Is “Made in America” Made for Millennials?

By: Dave Sladack

June 21, 2017


For Millennials, “Made in America” remains a key product attribute, but only if it conveys a sense of quality. Millennials aren’t necessarily buying American products to be patriotic or to support the American worker, but because the “Made in America” badge can serve as mental shortcut for quality products.

Let’s look at a post-recession 2012 Economist/YouGov poll to give us context. In it, 45 percent of consumers were often willing to spend more to buy American-made. However, that same poll suggested, “where the product is made” ranked only as the fourth most important attribute when purchasing a product. Attributes such as quality and price, more practical and less risky reasons to buy, were significantly more important. Rather than a reason to buy, “Made in America” has become a purchase justification that made you feel better about what you bought, but it wasn’t a deciding factor on whether to purchase.

What does this mean for Millennials?

Millennials grew up during the Great Recession and experienced their parents losing jobs and, in some cases, their homes due to upside-down mortgages. This generation was subjected to an austere and practical lifestyle; an experience that shaped their values and influences their buying habits today.

Quality is key

Millennials are a practical generation. According to a 2015 Ford Motor Company Poll, 79 percent of millennials said they value high quality over good looks when purchasing a vehicle, and the top car-purchasing factors for this generation included cost, gas mileage and safety features.  With product quality playing such an important role, 91 percent of the millennials polled in this study said they trust the quality of American products to be equal or better than products made elsewhere. 

This pragmatic mindset from a highly educated, Google-informed generation tells us that if quality is evident, millennials will “buy American.”

How Millennials define quality

A Mintel Research 2016 study on Marketing to Millennials demonstrates Millennials define quality as being durable and with a level of craftsmanship. Once again, the pragmatic mindset dominates the purchase consideration. It’s a matter of perceived risk – Millennials, at this stage in their life, have limited but growing financial resources. They’ll spend more for quality, and in their minds, “locally made” = quality.

 

Supporting Main Street over Wall Street is personal

Compared to other generations, Millennials are more likely to associate quality with products. Mintel points out this is especially true with older Millennials (ages 30 – 39) who were exposed to the early 2000’s locavore movement of eating food that is locally produced within 100 miles. Millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation to date, and a local purchase lessens the environmental footprint.

Locally made products are also more unique than those created by multi-national corporations. And millennials demand personalization. It lets them show who they are, where they’ve been and what they’ve experienced. When it comes to home furnishings, they want “one-of-a-kind” accessories or statement piece that becomes a conversation while entertaining. Marina Westfield, a member of the BRUNNER Millennial Homeowner panel, emphasizes her desire for unique design: “I like unique furniture that fits in with my design aesthetic. I like to buy vintage furniture which is usually better made anyway and tends to not be at a regular box store.”

“Made in America” is Good. Locally Made is Better.

Unlike their parents, millennials aren’t buying American-made products because of a desire to support their fellow countrymen. They’re doing it because they want unique, high-quality products. “Made in America” is better than “Made in China” but not nearly as powerful as “Made Locally.” That’s because millennials have been burned by brands leveraging “Made in America” to communicate quality, but not backing it up. And this generation recognizes when a brand is unauthentic with labels like “Assembled in the U.S.A.”

The Brunner Millennial Homeowner panel was asked to define “Made in America.” With a tinge of skepticism, Nate Miller said it best, “It means, hopefully, it’s great quality.”

For the Millennial generation, “Made in the USA” isn’t the patriotic badge that drives purchase, but another marketing claim meant to communicate a sense of quality.

 

As published in HBSDealer.

To read more about Home Enrichment, please visit our blog.

 

David Sladack is senior vice president, director of channel marketing at BRUNNER, and leads the agency's Home Enrichment practice.




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