Since making the commitment in 2014 to purchase goods made in the in US whenever possible, I’ve watched and learned how companies build awareness and market their products.
In fact, I love this stuff! I follow companies on Twitter, read their About pages and watch their videos, and even study their packaging. (Strategic use of packaging is a great way to connect with your customers pre- and post-purchase — but that’s another article.)
In last month’s column, I covered PPC and SEO strategies for capturing “Made in the USA” searches. In part two of this three-part series, I cover how to build awareness — and sales — of your company’s US-made products through PR, link building, content marketing and social media engagement.
Public relations (PR)
As a consumer looking for goods manufactured in the US, I’m constantly online performing research before I make any purchase decision. One, it can be difficult to find US-made goods in the stores unless you know which brands to buy. And two, many companies that make things in the US sell direct to consumers in order to keep costs in check and remain competitive.
One way companies, or the agencies marketing them, can reach consumers like me is through good old-fashioned PR — aka articles in publications, blogs and so on.
Darn Tough, for example, manufacturers all its socks in Vermont. Guaranteed for life, these socks are sold through national retail chains, but I hadn’t heard of them. In fact, I actually owned a pair of the company’s hiking socks but never noticed the name on the top of socks’ toe — and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known the company made its socks in Vermont.
That all changed the day I read a write-up about the company in the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) blog. The AAM, which regularly posts stories of US manufacturers, learned of Darn Tough via a story printed in the Rutland Herald.
Due to the AAM story, Darn Tough was now on my radar (and in my Twitter feed), and when it came time to purchase some new socks, I went right to the company website.
Another good PR tactic is to look for “Made in the USA” articles compiled by publications or blogs, such as this “Cool Cycling Gear Made in the USA” roundup put out by “Bicycling” magazine. To get into an article like this, you’d need to go through publications’ media calendars to see if they’re publishing something like it and then pitch your company months in advance.
Also consider blogs written by industry associations (such as the AAM), as well as niche bloggers. While A-list bloggers are great in terms of exposure, they can sometimes be much harder to reach, as they get dozens of pitches a day. Lesser-known niche bloggers may not have a huge following but can be quite influential with their audience, plus they’re more likely to respond to you.
Tip: Getting stories into well-known media outlets is always a major score, but consider your local and regional publications first, and then build up. Local newspapers and magazines (and TV/radio media) often cover smaller (and especially family-owned) companies that are starting up, expanding, moving or bringing forth the next generation (if the founder is retiring, and the next generation is taking over). If you have news that is of interest to your community, town, region or state, get the word out!
It’s easy to assume that many items, such as electronics, clothing, or even cycling gear, are no longer manufactured in the US.
What I’ve learned in the last three years, however, is that lots of stuff is still made in the US, but you sometimes have to know how to search for it — especially when many items are now sold directly to consumers, or the company is part of the growing “maker movement” and thus may not appear at the top of the search results.
I’ve found that searching for compiled lists is one way to find great hand-crafted products I’d never hear of otherwise.
USA Love List is one such list I use quite a bit (disclosure: I have zero relationship with this company). Offering sponsored posts and long-term brand awareness campaigns, USA Love List promotes products by category and state. In fact, I recently purchased a new mop and broom made by fourth-generation, family-owned Libman due to the USA Love List blog post about the company.
Also look for directories created by people simply wanting to be helpful. One such directory is Still Made in the USA.com. The directory, a one-woman production, is a “volunteer effort to help consumers find products Made in the USA.”
Again, if your company (or your client’s company) caters to a specific group of consumers, look for niche bloggers and communities, as these people often create compiled lists. For example, the LumberJocks website, a community of woodworkers, has a list of “bargain saw blades.” Nicholas Carmen, author of the long-distance cycling blog, Gypsy by Trade, has created a list of bikepacking bags and makers.
Tip: To find niche directories or lists like this, try doing a search such as “lists of [item] made in the USA.”
In last month’s column, I talked about how it can sometimes be difficult to determine if a company is selling goods actually manufactured in the US. Country of manufacture is important, because in order to state a product is “Made in the USA,” a company has to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Made in USA standard, in that the product must be “all or virtually all made in the US.”
One way a company can confirm country of manufacture for consumers is through storytelling — namely, using video, photos and copy — to show how the company’s goods are made and where.
I like how Jacob Bromwell, the oldest kitchenware manufacturer in the US, features a robust “Our Story” section on its website. This section includes a video narrative, fun facts about the company, a company history and photo tours of its two manufacturing facilities — one in Vermont, the other in Indiana.
Like Jacob Bromwell, Sherrill Manufacturing also uses robust content to tell its story. The company is the only flatware manufacturer in the US — and all its Liberty Tabletop flatware is made in New York from US steel. Content pages within its “Why Liberty?” section (shown below) run the gamut from “Made in the USA” and “American Jobs” to “Our Stainless Steel” and “Videos.”
TIP: Help consumers searching for “Made in the USA” products easily find this type of content by housing it under “About,” or “Our Story,” and of course, optimizing it!
Hire an industrial photographer to take photos of people at work. If you have the budget for video, let employees tell the story versus management. The more information you can give consumers about your company and its values, the more they’ll form an emotional connection with you.
(As an aside, I learned of Liberty Tabletop from the Alliance for American Manufacturing blog; the AAM heard of the company through a story in The New York Times — so again, PR is a must for getting your story out there, especially when you sell direct to consumers the way Liberty does.)
One company that made it to my “made in USA” radar via social media is Authenticity 50, a start-up based in Redondo Beach, Calif., that oversees the production of organic cotton sheets sourced and made in the US.
The company has been written up in numerous publications, but it was the Los Angeles Times piece — which landed in my Twitter feed — that got my attention. (Yep, there’s that PR thing again.)
But, when I went to order, the company was sold out because of this very story. Oh no! As instructed, I signed up for the email that would alert me when the sheets would be in stock.
What happened next was simply amazing. A day after reaching out to me via Twitter about signing up for the alert, someone from the company let me know they had a limited number of sheets in stock!
I immediately placed my order, and a few minutes later, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new sheets. I’m still amazed that someone took the time to let me know they had a few sets in stock. This to me is the gold standard of how to engage with consumers online — and a very easy way to increase sales.
TIP: For smaller companies — and even big ones — connecting with consumers on social media can still pay huge dividends. My advice is simple: respond to consumers when they engage with you — especially if they’ve taken the time to say something nice about your product, accompanied by a photo. Not only do people remember you responded (or not!), but they’re more likely to share your response with their personal network, along with talking you up offline, too.
Consumers aren’t the only ones looking for goods made in the USA. In fact, many manufacturers, in order to state their products are made in the US in accordance with FTC regulations, source US-made materials and components. In Part 3 of this series, I’ll cover how these B2B companies can ensure buyers find them.
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