In the first of two parts, London based- Chinese focused agency, Qumin examines the importance of branding in China and the benefits of creating a Chinese brand name.
The first question many businesses who are looking to launch into the Chinese market ask is: “Should I give my brand a Chinese name?” If you are one of them, you may have heard different opinions. However, after six years of helping brands launch their businesses to China, our answer to this question is a firm yes.
“Clothes make the man; saddles make the horse.” This popular Chinese idiom may shed some light on the importance of a good Chinese name — it’s the first impression Chinese customers will have of your brand.
Chinese is one of, if not the most difficult language to learn in the world because it’s constructed with a interdependent character-pronunciation system. Kangxi Dictionary, Chinese equivalent of Oxford English Dictionary, registers over 40,000 characters, each containing a unique meaning. Among them, about 5,000 are of common usage.
Phonetically, pronunciation of all these characters are pronounced, in standard Chinese (Mandarin), are subject to a total of 23 consonants and 24 vowels, which can make over 400 individual phonemes. And as you may have already known, four intonations are applied to each phoneme.
Therefore, when you give your brand a Chinese name, you are not only coming up a set of syllables fit for the local language environment, but also you are choosing Chinese characters to reflect your brands’ identity.
The biggest benefit a Chinese name can bring to your brand is that it’s easier for Chinese customers to remember. Comparing the search results of the same brand’s English name and Chinese name reveals that Chinese name tends to be searched and spoken a lot more frequently than the brand name in its original form, despite the popularity of the brand.
Above are sports brand Under Armour and Heathrow’s WeChat Index results. Under Armour’s English name is only 1/10 as popular as its Chinese name, 安德玛 (pronounced An-de-ma). On the right, is that of our client Heathrow Airport’s WeChat Index result. The difference in search and mention rates is similar to Under Amour.
A culturally suitable and daringly creative Chinese name can also massively influence your branding and positioning in the eyes of potential Chinese customers. BMW’s full name is a direct and humble one, Bavarian Motors Works, however, when upon entering China in the 80s, the brand starts to use the Chinese name of 宝马 (pronounced Bao-ma), a masterful creation meaning “fine horse”.
There are three commonly used approaches in terms of name trans-creation. First is phonetic translation, which is to find character combinations that are closest to the pronunciation in the original language without considering its cultural implication — in most cases of literal translations there is none, like Sony (pronounced as Suo-ni).
Then if you feel like to convey in the Chinese name the core message of the brand is the priority, then you probably should do what General Motors (通用, pronounced as Tong-yong, meaning “can used everywhere”) does, literal translation.
Finally, if your ambition is to give your brand a strong identity and at the same time easy to remember, an organic combination of the two approaches above is needed to create a truly meaningful name also truthful to its origin.
Some examples of the genius of some brands’ Chinese names include American cosmetic brand Revlon’s beautiful 露华浓 (pronounced as Lu-hua-nong), excerpted from the Tang Dynasty romantic poet Li Bai’s poem, meaning “flowers nourished by the morning dew is blossoming”, and sandwich chain Subway’s 赛百味 (pronounced as Sai-bai-wei), proudly claiming in its name “it tastes better than 100 types of food.”
In the past few years, we’ve been working with a few clients on crafting their Chinese brand names. We helped Water Babies, premium baby swimming lessons provider in the UK, to come up with its new Chinese name — 沃特宝贝 (pronounced as Wo-teh-bao-bey).
Please get in touch if you are interested in having a brand new Chinese name for your brand (no pun intended).
The second part of this article can be found here.
Arnold Ma is chief executive of Qumin