Business: Branding and Localization for Asia market

Asia or China alone is a big market and full of opportunities. Asia is one of the first targeting market, when a business goes global. Let’s help you start by pick a Chinese name, and you want to pick it carefully. Because the branding and localization translation result is your very first image and impression to the general public.

This is what we will be talking about:

  1. Why is having a Chinese name important?
  2. What happened to brands that didn’t pick a Chinese name?
  3. How to do the branding localization translation professionally?

Why is having a Chinese name important?

China have a population of over 1.4 billion, and only about 10 million people speaks English. That is less then 1% of the population. How do we plan to conquering the huge market of China when majority of the general public cannot read or pronounce the brand name, further more we want the consumer to remember us. Having a Chinese name certainly helps the general public in remembering a new and foreign brand.

Secondly, brand translation is more then directly translate the Original name, it’s called localization: taking not only the language but also the culture background of the target market into consideration. Names are very important in China, a brand name reflects not only the brand itself, but also who are the targeting market, the image of the business, and even the class or level you want to target. Here’s an example:

Mercedes benz name translation
The translation of brand Mercedes-Benz in Traditional Chinese and Mandarin Chinese

Brand names are often translated differently for different countries. The brand Mercedes-Benz as example in Traditional and Simplified Chinese translations. This brand using the Phonetic translation, taking the sound of the original language and giving it a similar pronouncing Chinese characters. This is one of the most common way of translating names.

賓士 (Bīn shì) is the name in Traditional Chinese, used in Taiwan.
This name direct translate as 賓 Bīn: VIP guest, and 士 shì: Gentleman or Scholar. And just like this name suggests, the brand is a gentleman’s car.
奔驰 (Bēn chí) is the name in Mandarin Chinese, used in China.
This name direct translate as 奔 Bēn: Fast running, and 驰 chí: Speed. As you can see this Chinese name emphasize in the performance of the vehicle, targeting on consumers seeking for speed in luxury.

What happened to brands that didn’t pick a Chinese name?

Often the general public don’t remember a brand name in foreign language. America have conduct a study that shows only 6% of American citizen can name a brand name in Chinese language. Same applied in Asia, when a product or brand enters Asian market without picking a Chinese name, the general public will give it a name they likes, and this is often visual on what the brand image or logo shows. Here are 2 examples of brands entering Chinese market without a Chinese name from the beginning.

Brand name
Nickname of brands without a Chinese name given by general public in China

The general public given the above 2 mentioned brand a nickname based on the image of the logo. The nickname helps Chinese consumers to remember the brand. However, when the brand decide to choose a Chinese name, the consumer already know the brand as the nickname that they gave, and it’s very hard to change the general public’s view. Quaker have later picked a name 桂格 (Guì gé), direct translate to 桂 Guì: Osmanthus flower and 格 gé: grid/style. And Ralph Lauren have later had a phonetic translated name 拉夫劳伦 (Lā fū láo lún), It’s a standard name translation. Since the public have know the brand as The little horse, after giving it a Chinese name, the horse is still attached to the name.

How to do the branding localization translation professionally?

There are 3 ways to translate a brand name:

    Literal Translation
    Taking the actual meaning of the original brand name, and direct translate it to Chinese. E.g. Apple in China is 苹果 (Píng guǒ), literally means apple. Microsoft in China is 微软 (Wēi ruǎn), literally translates to Micro Soft. The brand name translated with this approach have no direct link to the product, hence requires more effort in marketing to build brand awareness, but is not a uncommon approach.

    Phonetic Translation
    A phonetic translation is most often used to translate name for person. This approach on brand name generally used for brands that already has an international reputation, and is already known to the Asian market. Like the most famous brand: McDonald is 麦当劳 (Mài dāng láo) and Dior 迪奥 (Dí ào). The Chinese character’s individual meaning or the combination have no meaning in Chinese, it simply means the brand.

    Combination of Literal & Phonetic
    This is the most common approach in small business brand name translation, Taking both translation method into consideration. Like the example we used earlier: Mercedes-Benz translated it’s name phonetically but with a literal meaning, especially the name used in China means 奔驰 (Bēn chí) Dashing speed. Another example is Coca-Cola, the Chinese name is 可口可樂 (Kě kǒu kě lè), it means delicious and happiness.

Translating a brand name is beneficiary if not necessary. I think the main benefit is to be easily remembered by majority of the consumers. So if you are looking to penetrate into the huge Asian market, start by contacting us to pick up a Chinese name.

Next week we’ll go back to talking about learning Mandarin Chinese, with the special request by a reader who have ask for few conversational tips to use while travelling to China.

See you next week for: Learning Mandarin Chinese: Must know conversations for travelling

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