Opinion

The importance of ‘Made In’

03 June, 2019 Share socially

In today’s competitive and marketing savvy world, branding is accepted as a fundamental strategy for competitive advantage and success. And countries, like companies, use branding to help them market themselves for investment, tourism and exports.

For the past 13 years, we have published a definitive report on the subject of country branding called the FutureBrand Country Index (FCI) - that measures and ranks countries on the strength and power of their nation’s brand. As part of this research, it has become increasingly important to understand the power and value of ‘Country of Origin’.

Country of Origin is the term used to describe where products or goods originate from and encompasses agriculture, manufacturing or production. It is most commonly referenced by the term ‘Made In’ which denotes an association with the place of origin. For country brand leaders and private enterprise brand managers, the information is invaluable for creating future brand and business strategy decisions. Consumers’ insights on how much ‘Made In’ affects their purchase decisions, in which industries and by what Countries of Origin helps brand managers to understand the level of strength of ‘Made In’ in their categories. In a similar manner, country brand leaders benefit by understanding how a country brand is perceived by consumers and the correlations between a country’s reputation, its brand and how commercial brands are understood.

Why ‘Made In’ matters?

In the 20th Century, companies used to design and manufacture their products domestically. Consumers used to trust their domestic brands more than any other and were also less exposed to foreign brands. For those reasons, Country of Origin was perceived as a single place of association for consumers, which encapsulated the brand’s origin, the place of design and the place of production.

Globalization has challenged this perception, resulting in a growing differentiation between the Country of Origin of the brand, the place of design and the place of production, potentially creating more confusion for the consumer. Therefore, defining the Country of Origin or the meaning of ‘Made In’ with a view to creating associations and trust at the consumer level has become critical. Another important distinction between the past and present day is that in the 20th Century, markets were mostly under-regulated, global supply chains were invisible and consumers had no access to information about companies, products or countries. In today’s world, consumers have the ability to freely access, contribute and share information about all aspects of companies, brands and products.

Throughout the 1990s there were several socio-economic scandals – such as the revelation of sweatshop employment by several major brands – that led to a growing desire amongst consumers to know more about the corporate profile and personality of the brands they purchased. Awareness around ecology and climate change also played an important role, introducing terminology such as ‘Sustainability’, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) and ‘waste-less’ into corporate vernacular. Today, ‘Made In’ has a greater influence and importance for consumers; where and how a good is made now matters more because it can qualify key considerations – such as safety, quality and ecological standards – in consumers’ minds at the point of purchase.

A good illustration of the importance of Origin was the 2013 ‘Horsemeat scandal’ which centred on the revelation that the provenance and type of meat were incorrectly marketed, lacked transparency and misled consumers. As a result the EU introduced food labelling regulations stipulating all packaged products must indicate the country or countries of origin of all production stages. This in turn led to the development of blockchain, a digital solution which makes product supply chains transparent and easily trackable.

Origin is more than ever an expression of quality and is crucial information for the consumer. Ongoing economic challenges for countries have also created a pressure to compete more effectively for investment. For domestic companies, the potential to leverage opportunities of origin has raised it as a point of economic patriotism in some markets most notably in America and China in recent years but increasingly across other countries too.

Today, origin related to a specific country and expressed by the term ‘Made In’ is an important issue and opportunity for brands. Understanding origin, its meaning and potential offers countries and companies an opportunity to create real competitive advantage and differentiation.

The 2019 FutureBrand Country Index will be published soon.