Introduction / Background
The modern athletic apparel industry involves a variety of successful companies, such as Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and others, which indicates a high level of competition in this market. Among them, Under Armor, a multinational sports equipment business, acts as the most innovative and creative company. It was founded by Kevin Plank in 1996, a special football team captain, with the idea of selling T-shirts made from moisture-wicking synthetic fabric to avoid frequent changes of soaked clothes (Under Armour startup story, 2019). Considering that the company’s key competitors mentioned above created similar products sooner, Under Armor can be regarded as a pioneer in using microfibers. Such a revolutionary approach to business is still present in Under Armor’s production and marketing, which is the key reason to choose it for this paper. The continuous development towards providing customers with relevant products is another reason to focus on this company.
The marketing communication strategy employed by Under Armor is impressive as it is present across digital and traditional sales channels. Currently, the company’s vision is defined as “the relentless pursuit of innovation” (About UA, 2021). In this connection, this paper aims to explore the case of Under Armor, namely, its integrated marketing communications (IMCs), based on available academic literature and official information about the company. The purpose of writing this report is to discuss the organization’s strategy and tools used for marketing communications and formulate recommendations for a new IMC. The findings of the report would allow the creation of a marketing communication plan to effectively translate the company’s messages to customers.
Current Approach to Integrated Communications
The main focus of Under Armor is the development and marketing of branded sports apparel for youth, women, and men. According to Vizard (2020), at the beginning of 2020, the company announced that it would invest more in marketing to focus on top-of-funnel activity and brand. The brand development is expected to be at the core of its advertising campaigns, with the aim of increasing brand awareness (Vizard, 2020). Today, Under Armor has a mix of promotional strategies to translate its messages through mass media, including TV, movies, and print media. The target markets of the company involve young men and women, sports fans, and customers who want to improve their wellness. Banners and weekly emails are also among the tools used by the identified company to remind clients of valuable offers and keep their attention for a long-term period. Since print and TV advertising tends to decline, the company shifts towards an online presence.
Direct and Digital Channels
Under Armor invests in developing emotional and personal connections with its customers, which is based on their passion for players and teams and their footwear and apparel clothes. Pafitis (2020) states that the uniqueness of this approach is associated with partnerships with celebrities and well-known athletes. For example, a charismatic Dwayne Johnson uses Under Armor’s apparel in his movies, such as Fast and Furious, as well as in personal communication on Instagram. The public appearances of this star and his physical training also present the products of the company. More to the point, there is Project Rock, through which Johnson officially sells his own apparel in partnership with Under Armor (Dosh, 2020). Among other partners, one can list Tom Brady, a football quarterback, Lindsey Vonn, alpine ski racer, Jordan Spieth, a professional golfer, and many others. Across the globe, football, basketball, boxing, golf, auto racing, and other sports players and leagues support the company in terms of sponsorship agreements.
The company benefits from using digital channels to meet the contemporary needs and desires of customers. The digitalization of the world led to a high extent of involvement of customers in an online environment, which provides a variety of opportunities for reaching target audiences and interacting with them to better learn what they want and even anticipate their future needs (Hagberg, Sundstrom, and Egels-Zandén, 2016). In turn, Under Armor uses various digital channels to make valuable offers to clients and be competitive in the online sportswear industry. The business’ official website is the first line of digital presentation of products and clarifies its vision and mission. The Facebook page is the second channel that allows advertising sales and upcoming products (Pafitis, 2020). The Instagram page makes it comfortable to post information about the brand and receiving feedback from customers. The banners on different sports apparel websites present brief and catchy advertisements to attract potential customers and make sure that the existing ones remember about the brand.
The multichannel approach to digital marketing communication is based on the idea of staying connected to the customers regardless of their location and preferences. By connecting with them through social media, Under Armor better understands their digital experience, and it can also contribute to enriching it. The content shared in social media is always pertinent and exciting since their messages are consistent with a certain platform’s intent and interaction requirements. In addition to media sources, the company works with mobile applications, such as My Fitness Pal or Map My Run, creating a digital ecosystem and expanding in the market. It allows shaping a community of loyal customers who value fitness and comfort.
Techniques and Resources to Build Cross Functional Relationship
Cross-functional relationships are an integral part of IMC as it makes a positive impact on customer experience and brand awareness, also leading to the emergence of a culture of understanding. Customers are the key stakeholders of Under Armor, whose preferences and opinions play an important role. One of the key techniques used by the company is the early communication of strategic initiatives. For example, in 2020, the company launched a new global campaign, calling it The Only Way Is Through, with the idea of overcoming is at the heart of the brand’s communication platform (Vizard, 2020). Under Armor, technologies were used to create such revolutionary products as UA HOVR, UA RUSH, and UA Recover to help athletes exceed their expectations and improve results. This strategy is disseminated through the following channels of communication: the Internet, including social networks, official website, banners and landing pages), business meetings, and TV advertisements.
