We live in a consumption-driven society built by diverse brands. Every one of us is dealing with a great number of brands every day.
They’re all around us: iPhones & iMacs from Apple, Epson printers, Casio watches, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, IKEA, Uniqlo, Nike, Volkswagen, BMW, Cadillac…
Every time we connect with a product, we connect with the brand. If the actual product accounts for the physical connection between us and the brand, then the brand’s name becomes the psychological connection.
A brand’s name is the very first impression when a consumer meets a new brand. The minute we hear or see a new name, our thought association is activated. We form an image and our initial feeling about the brand comes from factors such as our own experience, knowledge and habits. This is called a first impression. Making that first impression is a key step in building a brand. It directly reflects consumers’ choices.
To sum up, brand naming is vitally important to brand building. When it comes to entering a market, especially when there’s a huge difference in culture and language, localizing the brand’s name is equally if not more important.
When a brand is well-known, has a good reputation both locally and internationally, and is self-confident, it usually won’t think that having a Chinese name matters that much when it enters the China market.
On the contrary, an international brand’s Chinese name can make a great impact on its development in the Chinese market. It’s an essential pard of brand construction.
But why does it matter?
To answer this question, we also need to know: Why is it needed?
Reason 1: A Chinese Name Can Increase Chinese Consumers’ Memory and Search Frequency of the Brand
As shown below, between two name searches for MUJI & 无印良品 and KFC & 肯德基, the frequency of their Chinese names being searched and mentioned is much higher than the search for the brands’ original names.
That’s because of the difference in the memory system and behaviors caused by different languages.
To Chinese consumers, pictographic characters and pronunciation word by word can help them to capture information and generate an association in a very short time. This process can effectively facilitate the shaping of both short-term and long-term memory, which affects consumers’ behaviors.
Reason 2: A Chinese Name Can Create a Positive Attitude and Shorten the Distance Between You and the Consumers
Let’s look at it from another angle. All the international brands that are active in the China market have official Chinese names. Besides meeting the functional demands of brand development, the other important reason is that a brand needs to show that it's making the effort to blend into the China market and get closer to its consumers.
Two magnates in the beverage industry, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, entered the China market respectively in 1979 and 1981. Over the next 40 years, it goes without saying that how they positioned themselves in Chinese consumers’ minds, including the selection of their Chinese names, have become a textbook case in brand naming.
可口可乐 [kě kǒu kě lè] (Coca-Cola): Brings the taste to the tip of the tongue, makes you mouthwatering and excites the palate.
百事可乐 [bǎi shì kě lè] (Pepsi): Blends Chinese people’s feelings and blessings; connects happiness with soda.
The fact that their Chinese names are full of Chinese characteristics undoubtedly adds a magic touch when entering the China market, which is also the key to walk in Chinese consumers’ heart.
Reason 3: An Official Chinese Name Can Express Accurate Brand Values and Image
As we mentioned before, differences in the memory system and behaviors prevent consumers from remembering a brand’s original name, which leads to challenges in spending and communication. It will be escalated to “being named”, which means Chinese partners/media/consumers themselves create Chinese names for these brands to make it easier to remember, and to improve spending and communication.
For instance, YouTube doesn’t have an official Chinese name since it hasn’t entered the China market. It’s now named as “油管 [yóu guǎn]” by the vast majority of Chinese users, since You in Youtube sounds similar to 油 [yóu] and Tube in YouTube means 管 [guǎn] in Chinese. YouTube’s brand concept has also been neglected and forgotten due to the inefficiency of spreading and communication.
“You” emphasizes “It’s decided by You,” and “Tube” refers to “TV” here rather than “pipe.” Therefore, the original meaning of YouTube is “Your TV.” In fact, YouTube’s slogan is “Broadcast Yourself.”
From this example, we can see that even though the Chinese name “油管” created by consumers is convenient for memory and communication, the brand’s original connotation and concept have vanished.
