"Made in America."
It wasn't merely posturing that made this a hot issue on both sides of the political aisle in last year's election. It's a subject that matters to American consumers. A lot. Or at least enough that 80 percent of us, according to one study, will happily pay a premium for products we know were made here in the U. S. of A.
This is not a new trend. It is a resurging one that cycles through periodically as a result of circumstances and conditions. The pro-American consumer movement last arced in the post-9/11 environment on a wave of patriotism sparked by tragedy.
More recently, the sentiment has grown in a recession-weary public that wants to feel good again about our country and do what it takes to spur on the recovery. Made in America translates into more jobs, better working conditions, better quality and craftsmanship and more wealth staying here at home.
It reflects a backlash against brands that were poorly made, sometimes even dangerous, or manufactured in countries that had inhumane working conditions. Who can forget the product recalls of toys made in China of toxic materials? More recently, Apple has come under fire after a rash of suicides due to working conditions in its contract supplier's plants in China.
Made in America represents a better way, a trend that smart businesses should be leveraging. A brand that has developed authentic associations with “Made in America” values will grow a committed and loyal customer base -- one likely to remain strong, whatever the level of patriotic fervor at the time.
Think about some of the attributes that “American-made” projects on a brand. All align closely with American values such as freedom, independence, individualism, entrepreneurialism and spirit. And all play up those values, to one degree or another, in their marketing.
Some of our most iconic brands proudly continue to be built on U.S. shores. The Louisville Slugger turns out 1 million baseball bats annually from a 100,000-square-foot plant in Louisville, Ky. Every single Slinky has been made in Hollidaysburg, Pa. since 1966; over 300 million have been sold since the first 400 were made and sold in 90 minutes in 1945 with a $500 investment. While many parts are made offshore, Harley-Davidson's bikes are all assembled in plants in the U.S.
Big businesses recognize that “Made in America” plays well on Main Street and beyond. Employees, business partners and public policymakers – along with customers – all want to see this commitment. Caterpillar and 3M have committed to sourcing more within the U.S., and Walmart recently committed to source $50 billion of products in America over the next ten years.
American Express aligned itself through a “Small Business Saturday” holiday campaign to promote the small businesses that fuel our economy. TIMEX is looking to recapture the power of American values. Companies such as Harley Davidson, J. Crew, Eddie Bauer and many more are starting to see the benefits of building brands around American values.
It’s all quite admirable, at least on the surface. But there's one catch for those looking to cash in on the trend. For starters, don't look at it as “cashing in.” This is more than just a marketing ploy. It aligns with other corporate social responsibility initiatives, where smart organizations understand how well they can do by doing good. If the business benefits by serving the greater good, that’s acceptable.
It's about transparency and authenticity, and not about slick PR campaigns: A dedication to employing Americans. To upholding high standards of quality and workmanship. To standing for values that are uniquely ours. To investing in the long haul.
Anything less will prove an exercise in flag-wrapping. And sadly, will fall flat.