Why does a foreign brand need a Chinese name?
Many brands enter China without a Chinese name
I have worked in the market for over 15 years, initially with big global players who all had their own Chinese names and often nicknames.
More recently working with niche brands entering the market I have got a lot closer to the naming process and wanted to highlight it’s importance with this interview.
Linda and Ching work at Red Ant Digital in Shanghai and have created Chinese names for many Beauty brands in the market.
So why is it so important:
💡Pronunciation – many brand names are difficult for Chinese to pronounce due to the completely different linguistic roots
💡Memory recall – It is harder for non-native speakers to recall your brand’s name. If it is in Chinese characters you have a better chance they will remember it!
💡Comprehension – your brand name may mean something in English or it might be a play on words. But these aspects will be lost without a Chinese name
💡Search – Search volumes on Taobao/tmall are much high for brand’s Chinese name vs international name – back to the memory recall;)
💡Competitive advantage – don’t put yourself at a disadvantage vs competition by not having a Chinese name
Now I have convinced you that you should have a Chinese name – what else do you need to
1. When to create your Chinese name: Ideally on market entry, once you have your China strategy and trademark it quickly
2. What types of approaches are there to naming: Phonetic, semantic and contextual or a mix of all 3
3. Chinese names are usually 2 – 4 characters and you can pack a lot of meaning into those characters so whoever is doing the naming needs to really understand the essence of your brand that you want to convey to Chinese consumers
4. Your name will rarely be used on its own and mostly with your international name so it is not that your international name will be unrecognizable in China
5. Due to the complexity of the Chinese language you will always have a lot of opinions on your Chinese name – there is no perfect name for everyone
6. Some brands do not create a Chinese name – Charlotte Tilbury for example is known in China at CT
Brands who enter China should have a Chinese name
Chinese names are important for many reasons both cultural and financial
I have worked with brands that have Chinese names and ones that don’t. I believe without a Chinese name you are putting (an EXTRA) barrier to your China success.
⭐️ When should you do it
💡Once you have a China market entry strategy – your hierarchy of messaging and your target audience nailed down for China
💡Don’t wait too long & trademark it quickly
⭐️ What is the naming process like & key things to consider
⭐️ Some foreign brand names that nailed it in China like L’Occitane – 欧舒丹
⭐️ Current naming trends – Foreign brands are not so obviously given a foreign name and not always using the simple phonetic approach. Names are getting more sophisticated and nuanced.
This episode is a chance to learn from two great Chinese marketers – check out the full
Some brands do not create a Chinese name
Perhaps they think it is unnecessary or want the global name to be consistent everywhere
Whilst I understand this point of view you need to look at the facts in China around the usage of Chinese names vs. English name usage
Not having a Chinese name will make your life more difficult.
So what is the process of creating a Chinese name – I talk to Linda and Ching from Red Ant Asia digital marketing agency about the process they work through with brands.
There are three main approaches:
➡️ Phonetic – This is a Chinese name that sounds closest to the global brand name. Giving characters that add meaning but their pronunciation resembles your global name. This is a very common approach and often considered a safe bet.
An example is Diptyque蒂普提克dí pǔ tí kè
➡️ Semantic – A direct translation in terms of meaning from the original brand name. La Mer is a good example of this – 海蓝之谜hǎi lán zhī mí which means the mystery of the deep blue ocean
➡️ Contextual – This uses the key brand message and values to create a name that will give Chinese consumers some context to the brand by reading the name.
You may also read this article about brands in China
Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of my interview series. Today, I have Linda and Ching from Red Ant Digital in Shanghai. They both have a huge amount of knowledge and experience with the Chinese market and bringing International Brands to the market from a marketing perspective.
They work with an impressive Client List from Charlotte Tilbury, Supergoop, Hourglass, Creed, and many more brands. Both in Beauty and in other categories. The thing that I really wanted to talk to them today about is about naming. So, Linda and Ching, Thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you Allie. Pleasure.
So, naming for Chinese names for foreign Brands is something that I’m personally very much in favor of, and I always talk to my clients about how important it is, but not all brands, choose this path when they come into China, so, I thought it would be great to first of all, ask you, why does a foreign brand, need a Chinese name?
Okay, so, to answer this question there are a number of reasons, but first and foremost, let’s get back to the linguistic roots. Let’s see, like Chinese language, it belongs to the sino-tibetan family and this system is different very, very different from the Germanic or Latin system.