Reason 4: A Chinese Name Can Help Protect the Rights and Interests of a Brand
In a market where knock-offs and torts are still widespread, a brand’s self-protection is the vital safeguard for long-term development. The first step in attaining a brand's rights and interests is to ensure the uniqueness of the brand’s name.
Oolong Tea from Suntory (a Japanese beverage brand) has been in the China market for 23 years since 1997. It has made a deep impression on consumers’ minds with its distinctive name and packaging design. Huiyuan (a local Chinese beverage brand), whose new oolong tea product’s packaging is very similar to Suntory’s Oolong Tea packaging, which easily confuses consumers when they shop. In this case, a brand’s name helps consumers to pick their preferences.
We’ve already seen the importance and necessity of an international brand having a Chinese name. The next question is: How to choose a good Chinese name?
We’ve summed up three points:
1. Understand the culture: Before choosing a name, launching cultural background research on the target market to understand local consumers’ psychology and behaviors. This research will provide a vital basis for brand naming and growth.
2. Strategize the positioning: Tailor the brand’s aim and image toward the target market to set the market and consumers’ positioning. This step guarantees the name will fit the market and its consumers.
3. Be fastidious about wording: Think about the name word by word. Consider these four points: 1) Avoid too many characters/words, normally between 2 and 4 works; 2) Think about the physical aesthetics and rhythm that the characters generate; 3) Avoid pronunciation ambiguity; 4) Avoid rarely used characters/words.
Especially when the Chinese name an international brand, it is not enough to choose Chinese characters based on the brand name’s original pronunciation. Although this method is easy and fast, it usually generates ambiguity and problems.
We should attach great importance to the overall quality when we create and choose a brand’s name rather than doing whatever is fastest.
With over 10 years of experience on the China market and branding, we have developed a sophisticated and bespoke process for brand naming and Chinese naming for international brands. We create distinct brand names that add value; following our unique naming process, we create strong and appealing Chinese names options by integrating our knowledge of consumers and market insights.
Step 1: Market Research & Analysis
Research the brand's field to understand the naming situation in the current market. After the research, naming type, meaning and consumers’ feedback will be analyzed and keywords will be extracted.
Step 2: Building Concepts on Naming
After the market research stage, create concepts for naming according to the research and the brand’s concept, positioning, target group and market situation. Concepts are usually narrowed down to three core keywords at this stage. We will put emphasis on one keyword or combine three keywords to guarantee the brand name's connotation and completeness.
Step 3: Name-Creation Phase
Led by concepts, we create naming options through three methods:
1. Selecting Chinese characters according to each keyword, and filter all the Chinese characters that fit the concept and personality of the brand, then we sequence and combine all the possibilities.
2. We can even create the name by combining transliteration and paraphrasing, to strike a balance between pronunciation and meaning.
3. Brainstorming on quotation of the classics and popular topics is also an effective way to create a unique name.
Usually, we present all the options to clients by matching each character with its own mood board to demonstrate the feelings and moods that the various options generate.
Step 4: Naming Availability Check
Confirm the registration categories of the names before giving the name options to a trademark lawyer to conduct a professional trademark registration check. This steps tests the possibility of naming registration and can generate an availability form.
Step 5: Testing Phase
Feedback of naming options from consumers and market will be collected via questionnaires and focus groups, including the naming disaster check to ensure that the naming options don’t have any pronunciation ambiguity among Chinese dialects.
Step 6: Chinese Logo Design
Create the visual design of the Chinese name based on the client’s vision and requests. The Chinese logo can either be combined and unified with the existing logo or redesigned entirely.
Step 7: Trademark Registration
Send materials to the China Trademark Registration Bureau, which will conduct the final evaluation and start the official registration process.
The brand will have a new official Chinese name after completing the seven steps above. It will also blend into the China market better and be more easily absorbed into Chinese consumers’ eyes, ears and minds.
Brand naming is a race to seize consumers. The key point is for the name to create a memory and association for the consumer. In the fragmented information age, effective naming means making a positive and immediate impact on consumers’ minds, which leads to greater recognition and success in the market.