While preparing to launch the Rule Yourself campaign, Under Armor found out that in many advertising and the media, the emphasis is put on the final results – awards for athletes and world records. At the same time, little attention is paid to hard everyday workouts that help athletes succeed (Tafesse and Kitchen, 2017). Many brands are interested in the beginning of something, having such mottoes as take it and do it, get up and go, or just do it. In turn, Under Armor has signed a contract with Stephen Curry, an American professional basketball player, and the deal has paid off. This sportsman was able to succeed because he trained daily, regularly rose after each failure, and continued to do the work to achieve his goals. In other words, Under Armor talks talking about something longer, about the day-to-day efforts that can transform people into better and healthier versions of themselves (Butkouskaya, Llonch-Andreu, and Alarcón-Del-Amo, 2021). The brand that demonstrates how this can be achieved, which contributes to creating trust between Under Armor and its customers, who feel that they are understood and listened to. Accordingly, these cross-functional relationships improve customer experience.
Under Armor is actively developing in the digital environment, in which social media and websites serve as key resources. Initially, the company acquired the social network called Endomondo, and after that, it purchased My Fitness Pal, the application for monitoring a person’s nutrition and activity, which led to a community of more than 147 million users (Saulles, 2017). From a marketing perspective, these platforms enable the company to collect more information about consumers: what they eat, how they exercise, how much they sleep, et cetera. It is stated that successful brands know everything about their target audiences, but the fact is that customers are changing, developing, getting older, and moving, which means that they acquire new habits and desires (Saulles, 2017). Therefore, Under Armor tries to use the received data to create new products, be it apparel, footwear, accessories, or digital products.
Evaluation of the Role of Communications in Delivering Value to Stakeholders
The critical review of Under Armor’s integrated marketing communications shows that the company selected an effective strategy that prioritizes innovations and partnerships. These tools translate clear and timely messages so that customers can understand them and stay motivated to do or observe sports. Nowadays, companies need to do more than merely guaranteeing excellent quality, setting the lowest prices, or placing a product in the best possible way on store shelves to ensure higher sales (Percy, 2018). A company should sell its products with creative, informative, and attractive messages that would convince that those products meet the needs and desires of consumers (Key and Czaplewski, 2017). The approach of Under Armor also promotes brand consideration and awareness among the target populations, which stimulates customers to choose the best apparel, footwear, and accessories (Butkouskaya, Llonch-Andreu, and Alarcón-Del-Amo, 2021). By staying connected with clients through digital media platforms, it contributes to long-term relationships, which is another benefit of their strategy.
Product placement applied by Under Armor is another advantage of its IMC. Its impact on the target audience provides for a competent study of the needs of potential customers for the correct choice of the forms, methods, tools, and mechanics of marketing. Ratten and Ferreira (2016) emphasize the role of the absence of strict regulatory, moral, and ethical frameworks, allowing going beyond the boundaries of the templates and clichés of everyday life and attracting the attention of the consumer. Under Armor’s product placement is native, unobtrusive, and informing a client about the object of promotion in the storyline. On the one hand, the viewers can be annoyed when they clearly see the name of the plane on which the superhero is flying or the brand of the watch (Ratten and Ferreira, 2016). On the other hand, the nativity of product placement likewise in case of Dwayne Johnson is not associated with intrusive messages since customers often just see products or learn about the presentation of new releases. However, limited geographical diversification and cultural awareness in IMC can be noted as disadvantages that require working on them.
Practical Application of Communication Tools
Advertising: Social Media
Digital and technological innovations compose one of the areas to develop, namely, Under Armor can be recommended to focus on smart clothes. The study by Behr (2018) shows that there is a growing interest in customers in enhancing their quality of life through mobile ecosystems. Smart wearables and clothes can be designed based on data received from applications and social media about customers to offer them intelligent clothes. For example, the basics of exoskeleton technology can be used to design a new garment that would support a person’s movements and collect relevant body data (Behr, 2018). This concept of smart clothes can be disseminated through social media, namely, Instagram seems to be the most suitable one. Instagram integrates many fashion brands, and it allows posting appealing information about the brand, product benefits and updates, behind-the-scenes, and customers wearing the clothes (Apiraksattayakul, Papagiannidis, and Alamanos, 2017). In addition, Under Armor can share with customers that such new garments can gather and store data about personal body info and wellness progress.
The communication landscape shapes the information space of customers, which involves a dynamically changing set of data and relationships. They are continuously formed based on their needs, values, life trajectories, and experience of interacting with the outside world. In studies of the information space of customers, the predominance of horizontal communication over vertical, an increase in the speed and turbulence of the communication process, and a high density of information flow are outlined (Key and Czaplewski, 2017). In this connection, there is a need to explore customer needs in the social media environment. A more demanding attitude towards high-quality content in the digital environment would lead to the further development of the movement towards personalization and solving individual consumer problems. Such an exclusive information collection approach is expected to equip Under Armor with more detailed and comprehensive data about customers, which is essential for the company to effectively organize its IMC.