So Chinese people they are very limited in acquiring information that most western brands carry plus there’s a global Trend, Western Brands now, they also play. When they do naming, they play with words and maybe invent new words. So this makes it even more complicated. So as marketers, sometimes we don’t even know how to pronounce or understand a word when we first launch the brand not let alone, you know, normal consumers.
So that’s an obstacle for them to get to know the brand. That I think the most important reason.
Yeah. The pronunciation and also the memory recall, for consumers to be able to remember what the brand is called. So they can go back and search for it or they can tell their friends about it. Yeah, and I think that’s something that I’ve seen also for example, when you look at Taobao searches and you can see that for most brands that have a Chinese name, the search volumes on, taobao under the Chinese name, are much much larger than what the English names are.
So that’s obviously — people, as you said, people feel much more comfortable if they have Chinese names.
Yeah. That’s also related to the second point that I want to mention is the market is so competitive these days. With thousands of imported Brands launching in China every year.
So Brands really need to stand out loud and clear. So with memorable and unique names that saves tons of marketing budget. So I think with a Chinese name ready,
Brands are arms open, you know, to all audience. So no matter— age, gender, or education backgrounds.
Yeah, absolutely. Very important. Very important. I mean, what do you think are some key considerations for you when you’re helping Brands come up with Chinese names? What are the main things that you sort of focus on?
I will let Ching answer this question.
We would take our starting point, always from what the brand want to express in their Chinese name. So, most directly would be what is expressed in this English name. do we want to enhance, reinforce some of the messages within but also sometimes, including the product features, how its developed, the company values, that is something that stands out in the Chinese market that differentiates us from competitive brands. Most of the Chinese names we would imagine they would be used together or in supplement with its English names but also sometimes, if the pronunciation or the spelling of the foreign names is rather complicated, the Chinese name would be designed in the way to take the major place for the consumers to understand a brand.
So that’s like the situation’s of usage, how we expected to be placed in the market is also an important factor that we need to take when creating these Chinese names.
So, what we would do is to list out a few, the priorities, like how we want to play this Chinese names, how to have it, reflect, or imply, the meanings from those wordings.
And then, like when we are kind of, like, testing practicing the creation of the names, what we really would take into consideration is the tone. Like, how we express from this language.
This is related to the target audience in China. Like how we speak, how we connect to them and— it’s something that when we are constituting the Chinese words to how it’s perceived by the target audiences, that will attend to this name.
So that would be a process that we explore the names from different approaches.
So, like when we look at these border questions, we would identify which approach that we go ahead. It could be phonetics, semantic, or from the contextual meanings of the brand, but it would be the two main considerations that we — starting from when creating these names.
Yeah, I think they’re like a couple of really important points in there, first that you said about how the Chinese name is used in conjunction with the Brand’s Western name. Because I think that’s something that Brands get a bit worried about, they’re like, okay, in China I’m just going to be known by my Chinese name, but it’s not the case at all. It’s about putting them side by side each other.
It’s really adding to your point in the beginning Linda, is just helping consumers recognize the brand. So, it helps — maximize marketing dollars helps just sort of smooth things along in terms of search and discovery.
So I think that’s a really important point for Brands to realize that it’s not taking over your normal Global name. And then a couple of things there that you pointed out your different approaches to it. So you’ve obviously got the — remind me again the three approaches that you use.
Phonetic is like the pronunciation of names is really close in between the English and Chinese, or it could be Semantic. It’s like from the meanings that expressed in the foreign names, how its translated into the Chinese ways. And we would also take other considerations, like the company values or how the products are different from the others approaches.
So that would be the contextual of the brand, how it stands in the market. But it wouldn’t be like a one-way approach for each name. It could be a mix and also because Chinese name is just say two to four characters. So like what we are trying to do is to create a kind of like adding different perspectives that consumers could see through the lens of those few characters in Chinese and to get a more tangible imaginations of the brands that they are going to explore.
Yeah, and that is something that’s amazing with the Chinese language, because each character can be packed full of so much meaning, and then a character in conjunction with another character can be can mean something different again. So I think that in a way you can get much more meaning about the brand from two or three characters in Chinese than anyone — even a native English speaker can get from an English name.
That’s an amazing piece when we’ve done projects on it together it’s such an interesting process to see what you packed into a couple of characters.
