Breaking into the Chinese Consumer Market, Part 1: Choosing the right name

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This is the first in a series of articles I will be writing on "Breaking into the Chinese Consumer Market".  This moment in history could turn out to be crucial to the success of many toy companies.  The combination of consumers with lots of cash and a government in Beijing that wants them to spend it is creating a major opportunity for those with the knowledge to do it right.  But what is doing it right? 

I have been making it my business (literally) to find that out.  Over the last few months I have been busily studying the Chinese consumer market and have carefully chosen associates in China to assist me. 

This series of postings will provide knowledge on the variouls hurdles western companies will have to overcome in succesfully entering the Chinese domestic market. In this posting, we are going to look at the power of choosing the right name, not only for your company but even your brand.

The New York Times provided a great article on just how challenging choosing a name in China can be.  Entitled “Picking Brand Names in China Is a Business Itself,” the article puts the challenge this way:

More than many nations, China is a place where names are imbued with deep significance. … Given that China’s market for consumer goods is growing by better than 13 percent annually — and luxury-goods sales by 25 percent — an off-key name could have serious financial consequences.

The picking of a name is not simply a matter of how it translates from English to Chinese.  It’s more complicated than that as China is a country with a diversity of languages (Mandarin and Cantonese among them).  A name that is pleasant or powerful in one language can mean something quite different in the other.

The article points out that there is therefore a great deal of art and science that goes into picking a name.  If the brand is already know in China, Foreign companies can choose to phonetically change their name to Chinese and in so doing also give their brand name a meaning that resonates with the Chinese.  For example, the article tells us that Tide detergent, Taizi, not only sounds similar to the original name but

also means “gets rid of dirt.”

There are certain words in Chinese that carry particularly positive connotations.  The article tells us that “clear” is one such word but other examples are:  “’le” and “xi,” or happy; “li,” meaning “strength” or “power”; “ma” or horse; and “fu,” translated as “lucky” or “auspicious.’”

What about words you shouldn’t use?  “Bing,” the name for Microsoft’s search engine actually means “disease,” “defect” and “virus.  The article goes on to tell us other horror stories like “Peugeot (Biao zhi) sounds enough like the Chinese slang for “prostitute” (biaozi) that in southern China, where the pronunciations are especially close, the brand has inspired dirty jokes.

Does it all sound too complex?  It is.  Why do you think so few companies have yet made the attempt?  Now, however, with the stakes and opportunities getting dramatically higher, the need to figure a way in gets more important.

By the way, that chinese character at the top of the page means double happiness. 

One thought

  1. Happy New Year Richard-
    I just got back from Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen. Your article is exaclty what I was sharing with my boys- this is indeed a very special time with new opportunites for everyone. I’ve met some great people in Beijing if you ever need more contacts. I very much look forward to reading your insights on breaking into the China market. Wishing you the best and I love reading your site.
    thanks or should I say……. XieXie =}
    Go Night Buddies ~ Lighting up childrens nights one buddy at a time.

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