Kevin Plank, founder of the performance apparel maker Under Armour has a new product-a running shoe that fits like a brassiere
and he plans to launch it in Shanghai, an emerging market where few
have heard of his products. He predicts the new footwear will change the
way people all over the world think about shoes.
Initially, Under Armour was a guy product. Plank
hated the cotton T shirt he wore under his University of Maryland
football uniform. It felt awful when soaked with sweat. He began
experimenting in his grandmother's basement
to make an undershirt with the same fabrics used for women's
lingerie-fabrics that wicked moisture away from the body and kept the
wearer cool and dry. The Hub magazine
tells the story of Under Armour's dramatic growth from that basement
more than 16 years ago to a $2 million a year company with 6,000
employees. And as brand chief Steve Battista explains, at Under Armour, innovation isn't a department, it's a life style. Among other things, the company has produced a sweatshirt that sheds water like a duck, and a shirt that monitors heart rate.
Even the company name reflects diligent contrivance: the 800 phone
numbers Plank first used had too many digits to spell out Under Armor so
he added a "u." Always the entrepreneur, seed money for Under Armour
came from Plank’s earlier venture selling Valentine's Day roses.
The Hub story says early advertising avoided mentioning feminine fabrics and began with what it calls "the testosterone-drenched question 'Will You Protect This House' and the emphatic, now-iconic response 'I Will!'"
the house resonated well with sports teams defending their home turf,
but wasn't necessarily a universal rallying cry. In Shanghai, Plank and
his team focused on the "I Will!" While people in Shanghai tend to work
out regularly they don't consider themselves athletes, they reasoned, so
the "I Will" slogan provides inspiration for men and women who aren't
necessarily playing on sports teams any more, and it suggests a
commitment to achieve no matter the challenge.
company's pitch to athletes involved nuance. Rather than showing
trophies after a win, ads featured the click of the football cleats on
the concrete walkway onto the field, the last thing players heard just
before the game. The pitch to a broader audience was equally engaging.
The Hub reports that in 2013 when the company launched its Armour 39,
a digital performance monitor, advertising focused on the idea that
future performance wear will feature touch screens in the fabric that
will let the wearer set temperature, choose music and change color with a
finger-swipe. A woman called "Future Girl"
demonstrates. The idea, according to Plank and Battista, is to tell the
story of Under Armor's inventiveness and fuel the expectation "that
we're doing some amazing stuff" in conjunction with an emotional message
that will make people want to get up and work out.
In "Empathetic Innovation," another article in the same issue of The Hub, Tom Kelley and David Kelley, both of Ideo,
describe how products and projects change when providers and
manufacturers see and experience what users and customers are doing. For
instance, they say, in 2007 banks were making more than $30 million a
year in overdraft fees. But after interviewing people in the 20 to 35
age range they wanted as new customers, PNC Financial Services realized
people in this group needed help managing their money. So they created Virtual Wallet,
a product that lets customers plan savings as well as viewing their
balance, pay deposits, bills due and highlights "danger days" when
there's high risk of writing a rubber check. New customer deposits made
up what they lost in overdraft fees. Sometimes observing can be more
fruitful than asking the right questions, the Ideo executives say.
Working with a house wares company, an Ideo team observed customers
using an ice cream scoop. Many absent mindedly licked the scoop after
using it. So the team designed a "mouth friendly" scoop, with no sharp
edges or moveable parts that would hurt the tongue. Had people been
asked about using the scoop, they probably wouldn’t have mentioned
licking it, the authors of this piece say, and they might even have
denied it. Read The Hub stories here.