#Digital Marketing China

The Importance of Having a Chinese Brand Name

Last modified: June 29, 2021

The booming of the fashion and luxury industry in China is astonishing. Following China’s rapid growth over the years, the Middle Kingdom has attracted the biggest companies in the world, looking to expand their activities in the world’s most populous country. However, while brands are known across the world under their original name, many brands have decided to adapt their strategies specifically to Chinese consumers in order to attract them and increase their brand awareness. In a country where the majority of the population did not speak English a decade ago, and even though an increasing number of people are now able to understand and speak the language of Shakespeare, Chinese consumers still prefer using international brands’ Chinese names. As many companies have been asking us why they should have a Chinese name, we have decided to explain the importance of having a Chinese brand name. Furthermore, we will explain that having a Chinese name does not mean ‘translating’ your brand in Chinese, but rather giving a specific and relevant meaning to it. In fact, creating a Chinese brand name is not an easy task, it requires lots of reflection as well as Chinese linguistic knowledge.

Brand Naming in China

The Second-Largest Economy in the World is Also One of the Most Competitive

(© Hector Retamal / AFP)

As a result of several economic policies in the last few decades, China has become the second-largest economy in the world, right after the U.S, with outstanding growth in several promising and lucrative sectors such as new technologies and e-commerce. The tech-savvy population now represents a tremendous opportunity for brands to increase their sales and reputation in China thanks to social media and online platforms.

However, if there is one thing that hasn’t changed, it is the fact that Chinese consumers are still referring to foreign brands using their Chinese name. It is indeed important to underline the fact that in one of the most competitive markets in the world, foreign brands have to adapt to Chinese consumers in order to be more appealing and to gain their trust.

Why is it important to have a Chinese name for you brand?

L’Oréal’s ad, with its Chinese name written below

First of all, don’t forget that Chinese consumers tend to be extremely cautious when it comes to fashion and luxury brands that have just been implemented in China. They are much more reassured when it comes to long-lasting brands such as Lancôme, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc. that have been in China for decades. If you are not selling your products in China yet, it can be extremely useful to focus on having a Chinese brand name beforehand, and then register your trademark as soon as possible (we’ll come back to it later in this article).

Having a proper Chinese name for your brand allows you to show that you care about the Chinese market and that you are motivated and ready to adapt your brand specifically to Chinese consumers. In fact, it should be the first step of your localized branding strategy in China as consumers will directly have a certain impression of your brand according to your Chinese name. Your Chinese name will stand as an embodiment of your brand’s value, story, and personality, all adapted to Chinese customers’ culture, values, perceptions, habits, and expectations. The purpose of having a Chinese brand name is to be appealing to Chinese consumers and increase your brand awareness.

How to come up with a Chinese name for your brand

There are indeed different ways to create your Chinese brand name:

  • Translating’ it phonetically: Be careful, by translating we do not mean that you should just translate it with any word that will come to you on Google translate! It means that you should do market research, as well as semantic research about the meaning of each word, their connotation in China, their pronunciation (the same pronunciation can have different meanings!), and then look a the global meaning. Don’t forget that your Chinese name should be unique and not similar to other already existing brands.

If we take the example of the luxury brand Gucci, we can see that its Chinese name was created phonetically.

  • Reflecting your brand’s attributes and values: it is not necessary to literally translate phonetically your brand into Chinese, but you can rather express the ideology of your brand through its Chinese name. For example, the famous commercial center Carrefour is known as ‘家乐福’ (which can be translated as ‘happy home fortunate’) and using of course only meliorative words. In China, you should avoid pejorative words at all costs! Chinese consumers will not joke about that. Finally, be aware of intellectual property in China, look for information on the internet of work with dedicated specialists (you can contact us for more information).

Why is it a long process to create a Chinese brand?

As you probably already, the Chinese language is extremely rich, with lots of words (more than 20,000) that can have a completely different meaning. Thus, it is important to pay attention to rules and restrictions as well as semantic codes in China. If you want to have a meaningful Chinese name, you have to make sure that your brand will be easily understood by Chinese consumers and that reflects as well your brand’s values. That’s why in some cases, it is better to avoid just translating your brand into Chinese.

It takes time to find to appropriate and meaningful Chinese name for a brand. For example at GMA, our experts will conduct deep market research about your industry, your competitors, your target consumers, the meaning behind your brand, etc. After that, we’ll analyze all this data to adapt it and transpose it in Chinese, whether phonetically (looking at the best combination of word, in terms of meaning and in terms of fluidity) or meaningfully by reflecting your brand’s values. Finally, we will see if the new Chinese name is indeed unique and if the name has not already been registered in China, in order to avoid any trademark infringement disputes.

Analysis of foreign brands and their Chinese name

Chanel: Known as 香奈儿 in China

China, one of the most popular international brand in China

Chanel is always referred to as the best example for foreign brands that want to have a Chinese name. As a matter of fact, 香 (xiang), which means “scented and aromatic”; 奈 (nai) which kind of have a similar phonetic sound to the original pronunciation of Chanel; the last character 儿 (Er) does not have explicit meaning but usually implies a soft and feminine tone in Chinese. All three characters combined have been able to successfully capture Chanel’s essence, as an elegant, exquisite, and high-end brand that only produces high-quality goods.

BMW: Known in China as 宝马

For example, BMW, one of the most popular and renowned car brands in China, decided to focus on several criteria to create its Chinese brand name. Indeed, commonly known as 宝马 (Bao Ma) in China, it has the same two first letters at its original acronym: the ‘B’ (that became Bao) and ‘M’ (Ma). When looking deeper into the meaning of 宝马, which can be literally translated as ‘Treasured horse’, it is interesting to see that the car brand has considered both the automobile culture, with the ‘horsepower’, but also the Chinese culture. As a matter of fact, Chinese history has long been considering the horse as an important symbol of freedom, speed, and boldness.

