What does “Made in the USA” mean today?


imagesI love this question.  Love. It. The answers I get from people are so varied.

For this post, I decided it would be interesting to ask folks I know what they think, similar to what Laurel Nelson-Rowe has done in her latest post via ASQ’s View from the Q.  

When I asked a few people I know in the tech industry (gen x engineers) what “Made in the USA” meant to them, their responses were:

  • Unimpressive
  • Poor Quality
  • Marketing
  • Expensive

Don’t shoot the messenger here. Seriously… 

When I asked folks of varying positions within the manufacturing industry, their responses were:

  • Quality
  • Quality of Life
  • Built to Exacting Standards
  • Pride
  • Skilled Labor
  • High Tech
  • Jobs

When I asked a few folks in my mom’s retirement community, their responses were:

  • American Pride
  • Jobs
  • Quality
  • Craftsmanship

When I asked family and friends, responses included:

  • Poor Quality
  • Quality
  • Happy
  • Jobs
  • Unions

When I asked a couple of friends in China, their responses included:

  • Quality
  • Costly (Expensive)
  • Technology
  • Premium

I asked my 11 year old, and he just said “stuff that’s made here.” So, perspective…

I asked my son this question because he was just asking me why Japanese cars seem to be better quality. It’s no secret that I’m a Subaru fan, so I’m sure he derived the question from something I had said previously. But, nonetheless, his question provided me with an opportunity to share that fun story about Deming and how the perception of Japanese made goods really changed after the war and through the use of quality methods and tools we still use today. Fun story. Also, interesting case study on how a country’s brand was effectively repositioned in the global marketplace.  No easy feat.

At the end of the day, the most common response to this question usually relates to quality somehow.  It is most certainly a significant component of a country’s branding.  What “Made in the USA” means simply isn’t consistent, and we’re sent mixed messages by the media, industry groups, politicians, unions, etc. What “Made in the USA” means depends on who you ask.

So, we need to think about what we want “Made in the USA” to mean. How do we want to stand out in the global marketplace? Some would argue that “Made in the USA” is cool again, with companies like Apple making U.S. production a component of their social responsibility initiative.  I can’t help but also think of a former student that insisted his products for a new fishing lure business be made here in America. Within that industry, I’d say the strategy would likely be good marketing as well but this individual was serious about it for reasons beyond branding.

I’m not going to say “Made in the USA” is hipster just yet… But, who knows?

The COO Effect:

“Country of origin information constitutes a product trait that is external to the product itself. It serves as a surrogate for product quality, performance, reliability, prestige and other product characteristics that cannot be directly evaluated.

Research has demonstrated that consumers tend to regard products that are made in a given country with consistently positive or negative attitudes. These origin biases seem to exist for products in general as well as for specific products, and for both end-users and industrial buyers alike. The nature and strength of origin effects depend on such factors as the product category, the product stimulus employed in the research, respondent demographics, consumer prior knowledge and experience with the product category, and consumer information processing style.”

Sidenote: Remember “America’s Freedom Fabric”


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