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Published March 23, 2009
There aren’t many MBAs walking around Under Armour’s Baltimore headquarters, and the guys at the top of the company aren’t classically trained marketers. Still, even before Under Armour emerged as one of the top new American sports brands, people inside knew that building a brand was as important as producing good products.
Maybe as a byproduct of competing with Nike, brand equity was always mission critical. It’s also one reason why Steve Battista is senior vice president, brand, instead of senior vice president of marketing.
“Brand is our sacred cow,” said Battista, who came to the company as a catalog copywriter in 2000, when it had fewer than 20 employees. Now that Under Armour has more than 2,000 employees, brand is still king.
“It has to permeate every department,” Battista continued. “Even in finance and accounting, everyone has a shared ideal as to what’s right.” That’s why so many consumers are bonded to the brand. “They all tell us they ‘have to have’ Under Armour,” Battista said. “‘Have to have’ means 20 percent growth.”
The sporting-goods graveyard is filled with apparel brands that rose and fell, after growing, overspending on sports marketing and alienating their core consumers. Battista insists that will not happen to Under Armour — even with a marketing department that now totals more than 100.
“We know every birthday takes us further from our customers, so consumer insights have become a real priority — just watching how the consumer styles our products is really important,” Battista said.
Like Nike, Under Armour’s culture is athlete-infused, one in which “no one is laid back and nothing is casual” according to Battista. The company’s us-vs.-them advertising, through which “Protect This House” has become a rallying cry for the youth market, is still done largely in-house, even with Under Armour approaching $1 billion in sales.
“We blew up the sports marketing model and the advertising agency model,” Battista said.
No MBA would have recommended that.