international branding

How "Made In" labels influence purchasing decisions

Have you ever thought what kind of associations come to mind when you discover that a bottle of wine you are considering buying comes from France? Or a pair of very pricey, but very fancy and good quality shoes was made in Italy? How does this information influence your decision to buy, especially if there are other bottles of wine on the shelf, from Spain and Chile? And other pairs of shoes in the shop, made in China. Would you ever base your purchasing decision on the information you read on the made in label?  

Even in the age when the majority of European and North American companies outsource manufacturing to Asia, the Country of origin (COO) remains a very important concept in international business. It plays a significant role in shaping a brand image, and influencing purchasing decisions. As authors of a study on country of origin’s influence on customer perception ((Perceptions of country of origin: an approach to identifying expectations of foreign products, by P.A.P. Samantha Kumara and Kang Canhua, Journal of Brand Management 2010, 17, pp 343-353 )) write, “By understanding the dynamics of how different consumers respond to country-related information, managers can make more informed choices about the risks and benefits of locating various stages of the value chain in different parts of the world.”


The COO is closely related to the notion of country brand. When you read a made in label, what pops into your mind is the “picture, the presentation, the stereotype that businesspeople and consumers attach to products of a specific country.” (( ibid. )) In other words, that country’s brand.


The study by Kumara and Canhua reveals a wide spectrum of associations which go through our minds when we discover the COO of a product. As you can see in the image below, their scope is very wide. (( ibid. ))


But the main four categories into which our mind starts to put information related to the COO are:  Economic, Information, Conviviality and Personality.


“This finding reveals that when a consumer buys a foreign-made product, he considers the economic value of the product, wants more information about the product, and considers to what extent the product has an impact on social status and how the product enhances consumer personality," say the authors of the study. (( ibid. ))


The concept of country of origin should feature in your marketing mix along with the famous four P’s (price, product, place and promotions), as it can greatly help you differentiate your product. But how can companies differentiate their products, made in China, if pretty much every company in Europe and North America outsources manufacturing to Asian countries as well?


I’ve seen some creative examples which illustrate this point. Most of them use designed in rather than made in, in order to stand out of the crowd. Here's an example of a made in tag which I found on the reverse side of my Mais il est ou le soleil dress:


Polish Żubrówka becomes Żu in the US

Here's a nice read that can appeal to all those who like to dig into intricate issues of international branding. The cult Polish alcoholic drink, Żubrówka, has finally made its way to the US market, the Wall Street Journal reports. This is big news for the Polish brand which will be able to market its product on the potentially lucrative US market.  However, the Żubrówka you might know -- the kind that comes with a thin leaf of mysterious bison grass in it -- which gives the drink that strong particular taste (the Żubrówka taste) -- will have a different version in the US. So different, that the question is -- can it still be referred to as Żubrówka?

zubrowkaŻubrówka has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration for many years due to the presence in it of a toxic chemical, coumarin. Apparently, the source of coumarin is the bison grass. Polish scientists struggled for years to get the grass-less  Żubrówka to taste like the real stuff, and they've finally made a new concoction work for them.

From a branding perspective, Żubrówka's entry in the US was complicated. The US authorities referred to Żubrówka as a generic drink, which led to many fake Żubrówka look-alikes appear on the market.  So, the challenge was to find another name as a trade mark.  This was viewed as an opportunity as the new name -- Żu -- is also potentially easier for Americans to pronounce. It also contains a bison-inspired reference to the animal world, as Żu is supposed to signal "zoo".  I am not sure if bisons are typical zoo residents, and I am not convinced that those who try the drink for the first time, would ever pick up this link between zoos, wild Polish forests and bisons. But the name choice is made, and the drink has entered the US market.

What are the implications of launching a brand that is well-known in one geography, in another, under a different name? Is the new brand name a good choice to support the launch of grass-less drink? Do the Żu marketers need to promote the Żubrówka heritage in Żu brand communications?