The China Phenomenon
Each year, a group of Chinese citizens equal in size to Germany’s population joins the ranks of China’s middle class. A staggering 400 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty since the government reforms of 1978–that’s more than the current number of US residents! These upwardly mobile consumers have helped make China THE great economic success story of the past 30 years. Today, the country boasts one billion cell phone users, half a billion internet users, nearly two hundred million car drivers, and a quarter of the world’s luxury market.
The China Challenge
Given China’s unprecedented transformation, it’s no wonder so many companies are eager to capitalize on this burgeoning market. But contrary to what some may think, China’s size and consumer buying power don’t automatically guarantee success. It is one of the toughest places for foreign brands to do business, especially if they don’t understand the language, culture, and China’s ever-evolving economy.
The China Marketplace
One of the most common misperceptions is that China is a single national market. In truth, China is a vastly varied region made up of 23 different provinces and 4 municipalities. And let’s not forget, China is almost the same size as Europe but with twice the population.
China’s sheer size and complex business environment, coupled with culture and language barriers, make it a difficult market to penetrate. To succeed in China requires careful planning and execution, as well as a clear communication strategy.
Understanding the Chinese Language
Putonghua (or Mandarin) has been the national language of China since 1957, though more than 900 dialects are in use across the country. Despite the large number of dialects, the Chinese language has but two written forms—Simplified and Traditional. Both use a pictographic system that employs many thousands of characters, making Chinese remarkably difficult to learn.
In an effort to increase literacy in the 1950s, the Chinese government “simplified” many of these characters, resulting in the Simplified Chinese character set used predominantly across mainland China. The government took things one step further in 1979 by adopting the pinyin system for spelling Chinese names and places in Roman letters. Invented by the Chinese, this system of Romanization is widely used across China on street and commercial signs as well as in elementary Chinese text books as an aid to learning Chinese characters.
Branding in China
While conventional marketing wisdom says that global brand consistency is best, the Chinese language presents some very specific branding issues. Product and company names must be easy for Chinese consumers to remember and advertisements should focus on the cost-effectiveness or “good fortune” of the product rather than on the product itself.
Coca-Cola is one example of branding best practices and highlights the importance of creating a suitable product name. Coca-Cola in Chinese is “Kekou-Kele”, which not only sounds like the English but translates as “tasty and joyful,” making the name easy to remember while retaining some degree of global continuity.
An example of a not-so-good translation of a Western company’s name is Google. While the Chinese translation it chose—”Gu Ge”—sounds similar to its English name, the meaning in Chinese is “Song of Millet” (head scratch).
When it comes to company and product names, it is advisable to spend time getting this right. Your name is, after all, one of the first things potential customers will see and hear. And if your name can’t be remembered, it is unlikely that people in China will buy. Here’s another important tidbit: Before you adopt a Chinese name for your company or product, remember the name must be checked against China’s official name registry and have a cultural review performed.
Working alongside your Chinese affiliates, a trusted translation partner with marketing experience and local presence can help with both company and product name selections. It is essential that all translations are done professionally and that, whenever possible, product and company names use characters that not only represent the English word phonetically but also have a symbolic or auspicious meaning.
While less than 24% of Americans profess to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ superstitious according to a recent Forbes study, the concept of good and bad luck is emotionally important to many Chinese. The most successful companies in China make use of positive symbols and avoid those with negative connotations in order to maximize their product’s appeal. Incorporating auspicious symbols (such as the numbers 6, 8 and 9 or images like the dragon, phoenix, unicorn, tortoise, fish, or the Great Wall) has helped many companies maximize the success of their marketing efforts.
On the flip side, the inadvertent use of inauspicious symbols can be detrimental to a product’s or a company’s success. The number 4, for example, is regarded as unlucky, since the word “four” in Chinese sounds similar to the word for death. 7 is equally off-putting.
In China, colors can also trigger powerful emotions. While red and yellow are considered lucky, white is often associated with mourning. Black, when used as a border around names or photographs of people, also communicates sadness and death. It is recommended that a language specialist be engaged to help develop marketing strategies appropriate to your project and target audience.
Good Communication & Guanxi
Rising income levels across China are producing an influx of new consumers and first-time buyers, all of whom are eager to purchase and experience new products and services. An important key to success in China is maintaining good guanxi (pronounced “gwan shee”)—personal and business relationships based on mutual interest and benefit. Both Chinese and foreign companies will often attribute their business success to having good guanxi.
Good communication is equally important; business is all too often lost through simple misunderstandings, and when working across different time zones, cultures, and languages, the chances for misunderstandings are multiplied.
Because having appropriate communications and guanxi strategies in place for China is essential to success, your translation supplier is one of your key assets and should be selected with great care.
The EC Innovations Solution
In 1997, a group of language enthusiasts in the heart of Beijing had a vision—that China would become one of the largest markets for imported brands and one of the largest producers of exported goods. With this vision, EC Innovations, a forerunner in the Chinese localization industry, was born.
Headquartered in Beijing with offices across China and around the globe, EC Innovations has been helping clients succeed in the challenging Chinese marketplace for nearly 20 years. Combining an impressive array of skills with a sound knowledge of the local Chinese business environment, EC Innovations has the most extensive resources and the greatest in-depth expertise of all professional localization firms in China.
EC Innovations provides a full range of services to companies seeking to grow their China business, which includes:
. Localization (software, document, and website)
. Marketing translation, transadaptation, and transcreation
. Technical translation
. Multimedia and eLearning localization
. International search engine optimization
. Machine-translation post-editing
. Cultural consulting
Find out why so many multinational brands trust EC Innovations to help them grow their business in China.
Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your current international goals and initiatives.