Many great companies are born by solving a singular, widespread problem. For Under Armour, that singular problem was sweat.
The innovative, moisture wicking athletic undergarments and apparel on which the company was founded have completely changed the way athletes dress and perform. Now the company is innovating digitally to solve a health data problem and improve the way people live.
“Think about the fact that you know more about your car than you know about your own body,” said Kevin Plank, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Under Armour, during his keynote speech at Retail’s Big Show in New York City.
Plank is right. When we get in our cars we have a dashboard that tells us how much gas we have and how long it will last. We know the oil and tire pressure, how far the car has traveled, the engine temperature, and more. And if one of those indicators gives us a warning, we do something about it quickly so the car doesn’t break down.
But when we wake up in the morning, what kind of dashboard do we have about our current health and wellness? What kind of warning do we get if we haven’t slept enough? Is our recent food and water intake going to get us through the next few days we have planned or are we going to break down? Do we need more or less exercise, and what adjustments should we take when we don’t feel well?
It would be nice to have all those answers at our fingertips. It would also be great to track all that data over time, analyze trends, and compare it with other datasets. We could see if we were on track to achieve our health goals or facing potential medical issues in the future. And it would be a gold mine of information for our doctors to analyze during and in-between visits.
Under Armour’s vision to address this problem is called “connected fitness.” It’s a big idea with many facets and data points. It connects your body, apparel, activity level, and health into a single app that makes it simple to manage and analyze your data. Plank feels this is a good role for Under Armour to play and will ultimately make it a better company for the consumer. “When we think about our competition we aren’t worried about the next shoe that someone is going to build, we are thinking about the competition that doesn’t exist yet and we are thinking about it from a digital perspective,” said Plank.
To achieve connected fitness, Under Armour had to completely revamp its digital strategy. “Three years ago our digital strategy consisted of a single website,” said Plank. Now the company has 25 e-commerce sites globally and plans to launch five more in 2016. It has also put a strong mobile strategy in place. On Black Friday in 2015, mobile accounted for 28% of sales, up from 19% the year before, and Plank doesn’t see that trend slowing down. And most importantly, for the vision of connected fitness, Under Armour acquired a few technology-based fitness companies like MapMyFitness that had very large communities of people keeping track of their fitness and activity levels on mobile apps.
Acquiring fitness tracking companies gave Under Armour the technology leadership and engineering expertise it needed, as well as access to 160 million registered users. “It’s the largest digital health and fitness community by a factor of a lot,” said Plank. And it is growing rapidly. Every day 150,000 people download an Under Armour app. How the company engages with the community is a key part of its strategy.
The goal is to combine all the apps, data, and users into one health and fitness tracker app called Under Armour Record. It will connect with any wearable device and enable you to monitor and manage your sleep, fitness, activity, nutrition, weight, and how you feel overall. Users can analyze the data over time and share and compare themselves against other datasets as they see fit. “The problem with wearables before was that they may have been able to track your steps or sleep, but there was no call to action. There was no ability to compare your data with anything or anyone else to help make yourself better,” said Plank.
Big Data improves customer experience
Combining the data in Under Armour Record with customer purchase history will help the company service its customers better. It will see fitness and health trends emerge in real time. It will be able to identify and react faster to customer needs based on actual activity and offer a more personalized product assortment and buying experience.
“In 2015 we had more than 2 billion workouts logged into our system. And I can tell you empirically that the average run is 3.116 miles. This type of data helps us make informed decisions,” said Plank.
For example, there are 800,000 people tracking their running shoes in Under Armour’s system. Past data shows that running shoes start to break down after 400 miles, which increases the chances of injury. To help prevent injury, Under Armour can send notifications to people, letting them know it’s time to replace their shoes when the app shows they’ve passed 400 miles.
The data in the system also shows Under Armour that there is a walking trend happening in Australia right now. Could anyone at company headquarters in the United States predict that was going to happen? Doubtful. But now Under Armour can plan and react better. It can localize its marketing and get merchandising and products to the right place at the right time.
The more Under Armour knows about its customer’s fitness habits and health, the better it can serve them. “We are building, in partnership with SAP, something we call the single view of the consumer. This will truly tie together the fact that, if we know someone went on seven hikes last summer, they may want to look at our new hiking shoes,” said Plank. Having that type of personalized information will open up many opportunities to improve the customer experience.
The vision of connected fitness and the Under Armour Record app isn’t about technology or sportswear. It’s about improving people’s lives. It’s a complete system that includes a tight relationship and constant communication with consumers. “If we know how people feel when they work out, we can better understand how their needs are met,” said Plank. That will make life easier and better for customers and keep Under Armour on its staggering growth curve.
Long-term loyalty is still less about digital transactions and more about emotional affinity with your brand. For more, see Customer Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.