How to launch your brand into China

Export | How To | International

By Jamie Sergeant, Global CEO at Crowd

China’s economy has grown at an unprecedented rate over the last 35 years, going from being one of the poorest countries to one of the richest countries in the world.

It will migrate from an investment-driven model to a consumer-driven economic model. The population of the middle class is estimated to expand from 430 million today to 780 million by the mid-2020s, which will be the largest group of middle-class consumers in the world (Foreign Policy 2018). This presents a significant commercial opportunity for brands to invest in the Chinese market and reap the benefits of reaching such a large and affluent consumer market.

Even though there is room for more brands, Chinese consumers are not clamouring for Western brands. So how do you make a success of your brand in China? Here are some points to consider.

Culture shaped by its language

The Chinese culture is shaped by its language, which is totally different from western cultures. This means that most Chinese people may have different values and tastes from western people. Chinese people enjoy the process of finding out the deeper meaning behind words, therefore it is important that international brands take the time to thoroughly research a name that has a meaning aligned to their brand values.

Choose a suitable name for your brand

A culturally suitable Chinese name for brands is the foundation to break into the Chinese market. ‘Clothes make the man; saddle makes the horse.’ This Chinese idiom reveals how important it is to have a recognisable Chinese name for an international brand. The right Chinese name gives a positive impression and image for the brand and helps consumers to familiarise themselves with it.

It is a well-known fact that Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, mainly because the pronunciation is not related to the writing. The same syllable can be pronounced with four different tones and each tone has a completely different meaning. Sometimes, even the same word may have different meanings when used in different phrases or sentences.

When choosing a Chinese name for your brand, it is not about just using translated Chinese characters, but also picking Chinese characters that represent the brand’s identity to potential customers in a culturally suitable way. Also, it is worth to note that only 10 million out of 1.37 billion Chinese people can understand English (Telegraph 2017).

How would you market your brand in China with a language that most Chinese people don’t understand?

Every international brand that is successful in China has a tailored Chinese name. Coca Cola is one of the most well-known examples that showcases how important it is to pick the right Chinese name for a brand. When Coca Cola was first launched in China, it was called ‘蝌蚪啃 蜡’ (Ke-dou-ken-la), which means ‘tadpole eats wax’ (The Drum 2018). Since no one would buy a drink with this name, the sales figures were terrible at the start. To increase sales, Coca Cola invested in a new Chinese name; ‘可口可乐’ (Ke-kou-ke-le), which means ‘tasty and joyful’. This is a perfect example of transcreation (vs. translation) as it is similar to the English language brand proposition, as well as reminding of Chinese poetry. After this name change, the sales increased significantly for Coca Cola.

Tips for brands when developing a Chinese name

  1. Choose Chinese characters that have a similar pronunciation as the original name but also ensure that the combination of these Chinese characters have no negative meaning. For example, ‘奥迪’ (ou-di) is the Chinese name of Audi even though there is no meaning behind the combination of these two certain characters.
  2. Identify meaningful and culturally suitable Chinese characters that can reflect the brand’s values. This is a good way for Chinese people to understand and remember the brand.

A good Chinese name can add positive values to a brand and help companies break into the Chinese market while also building up an impressive brand image.

And a bonus tip for breaking into the Chinese market: a joint venture. When Crowd opened its doors in China in 2016, we enjoyed some initial success, but we soon realised the vast opportunities that exist. We started a joint venture with Drore, an international hi-tech company based in China, which is supported by the local government. This is an example of how two international companies can work collaboratively and offer a two-way gateway for companies in China looking to market themselves outside of the country and for those looking to break into the Chinese market.

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