that Under Armour obtains through its many tech projects.

“That may sound like not much, but to the hardcore runner it means something [and] it speaks to the DNA that’s relevant to anybody,” Plank said.

Kevin Plank has led this one-time startup since the early days and has watched it grow into a leading clothing brand. For him, the bigger picture hasn’t disappeared because he’s focusing on a particular clientele. Rather, Under Armour may inspire inconsistent athletes to recommit to their health and fitness goals. The only way to tell if the strategy will work is by seeing it through.