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The Meaning Of "Made In America"

[With Catapult Thinking, Aug. 2004 to Dec. 2004]

Our client, a tool manufacturer founded and headquartered in the Northeast for nearly 150 years, faced a complex problem. Chinese and Japanese made versions of its tools were flooding the marketplace with similar or better quality at lower prices. Our client was known for the high quality and precision of it's products. However, when it offered Chinese made versions of it's own tools, it received vocal disappointment from its customers. We were charged with answering 3 primary questions to be answered with ethnographic research:

1. Define the meaning of the client's brand among key partners, influencers, customers, and end users in the United States. Identify the defining equities and attributes these audiences value most in the brand.
2. Clarify the meaning and value of “Made in America” with the client's stakeholders. Define how this claim affects purchase behavior.
3. Evaluate the potential risks to the overall brand of the current strategy involving integrating products “Made in China."

Along with my research colleagues, I interviewed several internal client stakeholders including senior executives and the senior sales staff. For the ethnographic study, I interviewed 16 client customers at their shop facilities. The on-site interview process included a tour of the facility and reviews of tools in context, a tool replacement process map exercise, a brand attribute collage exercise, a tool comparison and ranking exercise, and and brand statement and strategy sorting task.