In the case of Under Armor, which faces strong competition from Nike, Puma, and Adidas, it is critical to focus on sales promotion as a part of IMC. Sales promotion is the most extensive, universal, and systemic type of marketing activity, which includes not only traditional channels but also such types of marketing interactions as guerrilla marketing, impression marketing, implementation marketing, et cetera (Tedsungnon, 2020). Sales promotion activities should be used by the given company to identify the needs of existing and potential customers, inform them about the products, as well as form loyalty and commitment to the product of the target audience. In other words, sales promotion should be considered as a form of marketing communication to initiate short-term incentive measures and techniques to encourage purchasing apparel and accessories (Krizanova et al., 2019). For example, more coupons, limited offers, free shipping options, partnership opportunities, and discounts should be provided by Under Armor to strengthen communication with customers.
Digital Display Advertising
Display advertising is focused on the advertising perception of the target audience. On the Internet, it includes a list of forms, which are presented by banners, teasers, e-mail newsletters, and updated elements using mobile channels (Choi et al., 2020). In some cases, an analogy is drawn between the display and interactive advertising online when describing the evolution of the visual component of advertising using interactive elements. For Under Armor, digital display advertising will be useful to increase traffic to their online store, generate demand for certain products, and find and attract a new audience that will be interested in the company’s products (Hänninen and Karjaluoto (2017). Moreover, its performance is easy to track with analytics tools to make adjustments on time and avoid wasting the budget.
Marketing Communication Plan
Based on the analysis of Under Armor’s integrated marketing communication tools and strategies, as well as the new IMC offered in the previous section, it is possible to design a marketing communication plan. Women and men aged between 20-45 years would compose the target audience for reaching through social media. In particular, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will be used to translate the company’s messages and offers. Considering that the identified target audience values timeliness, individuality, and attention to needs, Under Armor should continuously adjust their offers in consistence with customers’ views and preferences.
The following goals can be set to guide the implementation of the marketing communication plan:
- Continue working with athletes and media persons, ensuring that their values align with the company’s mission.
- Engage customers in interactive activities to collect their views, provide feedback, and build relationships through social media.
- Develop digital display advertising to enlarge the target audience and allow new customers to learn about the products of the company.
Accordingly, the intended message is to notify customers of the company’s focus on innovations and relationship building. Similar to its current strategic marketing, it is possible to recommend investing in brand recognition and consideration by implementing a mix of marketing tools. To encode the messages sent by the company, such activities as feedback provision, promotional incentives, and online advertising should be used (Tedsungnon, 2020). Under Armor should create multiple advertising variations with different text and images and track their performance. Messages and activities should be updated frequently as they show the greatest efficiency at the initial stages of use. As soon as users have seen the ads several times, they cease to bring the expected effect (Eggert et al., 2018). If a marketing campaign is planned for several months, it is worth preparing as many creative options as possible.
When determining the optimal message content, Under Armor’s marketers should strive to translate a theme, idea, or unique selling proposition to highlight the advantages, motives, or reasons from which the audience will evaluate the proposed product. A pronounced market backlash to marketing informational influences is present in the overwhelming majority of cases (Tedsungnon, 2020). The company can evaluate the effectiveness of the plan implementation based on the dynamics of sales, the influx of visitors to a corporate website, and so on. The IMC evaluation implies the survey of a randomly selected audience to clarify whether respondents remember the advertising message, did they like it, or how it influenced their opinions.
Conclusion and Recommendations
To conclude, Under Armor’s current IMC strategy takes into account the importance of promotion among male and female target audiences and involves attracting celebrities from among athletes and actors to provide advertising campaigns. New technologies play an essential role in the company’s marketing, and Under Armor is investing heavily in this segment, buying fitness applications to form its unique ecosystem. Emerging into the world of the company and studying its advertising, a client should find new and strong arguments that convince them of the correctness of his or her choice. For this purpose, the presence of certain advertising elements, such as quality marks, professional recommendations from experts, and other issues should be taken into account. In general, the implementation of the marketing communication plan is to follow the goal of conveying to customers a sense of the need for a given product through rational and / or emotional motives.
It is possible to conclude that the implementation of Under Armor’s IMC strategy will be largely determined by the development of the arsenal of technologies and online media presence. A variety of existing, as well as the emergence of new advertising formats, makes it possible to transform communication to achieve more appealing and effective. Modern advertising technologies should be used to reveal the image of a product using the most expressive means of conveying information. Thus, Under Armor should seek to use a full range of advertising communication opportunities to effectively influence its customers. The development options for the company include strengthening social media presence, sales promotion, and display advertising in an online environment.
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