The Superman Story in Reverse

As a walk-on fullback at the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank was annoyed.  Every time he worked up a sweat, his cotton workout clothes weighed him down.  So, he created an undershirt made out of women’s lingerie fabric that wicked the sweat away.

It worked.  During workouts, his new undershirt was lighter.  It kept his skin cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, Peter Guber shares in his terrific book Tell to Win about the power of storytelling in business.

Soon, Kevin’s teammates wanted one.

At 23, he put all his money into a prototype with superior moisture wicking technology.  

He called his new company Under Armour.

Kevin gave the product to his college athlete friends.  One day NFL quarterback Jeff George was featured on the front page of the USA Today wearing his Raiders uniform and an Under Armour turtleneck.  Kevin’s shirts became a hit with professional athletes.  

But Kevin needed to find a way to broaden the appeal of his products beyond just athletes.  

“I had to make the customer my hero,” Kevin told Peter.  

“We didn’t just say, ‘How may I help you?” he explained. “We asked, ‘What do you want to be?  Do you want to play varsity? Be the best? Lose twenty pounds?’  Whatever it is, you’ll get there with Under Armour.” 

The message was: Under Armour products helped each customer play like a pro. 

“Like telling the Superman story in reverse,” Kevin continues, “I had to make them believe that it wasn’t the obvious Superman costume but Clark Kent’s t-shirt that would give them the liftoff they really needed.” 

“Under Armour would provide the physical assist and the emotional propulsion,” Peter writes.  “But it was the customer who would break higher and higher personal records.”

Today, Under Armour is a $6 billion company which every day tells a version of the customer-as-hero story to consumers, retailers, media, and athletes. 

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Reflection:  Consider a current challenge.  Is there a story I can tell where I can cast my customer as the hero to inspire them to take action?

Action: Tell it.

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