The Takeaway: Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon are top athletic apparel brands that are more similar to top lifestyle brands thanks to their abilities to effectively market their products as smaller pieces of a bigger brand-community puzzle.
When it comes to creating a top "lifestyle" brand, Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon picked up the ball and ran with it. While Nike took point on developing a community of loyal customers, the relative-rookie in the athleisure space, Lululemon, isn't too far behind in this race, and Under Armour considers itself an underdog that's capable of stepping to the ring with the biggest athletic apparel brands.At this year's Summer Olympics, Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon will clash, but only one will be deemed MVP. That said, no matter which company takes the belt as best sports apparel brand appearing at Rio 2016, these businesses can teach other ecommerce marketing teams a thing or two about creating, maintaining and promoting lifestyles fueled by their products. These three popular sportswear brands are really on a whole different playing field compared to others in the same space. A recent article written by Forbes' Jeff Fromm pointed out that Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon are performing dramatically better than other businesses in the "athleisure" apparel market, and that's largely due to these brands' ability to go "beyond just the product offering in store."
Let's take a look at what Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon are doing right, and identify how these athleisure companies use digital and physical strategies to create holistic brand experiences.
Nike: Inspiring and innovative
Nike's mission statement reads "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." Well, Nike is clearly trying to inspire its customers to become the greatest and it's practicing innovative ways to do so.
Sponsoring local college athletic teams and using professional athletes like Lebron James to promote products helps Nike align its brand with success. That especially paid off after the Cavs win over the Under Armour-sponsored Stephen Curry, and this practice first started with its sponsorship of Michael Jordan. It's important to note that Nike blends innovative with inspiration in this regard when it creates new sneakers just for its sponsored athletes.
Nike continues to merge innovative with inspiration with its at least 10 different mobile apps that allow customers to sync their sneakers to their iPhones. You aren't just told that you'll be successful with Nike products, but rather, you feel like you achieved something thanks to them.
Plus, Nike regularly hosts in-store training events - further evidence that the brand is doing everything in its power to get its customers actively engaged in their own, personal physical fitness. Nike is also doubling down on its lifestyle apparel brand strategy by fostering a community of customers who all feel like part of an exclusive workout club.
Under Armour: Everywhere customers are
In order to stand toe-to-toe with Nike and create a lifestyle brand built around the idea of being a part of the physically fit community, Under Armour is practicing similar marketing strategies. Bloomberg said that the brand spent over $700 million on the development of fitness app and workout-tracking technologies, and it invested around $280 million into a 15-year long contract with UCLA. Under Armour also aligned itself with success in the cinema, appearing most recently in "The Martian" - the second movie starring Matt Damon stranded on an extraterrestrial planet.
While those initiatives all helped Under Armour develop its niche as a lifestyle brand in the athletic apparel space, the company is also taking a different approach to positioning itself beyond the product. Primarily, Under Armour wants to improve the digital aspect of its community.
"Under Armour puts its brand in front of consumers regardless of where they are."
Following Shoptalk 2016, Sid Jatia, vice president of omnichannel digital at Under Armour, told Inc. that the brand is attempting to "cultivate desire and engage" customers constantly, so that when it's time to buy, shoppers are loyal to the company. Called distributed commerce, Under Armour wants to put its brand in front of consumers regardless of where they are - in its Connected Fitness app, on its social channels and anywhere else.
Lululemon: Local community-centric
Lululemon gets a lot of credit for jumpstarting the athleisure apparel trend in which we all wear workout clothes even if we aren't necessarily on the way to the yoga studio. The lifestyle brand is certainly competing with Nike and Under Armour, as its strategy for product marketing definitely goes beyond the product and focuses on creating and fostering a sense of community. But Lululemon differentiates itself.
First and foremost, Lululemon knows its audience and who influences those shoppers. So, it sponsors brand ambassadors - individuals who are local to stores and embody Lululemon values and lifestyles. Then, it further builds communities around those ambassadors and stores by hosting yoga and other exercise classes. In fact, Fromm cited Trefis data which said that a majority of sales come from these in-store interactions and fitness camps.
Lululemon is all about its community, and now, it's trying to grow its customer base by focusing on innovation. For one, the brand is introducing clothing that isn't just form-fitting and tight, according to CNBC. That allows all types of shoppers to become a part of the Lululemon community. Meanwhile, it will also offer more "technical" products, which should attract consumers looking for high-performance gear.
Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon use similar strategies to promote themselves as lifestyle brands in the athletic apparel industry, but each company has a nuance to its community-building approach that sets it apart from the others.