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Marketing: Branding in China: 7 keys to Success
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Branding in China: 7 keys to Success

by Justin Toy

WBT201510_120_Marketing_001Developing your company’s brand is one of the most important functions of marketing and can be a huge determining factor of your company’s success or failure. Building a recognisable brand that resonates with your customers is not an easy task. Additionally, you need to employ different branding strategies depending on your target market and what region of the world you are operating in. Below are 7 branding strategies for building a strong brand in China.

1. What’s Your Name?

Linguistic differences between English and Chinese make choosing a brand name not as straight forward as you might initially think. The most pressing question is should you translate your brand’s name phonetically? Like Kraft whose Chinese name is “kafu,” which are the characters for card and husband. Or should you translate your brand’s meaning? For example, Apple’s Chinese name is “pingguo" which literally means apple. Actually, the best option is to try and incorporate both strategies if possible. For example, Coca-Cola is “kekoukele” which roughly translates to “delicious happiness” and Mercedes Benz is “Ben chi” meaning “dashing speed.” You could decide to not create a Chinese name and only use an English name, but you run the risk of someone else creating a Chinese name for you. For example, when Quaker Oats entered the Chinese market, they only used their English name. However, the general public gave the brand the unofficial nickname “laorenpai” or “old man brand”, not exactly what Quaker Oats wanted to be associated with.

2. Social Media

WBT201510_120_Marketing_004China has completely embraced social media. Indeed, about a quarter of the entire world’s social media users are in China. Chinese consumers spend a lot of time on the internet and on various social media sites, especially Wechat. With over 1.1 billion users worldwide, 100 million of them outside of China, Wechat is the world’s largest social media platform. According to Tencent, the creators of Wechat, 46% of Wechat users say that they use the app more than any other. Taking advantage of Wechat and other Chinese social media sites is an extremely effective method to build brand awareness and to educate consumers about your product offering in China.

3. Luxury Sells

China surpassed Japan several years ago as the largest luxury market in the world. Today, Chinese consumers account for over 35% of global retail sales of luxury goods and is expected to increase to 50% by 2025. Luxury brands continue to draw Chinese shoppers as they are a symbol of increased affluence and success. However, positioning your brand as a superior luxury brand is not easy. Not only does your product need to be of extremely high quality, so does your customer service, shopping experience, advertising, etc.In short, every aspect of your brand must be high-end. Chinese consumers have become increasingly sophisticated and educated when it comes to purchasing luxury products.

4. Story Matters

WBT201510_120_Marketing_003“The best brands are built on great stories”, says Ian Rowden, the Chief Marketing Officer of Virgin Group. Your branding should tell a story that connects with your target audience emotionally. Brand storytelling can help make your brand more memorable, bring your brand to life, give you a distinct competitive advantage, and make your target market more responsive. Storytelling is especially important in China where cultural background and history are rich with stories. This makes telling your brand story especially important when establishing your brand’s reputation in the marketplace. At the same time, foreign branding is usually unfamiliar and undifferentiated to Chinese consumers. This forces Chinese consumers to pay more attention to the visual cues on labels and packaging to communicate the brand message or story. These cues often play an integral part of the purchasing decision.

5. There is no one China

On the surface, China is a dream market with more than 1.4 billion consumers. However, this market is extremely diverse. Advertising and branding strategies that work in Tianjin might not work in Shanghai or Qingdao. Adidas and other companies have reported vast differences in consumer preferences and attitudes between northerners and southerners and also between consumers near the coast and inland regions. At the same time, Chinese consumers in tier 1 cities like Beijing and Shanghai have very different expectations and attitudes than urban dwellers in tier 3 and 4 cities like Guilin, Jilin, and Dongguan. When entering China it is commonly advised to enter one large market and gain experience and knowledge. After successfully localising your brand to the market and getting a good understanding of your local customers, you can consider expanding into other regions and markets.

6. Find Local Talent

Who knows Chinese consumers and the Chinese market better than the Chinese? Nobody. Hiring and training talented locals to promote your unknown brand is crucial. KFC, L’Oreal, VW, and Adidas have all stressed that their success in China is largely due to the fact that they learned so much about the market from the local marketing teams they trained and hired. You may also want to consider finding a local business partner or marketing agency to work with. However, finding a trustworthy partner can be difficult in China, especially if your business is new on the scene. Ideally you want to work with consultants who deeply understand the Chinese business landscape and have a proven track-record of helping other foreign companies achieve success in China.

7. Don’t Just Translate, Transcreate!

Transcreation, sometimes referred to as creative translation, is the process of adapting a body of creative work for use in another language or culture. It is more than simply a direct translation. Transcreators focus on capturing the desired persuasive or emotional tone or effort of the original message and transferring it into the adapted translation. This is particularly important in China because Chinese language and culture is so strikingly different than western culture. Failing to transcreate marketing messages can lead to big trouble and wasted time and money. McDonald’s recognised the need to adjust their “I’m lovin’ it” campaign in China. In Chinese, the word ‘love’ is used seriously and never taken lightly. As a result, McDonald’s trancreated their message to “Wo jiu xihuan” which literally translates to “I just like (it).” The adapted message conveys the same feeling and emotion of the original “I’m lovin’ it” message without aliening Chinese consumers.

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