A few short years ago, when asked to name a few sports apparel companies, one might have listed Nike, Adidas, then perhaps a few others like Asics, Reebok, or Puma. In 2016, the big dog pitted across the aisle from Nike is the “underdog” minded Under Armour. The fast-rising company is now firmly positioned as the number two athletic apparel brand in the U.S., has just inked the largest shoe & apparel deal in collegiate sports history with UCLA, and is one of the seven fastest growing consumer products brands.
So what lessons can you take from their meteoric rise and apply to your business?
Everyone loves an underdog
Embrace the mentality. The Steph Curry story is the story of Under Armour. No one cares about a trust-fund kid being successful, or a physical ‘freak of nature’ like LeBron James doing what he’s expected to do. It’s people and brands that you didn’t expect anything from that blow you away. Align yourself with that mentality. Nothing is given to you. Work as though you are the underdog no matter what stage of success you’re at.
Focus on inclusion, not exclusivity
A large part of Under Armour’s success is their continued effort to capitalize on the women’s apparel market. Placing a greater emphasis on this than Adidas and many competitors, UA has positioned itself alongside industry leaders like lululemon and even Victoria’s Secret. If there is opportunity in a segment or area, don’t ignore it simply because your competitors are. Explore ways to reach that market and gain a foothold. The concepts and brand values you’ve developed may combine across channels to form an even greater presence in the public eye.
This piggybacks off the last point. Under Armour didn’t have to devote major marketing & production effort on women’s apparel and endorsements. That’s not what most of their competitors were doing, but they aren’t a “play it safe” brand. If your plan is to do it all by the book and follow the “industry standards,” what’s the point? You may garner some level of success from copying the best elements of your peers, but will you truly break through?
Under Armour took a big risk on signing Steph Curry. He was the quintessential underdog (see point 1). Ignored by power-conference schools, he went to tiny Davidson College, a quick 2 hour drive from powerhouses North Carolina and Duke that wouldn’t bother with a player so skinny and small. Behind an incredible shooting touch and competitive drive, Curry took a team to an Elite 8 that has no business at that stage of the tournament, then achieved the dream of being drafted in the NBA.
Well, that’s most players’ dream. Steph was a good player but skinny as a rail and raw. He battled through major injury issues with his ankles, and some wondered if he could play much longer without constantly missing time, like other uber-talented players Derrick Rose and Amare Stoudamire. Curry then stayed healthy, got stronger, and took a few monumental steps forward in his game to reach elite status. He led his team to a championship, and won 2 consecutive MVP awards. It would have been easy to overlook Curry or not seek out his endorsement. It might have even been the “smart” thing to do business-wise. But Under Armour took a risk, bet on the underdog, and hit the jackpot.
Follow your competitors’ line of thinking, then take another step forward in your mind. Ask yourself why they haven’t taken that step yet. If you can’t think of a glaring reason, push your chips to the middle of the table and go for it.