When moving a Western brand to China, one of the most important considerations is building a Chinese identity. This includes a strategy that encompasses a voice, personality and name that will resonate with a local audience. Of these, the most important component is a Chinese name.

This is specifically relevant considering the difference in online platforms that are used in China- where Google does not hold a candle to Baidu’s market dominance (estimated at 78% Baidu, vs. 17% for Google)  and where facebook and twitter are replaced by Weibos, RenRen and Kaixin. These platforms not only function in a different way than in the west, but also operate in Chinese.

This is why Western brands need to consider adopting a Chinese name. While they may feel that maintaining their western identity will make them more appealing in this market (and in some cases that could be true) it is important to have an identity that can be used in local contexts: speaking with friends, searching on weibos, for local events. Not having a Chinese name leaves a void in these situations and gives complete, unregulated brand control to the Chinese consumer. They do- and will continue to- make up their own Chinese version of western brand names, and they may not be as flattering as you like.

A recent study found that, surprisingly 76% of all searches for the western luxury brand Burberry are for their unofficial Chinese name. Likewise, inputting “LV” rather than it’s English or Chinese full name made 63% of all searches for Louis Vuitton. Other large brands have had similar issues gaining ground in China: Hermes was given a Chinese name by consumers (since it did not use one itself), Ai Ma Shi (爱马仕) literally meaning “an elegant man who loves horses.” Unfortunately, a local tie manufacturer had already registered this name and Hermes is usable to use it in any official capacity. Because of this, their brand’s commonly known and searched name is for a competitor who is instead reaping the benefits.

Burberry Name searches

This is why it is so important to have a Chinese name that consumers feel connected to and want to use. Some have used this to make great strides in China: BMW has a Chinese name, 宝马, which literally means a precious horse and draws on ancient myths while Nike’s Chinese name, 耐克, means endurance and to conquer.

If we think about how westerners may be hesitant to talk about Huawei or order a Tsingtao because we are unsure how to pronounce it, then we can understand how the Chinese market would be more comfortable with names in their local dialect.

“After a hard day’s labor, your average upscale Beijinger likes nothing more than to shuck his dress shoes for a pair of Enduring and Persevering, rev up his Precious Horse and head to the pub for a tall, frosty glass of Happiness Power. Or, if he’s a teetotaler, a bottle of Tasty Fun. To Westerners, that’s Nike, BMW, Heineken and Coca-Cola, respectively. And those who wish to snicker should feel free: the companies behind these names are laughing too — all the way to the bank.”  -NY Times (click picture for article link)

“After a hard day’s labor, your average upscale Beijinger likes nothing more than to shuck his dress shoes for a pair of Enduring and Persevering, rev up his Precious Horse and head to the pub for a tall, frosty glass of Happiness Power. Or, maybe a bottle of Tasty Fun.
To Westerners, that’s Nike, BMW, Heineken and Coca-Cola, respectively. And those who wish to snicker should feel free: the companies behind these names are laughing too — all the way to the bank.”
NY Times

 

Advertisements