IKEA

If we look at IKEA’s Chinese name, which is 宜家 (Yí jiā), the meaning of “proper home” or “suitable home” directly applies to IKEA’s values and goal. That commitment to quality directly appeals to Chinese consumers that are looking to furnish their apartment. Moreover, it reflects a kind of practical approach of the Swedish brand into an easily understandable and pronounceable word.

Chinese family at IKEA

On the other hand, we can also think of the word ‘一家’ which is pronounced the same way as IKEA’s Chinese name (Yijia). This term can be translated as ‘the whole family, which is an extremely powerful way to attract Chinese consumer’s attention, as having a family in China is extremely important in terms of tradition. IKEA reunites the whole family, by providing high-quality goods for everyone.

Being unique is key in China

When establishing your Chinese brand, it extremely important to take into account your competitors. You have to create a completely creative and unique name in order to distinguish yourself from competitors. Here are three reasons why you should have a unique name in China:

  • If you have a memorable and unique Chinese brand name, Chinese consumers will keep it in mind more easily, and will directly associate it with specific products. It can also increase their curiosity to look for the meaning and purpose of your brand on social media and search engines.
  • If you come up with a good Chinese name, you’ll be able to develop even more your marketing strategies, increasing at the same time your reputation and brand awareness.
  • A meaningful Chinese name will probably be effective as well, which will leave a good impression of your brand to Chinese consumers, adding brand appeal and stimulating their desire to try and purchase your products.
  • It will allow you to rank more easily on Baidu in terms of SEO, as by having a unique name, there will be less competition and you’ll appear within the top results.
  • By ranking at the top of search engines, people will be more likely to click on your website, which will increase as well your traffic.

For example, if we look at the online research done on the top search engine Baidu, 78% of Chinese consumers are looking for Chanel by using its Chinese name, instead of just ‘Chanel’ on the search bar. The difference is not as important on Weibo, but the Chinese name is still predominant.

With Fashion and Luxury brands, it is even more important to stimulate Chinese consumers’ desire and encourage them to purchase your goods. Having a Chinese name can greatly contribute to your success among the Chinese population.

Don’t forget to register your trademark in China!

In China, many things are different from western countries in terms of laws, intellectual properties, and also trademarks. Unfortunately, the majority of the companies that want to expand their activities in China directly want to create their Chinese website, their official account on social media, etc. However, the point is that they are unaware that China can be considered as a ‘first-to-file’ country, which means that the entity that registers your trademark first will get all the rights to sell and distributes your products. Several brands have contacted us to say how much they were desperate because another company had already registered their trademark. The problem is that it is extremely difficult, long, and fastidious to get your trademark back and that you’ll have to pay quite a huge amount of money to do so.

Therefore, the best advice we can give you is to register your trademark as soon as possible in order to be protected by the Chinese law and to be faster than your competitors. After registering your trademark, you’ll have all the rights when it comes to your brand, products, etc. and you’ll also be able to sell them legally in China.

What does ‘registering a trademark’ mean?

If you want to enter the Chinese market, you have to prove that your brand will be unique in the Chinese market, which means that you won’t be able to register your company as ‘Lancôme’ for example. Moreover, it must not be similar to other existing brands, it has to be completely unique and new. One of the most famous case in China in the past few years, was the Japanese brand Muji, that did not register its trademark in China before selling its products. While they were mainly focusing on planning their advertising and marketing campaigns, they did not think that it was important to register and verify their trademark. In fact, another brand had already registered the trademark ‘无印良品’ (Natural Mill) which has exactly the same three last characters and the first one being extremely similar in terms of sound as Muji’s Chinese brand name ‘ 無印良品 ‘.

Thus, that’s why working with a specialized agency that will do market research beforehand is extremely useful to avoid this kind of unfortunate event.

Other example of foreign brands that have a great Chinese name

As you can see with these brands, they have been created using meliorative and positive words, and there’s also a link between the meaning and the services (such as Jaguar).

Contact us to Create your Chinese Brand Name

The Chinese market is one of the most promising in the world in terms of opportunities, both for smaller companies like startups, but also for larger international companies. But in order to succeed, you will need to adapt your brand to local consumers, and this is why having a Chinese name will not only increase your visibility on social networks, but it will also the word-of-mouth, which is something essential in China.

Working with a specialized agency is the best way to create your Chinese brand name

All along this article, we have seen that creating a Chinese brand is not an easy task. It requires long market research about competitors that already have registered their trademark in China, as well as a deep understanding of the Chinese language. Linguistic experts can help you define the best way to create your Chinese brand name according to several criteria that will be determined between you and our experts.

Why should you chose GMA to create your Chinese brand name?

Conscious of the difficulty for foreign brands to have a Chinese name, we can help you create your own Chinese brand name according to Chinese standards. We have international experts as well as native ones who understand all the subtleties of the Chinese language and especially the ‘rules’ when creating a Chinese name. At GMA, we offer brand naming services in order to help you enter smoothly the Chinese market, conveying at the same time your brand’s value and characteristics to Chinese consumers. Our experts will of course give your more details about the exact meaning and the pronunciation. After that, we can ever take care of registering your trademark in China.

Therefore, if you have more specific questions about creating your Chinese brand name, registering your trademark, entering the Chinese market, or if you have any other questions, feel free to contact us, and our experts will reply within 24 hours.

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