June 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Under Armour goes over the top to reach young athletes online

The Internet gives Under Armour the most effective means to reach its core audience—gifted teenage athletes, vice president of e-commerce Mark Kuhns told attendees during his featured speaker address at IRCE 2009 in Boston.

E-commerce and the Internet give Under Armour Inc. the best and most effective means to reach its core audience-gifted teenage athletes, vice president of e-commerce Mark Kuhns told attendees Wednesday during his featured speaker address at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston.

Kuhns, who spoke on the topic “How a consumer manufacturer uses the web to tighten the customer relationship,” said young athletes are using the web, e-commerce, texting and social media to communicate with their family, friends and the broader world. “Today’s teens are digital natives,” Kuhns told IRCE attendees. “We are using the web to motivate them and understand what makes them tick.”

Under Armour, No. 259 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, generated Internet Retailer estimated web sales of $35 million in 2008. But using the web to sell directly to the public is only one aspect of Under Armour’s overall Internet strategy, Kuhns said. “Teenagers today are the first group to grow up in a digital age and they are hard wired for multi-tasking,” he said. “They are constantly moving, and rather than chase them around we are using the Internet to create a connection in their lives. We aren’t just trying to sell them stuff.”

Many online retailers use their web site to drive transactions and push out a constant sales message, but Under Armour’s use of the Internet is more complex, he said. To reach its younger audience, Under Armour is building what it calls “social currency” to give its core shoppers and visitors multiple ways to interact with its brand. “We are connecting them to the online world through ESPN.com, You Tube and other social networks,” Kuhns said. “We don’t just want to be another brand with them, but a part of their lives.”

Kuhns, who interspersed his presentation with multiple marketing videos, says one way Under Armour is using the web to build deeper customer relationships is through its Combine program, a series of local and focused events that bring athletes and coaches together to conduct drills and improve their athletic skills. In conjunction with the actual event, tools on UnderArmour.com give young athletes the means to track their progress, contribute to a training blog and solicit advice from other top coaches, athletes and trainers in their sport.

“This is an example of our social currency,” Kuhns told IRCE attendees. “If you build the brand, sales will follow.”

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