CHINESE Brand Management
Like a fish reaching the water.... meaning to be in or to get into an ideal situation.
The brand might be worth billions, but when it came to finding a Chinese name for Google, they fluffed it. Somehow the boffins came up with a transliteration, gu-ge, which literally means 'valley-song' but to the Chinese eye and mind, comes down to meaning precisely nothing. The (admittedly nerdish) online campaign against the gu-ge name still continues and Google in China is just plain Google and not the most easily articulated sound for many Chinese. The Baidu search engine remains a beneficiary even as you read.
Or take the TV show The Apprentice which was first dubbed xue-tu meaning, well, apprentice. 200,000 people wanted to get on the show. Realising the weakness of the Chinese rendering of the name, the programme producers changed it to fei-huang teng-da (meaning something like 'fly high and make it') and in year two 800,000 frustrated entrepreneurs were angling to be amongst the chosen few on the box.
Key fact: it's critical to identify an inspired and carefully researched Chinese brand name.
The task of doing so is often thus delegated to in-country counterparts, who may create a local moniker for convenient reference. The risk in this approach is that the process is oversimplified and immense opportunities may be missed in transferring the vision and values of the brand over to the Chinese name.
And bear in mind that if you get the name wrong at the outset it can be tricky to extricate yourself from the problem.
It goes without saying, your Chinese brand name is an embodiment of your brand's culture, values, personality and vision. Care should be applied in transferring valuable equity over from the English brand name. So the brief is to find a Chinese brand name that rolls off the Chinese tongue which is free of negative connotations and not confusingly similar to existing names.
Meaning vs. phonetics
The Chinese language works on the concept of nuances and associations. Each Chinese character is carefully chosen to bring across a suggestion or association. Chinese brand names tend to be either a phonetic or a meaning translation of their English brand. In the latter cases, the choice of the character becomes more important. Phonetical names tend to sound more formal, and sometimes more distant; this tone of voice is more suitable for some industries, such as professional services and finance, than others. It's impossible to say which is the better route, or if a combination of both will yield the best results. Clearly, this will depend on the nature of your product or industry, as well as the importance of linking the Chinese brand name to the English name.
Balancing regional linguistic preferences
Chinese communities in different parts of Asia have distinct culture and heritage. It's not surprising therefore that they have distinct preferences for names. The Hong Kong market leans toward having Chinese names that aid in pronunciation of the English brand. On the other hand, the China market focuses on having names that are steeped in meaning. In a fast converging marketplace, this might pose an issue for brand management and may cause confusion as customers are required to refer to the brand differently in different market contexts. So, increasingly, foreign brands are investing more time and effort in finding a Chinese name that can be used in all markets.
An art and a science
Chinese brand naming requires striking the intricate balance between business, linguistic, market and cultural needs. This requires local social and economic knowledge as well as creative language skills. As with all brand names, Chinese or otherwise, comfort comes with time. The brand name is only one of the elements that make up a brand; good marketing and communications may make up where the name falls short. However, for established brands, it's a rare chance to spruce up an image and cater more closely to the pulse of a new economy. It's an equally rare opportunity to make a brand name work harder.
At CMC this is one of the things we do.