The Under Armour brand has seen a huge surge in popularity and recognition in recent years.  This is a company that has been on a fast track: founded in 1996, it went public in 2005 and has been growing at 20% per year since.  At just under $1 billion in revenues, it is still a much smaller company than its rivals Nike ($19 billion in revenues) and Adidas ($13 billion in revenues), but when you consider that Nike and Adidas revenues are from worldwide sales and include sub brands such as Umbro and Converse (in the case of Nike) and Reebok and Rockport (in the case of Adidas) the level of direct competition between these companies in the US is closer than it first appears.

If corporate histories are to be believed, Under Armour is remarkably similar to Nike and Adidas in many ways.  All companies were founded as cottage operations (Adidas by two brothers in their mother’s washroom, Nike from the trunk of a car at track meets, and Under Armour by two U Maryland grads from a basement) and became known upon signing their first major athletic spokerson).  One difference is that Under Armour came of age with the advent of internet marketing.

So, how do the marketing efforts of Under Armour compare to its larger rivals when it comes to digital messaging?  Using Email Analyst, we took a peek at Under Armour’s email marketing playbook from 2008 to the present to see how they are emulating and differentiating themselves from the competition.

By all appearances, Under Armour appears to be running a fairly straightforward, almost simple email marketing program.

Vendor and Email Quality

Under Armour has been using Responsys as an ESP since at least early 2008 when Email Data Source first started tracking Under Armour’s house email lists, and since early 2008 all their email campaigns have been run from a dedicated IP address.  The email quality has been above average, though occasionally Email Analyst has recorded a jump in broken links and bad redirects.  During a three week period in March-April 2008, however, almost all their email campaigns had greater than 50% broken links / bad redirects.  The rate of inbox placement has been consistently good for all campaigns across all ISP’s, averaging 96.5% since we started tracking this statistic in January of 2010 through Email Data Source’s Nielsen-like email panel that analyzes data from more than 300,000 actual email recipients.

Nike’s email quality appears flawless by comparison, with virtually no broken links or bad redirects.  Inbox placement was slightly lower than that of Under Armour at 92.4% based on data from January through April, primarily due to specific campaigns in January and April that had a high percentage of spam folder placement at Yahoo and Gmail.

Adidas, which uses the ESP Cheetahmail, also has few broken links and bad redirects than Under Armour with the exception of a few campaigns in December of 2009 that did have broken links.  Inbox placement for Adidas averages 95.0% and they only appear to have lower than average deliverability with AOL.

Campaign Reach and Opt-In Sources

Under Armour’s largest email blasts go out once or twice a month and reach .08% to .09% of the Email Data Source panel.  Based on Email Data Source estimates, this corresponds to roughly 1 million people.  Other email blasts are sent every 2-3 days with a lower reach ranging from .01% to .04% campaigns.  Under Armour’s email blasts are sent almost exclusively to people who have signed up for email updates or registered at UnderArmour.com

Nike’s larger email blasts reach .16% to
.18% of the Email Data Source panel, or over 2 million people, and are sent approximately once per week.  Two campaigns were recorded in Q1 2010 that reached .25% to .27% of the panel.  These campaigns focused on new product releases, specifically Nike’s new Dynamic Support running shoes.  Nike’s US email list seems to be entirely sourced from opt-ins at nike.com or subsites such as nikerunning.com.

Adidas’ largest campaigns have a reach of .12%, roughly 1.5 million people.  The largest campaign of note was an end of season sale.  More common are product introduction campaigns such as this one announcing Star Wars themed sneakers (why they didn’t wait until May the Fourth to launch this is beyond us).

Unlike Under Armour or Nike, Adidas sources opt-ins from partner sites such as My Coke Rewards and Body By Milk.

Segmentation

Nike does far more in the way of segmenting than either Under Armour or Adidas.  Whereas Nike sends out two to four distinct campaigns on any given sending day, Adidas and Under Armour send out at most two.

Product vs. Engagement 

Virtually all of of Under Armour’s email  campaigns are direct product pitches or sales announcements.  Apart from just a few holiday engagement campaigns (one before Christmas and one for Mother’s Day), a single campaign to support US troops and a “Tell your Under Armour story, there have been few other engagement campaigns during the last six months.  Only since November ’09 has Under Armour included Twitter and Facebook links in its emails, and indicator that they are behind the trend towards merging email and social media under one umbrella of digital messaging.

The campaign at right is fairly typical of an Under Armour campaign and in my opinion has weak call to action and engagement.  With the subject “You saw it at Augusta.  Now get the gear” the campaign could for example link to photos from the Augusta tournament or seek engagement in other ways, yet even the social media links at the bottom are very small.  The purchase calls to action also lack prominence.

Nike, in contrast, has campaigns that are specifically engagement focused such as the example at right from Nike +.    These types of community oriented engagement campaigns tie directly into social sites bringing Nike’s email and social marketing efforts together.  Nike does few if any sale specific campaigns although most emails do have a “Just Reduced” link to sales.

Adidas strikes a balance between product oriented campaigns, sales and engagement campaigns. Examples of engagement are the customizable sneaker store Mi Adidas which is featured frequently in email campaigns and campaigns that direct subscribers to special events such as the running clinic featured in a Feb 23 campaign shown below. Oddly, Adidas appears to be making little effort to integrate email with social media: most campaigns do not include links to social sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Presence in Third Party Emails

Email Marketing efforts also include advertising in partners’ newsletters.  In this arena Under Armour shows little activity, with only a few links in affiliate partner sites such as Flamingo World and KeyCode.com registered by Email Data Source during the last thirty days.  Adidas also has relatively few distribution partnerships in place, with only a few links in newsletters such as that of the WNBA.  Nike by contrast shows far greater presence, with distribution partners such as Daily Candy and Livestrong.

Twitter

Under Armour has shown very little activity using Twitter, with only 1 tweet in the last thirty days to its 8,700 followers.  The tweet was not retweeted by anybody.  NikeStore by contrast put out 75 tweets over the last thirty days to its 11,500 followers and 54 people have retweeted their tweets.  Adidas running put out two tweets to its 86,000 followers during the same period and ten people retweeted its messages.

 

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