Translation & Localization: Chinese Brand Name for Foreign Companies in China

June 26, 2024
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The importance of localizing your brand name for the Chinese market

International companies entering the Chinese market, often fail to understand the importance of selecting the right brand name in Chinese. This is not just a marketing formality; it is a crucial strategy that can determine the success or failure of your brand in China. A well-chosen brand name serves as the first point of contact between your company and potential customers, setting the tone for the brand’s identity and expectations. In China, where cultural, linguistic, and commercial landscapes have their particular characteristics, and public opinion online can make or break a brand, the stakes are especially high. But The branding challenges in this vast and varied market are matched by substantial opportunities to tap into one of the world’s largest consumer bases. Navigating these waters successfully requires a deep understanding of local nuances, consumer behavior, and the competitive environment. By addressing these factors thoughtfully, businesses looking to do business in China can enhance their visibility and appeal within this interesting market.

 Some Logic for the Chinese Market

Though China has only one time-zone, the Chinese market is anything but one-dimensional, it is in fact extraordinarily diverse. A key to successfully entering this market is an appreciation for its cultural nuances. Each region in China has its own preferences and consumer behaviors, which can vary dramatically from one province to another.

In this complex setting, Brand Localization in China goes beyond translation; it involves adapting your brand to resonate with local tastes, preferences, and cultural norms. The successful localization of a brand name not only acknowledges these elements but integrates them, allowing the brand to communicate effectively and connect deeply with Chinese consumers who will appreciate and recognize the effort. This strategic adaptation can lead to increased brand loyalty, crucial for long-term success in the Chinese competitive landscape.

Key Considerations for Chinese Brand Naming

Choosing the right brand name in China involves several critical considerations that can significantly influence your brand’s success in the market. Here are three key aspects to keep in mind:

  • Cultural Compatibility: The importance of a brand name that resonates culturally cannot be overstated. The name chosen mustn’t carry negative connotations or unfortunate meanings, when translated into Chinese. Many global brands have learned this the hard way; when Mercedes-Benz first entered the Chinese market, they chose the brand name 奔死 “Bēn Sǐ,” which unfortunately translates to “rush to die” in Mandarin. This oversight led to a quick rebranding to 奔驰 ”Bēn Chί,” which means “run quickly” and carries a much more positive connotation. Such examples underscore the necessity of conducting thorough research to ensure that a brand name is appropriate and resonates positively across different regions and dialects. Cultural Compatibility Branding.
  • Memorability and Pronunciation: For a brand name to stick, it must be easily pronounced and remembered. This is particularly challenging in China, where the diversity of dialects plays a significant role. A name that is easy to say and recall in Mandarin, the national official spoken language, is more likely to achieve widespread recognition. The name’s phonetic quality should be pleasant to hear, enhancing brand retention.
  • Legal Considerations: Before finalizing a brand name, it’s crucial to ensure that it is legally available and can be protected through trademark registration in China. Early and comprehensive trademark research and registration are vital to protect the brand and secure its identity against potential infringement.

Approaches to Translating Brand Names

Navigating the intricacies of brand naming in China can be approached through various translation methods, each suited to different branding strategies and objectives. Here are the primary methods used:

Translating Brand Names Literally: Meaning translating the brand name directly into Chinese, maintaining the original meaning. This method is recommended when the brand’s name has a universally positive connotation crossing cultural boundaries. For example, Red Bull translates to “红牛” (Hóng Niú), which directly means “Red Bull” in Chinese, retaining the brand’s original essence.

Translating Brand Names Phonetically: Adapting the sound of the brand name into Chinese while the meaning might not be related. This is suitable for brands where name recognition through sound is crucial. An example is Audi, which in Chinese is “奥迪” (Ào dí), phonetically similar to its English pronunciation but without a related meaning.

Translating Brand Names Semantically: Here, the essence or message of the brand is conveyed through meaning rather than sound. This can be particularly effective if the brand name’s original phonetic translation could lead to negative connotations. General Electric employs this strategy with its Chinese name “通用电气” (Tōngyòng Diànqì), which translates to “General Electricity,” reflecting the brand’s industry and scope.

Using Combined Translation Approaches: Some brands blend phonetic and semantic elements to create names that are both recognizable and meaningful. Coca-Cola’s Chinese name, “可口可乐” (Kěkǒukělè), is an excellent example of this, meaning “delicious happiness” which is phonetically pleasant and aligns well with the brand’s global identity.

Practical Steps to Develop a Chinese Brand Name

we can recommend a structured approach with several practical steps that will ensure the name you choose for your China market entry is poised for success. Here are key steps to follow:

  • Conducting comprehensive research involves identifying current trends in the industry, and analyzing names of existing competitors. Understanding the landscape can help in crafting a name that stands out yet feels familiar and appealing to the target audience.
  • Ask local Experts: Collaborating with local marketing experts, professionals with a deep understanding of the market and linguistic nuances that can make or break a brand name. They can provide insights into cultural preferences and potential pitfalls.
  • Consumer Research: it’s important to test a brand name with potential customers. Conducting focus groups or surveys within the target market can provide valuable feedback on how the name is perceived.
  • Trademark Registration: Securing legal protection for the brand name is a critical final step. Trademark registration in China prevents others from using similar names and helps avoid costly legal battles. This process also ensures that the chosen name is not already registered by another company, protecting the brand’s identity and investment in the market.

The strategic importance of Chinese brand naming in China’s competitive market cannot be overstated. A carefully chosen brand name should resonate culturally, be memorable, and comply with legal protections, laying the foundation for business success. Initial research, expert collaboration, consumer testing, and diligent trademark registration are all essential steps in this process.

The article was written by Karoline Skov Jørgensen from Leaf Digital.

Leaf Digital helps companies embrace the present and connect to the future of online branding, marketing and communication. With offices in Denmark and Shanghai, Leaf Digital is well-positioned to help international companies realize their full potential on all relevant platforms in the Chinese digital landscape and leverage data to produce business results.

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Q&A about B2B Marketing Localization in China

How can I host a website in China?

First of all, you will need to apply for an ICP. The process could take between 10 days to 2 months and includes a review by several local authorities. You will also need to provide a local business license and other relevant documents.

How can I apply for ICP in China?

To apply for ICP (internet content provider) in China and host your website on a local Chinese server, you will need a local business license, two local contacts and content translated to Chinese.

How do I open an official WeChat account?

Opening an official WeChat account can support your marketing efforts in China. It is not a complicated process but you will have to provide a local business license and the details of a local contact person.

Which WeChat business/official account should I open?

There are two main WeChat official accounts for businesses – subscription account or service account. To choose the account that matches your needs, you first need to figure out how many times per month you want to publish content and understand how the account’s visibility on the chat list on WeChat will affect its performance. Read more here: Which WeChat Corporate Account Best Fits Your Business Needs?