Yeah, exactly. It’s the magic for language. But sometimes it also — there’s a good side and a bad side of it. For example, when we do — like when the perceptions of a name could be very different when you ask different peoples and it’s really common because the language, like, as you said, each characters, it could have different meanings, multiple meanings behind it, when it works with different names. Other goes together with other words.
So I would say there wouldn’t be a perfect name that everyone loves it when they first see it. It’s just like how strong a message we want to pack into those names and it’s also like when we want to create names that have a longer lifespan but it could be something where the consumers get to experience the product, they gradually feel it’s a great fit. The name is as good fit to it, and it helps them to build a long-term good impression on the ground.
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, apart from people’s feedback, maybe being differing when you test out the names, what are some other big or not big, but some other problems that you run into when you’re doing these names.
Well, that’s, that’s a question related to what Ching just introduced. You know, there are different approaches to the naming process, Phonetic, Semantic, and Contextual, Etc. So, I think the initial thinking in line with your marketing strategy or China strategy is really key. That initial thinking process, you can’t really skip that part and go directly into naming.
So some Brands they just simply ask for as many names as possible. And so we end up, going back and forth, revising and revising, and duplicating work. So I think this thinking, the logic is something we need to brainstorm with the Brands. Yeah, during the process. And also Brands need to understand coming up with good name is just, you know, first step, actually.
Naming process is a dynamic changing process. So with I think, the business and trade mark registration, that process — that is, you know, back and forth. Yeah, that’s very, very, it’s like you have a good name. Maybe you didn’t — You didn’t register today. Someone else did it, then you have nothing.
So it’s really a process. You need to get super prepared. Do you need to have really a long list of names And you need to have your preferences in and you rank them and you go check one by one and just don’t — always think you are the lucky one who always have your, you know favorites name in the end and it’s a process of compromising.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, and you know, that’s a process that you do for the brands as well. Checking whether the name is taken or not on the before, you know, that’s part of the process and I know it can be very disheartening when things are taken, but that’s why trademarking is so important and doing it quickly. And I guess that’s also — to your point about doing it with a strategy.
So, not just doing the name on its own, you know, making sure that you have that strategic perspective for China. But at the same time, not waiting too long since you’ve been in the market too long, I think ideally, as you’re introducing yourself to the market, you have a strategy you have a Market entry strategy and at the same time you create that name. Yeah, I think that’s all part of the process.
So why do you think some brand go in and they don’t have Chinese names and they don’t create Chinese names? What’s behind that?
Well, I’m sure there are different scenarios. So take Charlotte Tilbury, For example, I feel like the name itself is a, complete person’s name. A Chinese name by large chance would be, you know, phonetic translation of that name. So, in essence, it’s not difficult to do. and it’s not that urgent because people understand this is a person’s name. And this is, you know, cosmetic expert or someone important. So, they understand, even though they probably can’t pronounce it. but, as long as you have enough UGC or social content, to promote a simplified version of it. like, CT, so you are fine.
But I think it’s natural for Brands to have a Chinese name when their business enters, rapidly growing stage. So it’s— I mean they have their different thinkings behind this.
But for Niche newcomers, they probably can’t really feel the difference with or without a Chinese name. Because if the business volume is low they can’t really tell if this works or not. So they don’t see it as urgent.
Yeah, I think the Charlotte Tilbury example is an interesting one. And as you said you could have created a phonetic Chinese name for her. But at the same time, I can completely see why that wasn’t the path that was chosen. And with her— the nickname of CT is something that is everywhere, right? Like when you look at any channels, that’s what Chinese people call the brand. And so that works very nicely in that case.
But I think there are lots of other examples of brands that haven’t got — that have more technical names or not a person’s name, that haven’t done it, haven’t done this process in China and to your point about, a niche brand not feeling it — feeling the difference. Yes, of course, because you can’t do an AB testing on this. Like, you either have one or you don’t have one. So I feel like — from my perspective it’s something that a brand should absolutely have and if they, go through the process, they get the name, they use it, and then they find that actually, their English name is easier to pronounce or easier for people to remember than they thought, then that gets picked up and used more, but at least you have it.
Because there are millions and hundreds of millions of people that don’t speak English — will never speak English, and will still be your target audience for your product. So I think that’s something that brands should really, really look at. And in terms of the stage which brand we’ve talked about this a little bit in terms of how early they should do it. Do you think it’s a pre market entry thing or once they’re already here in the market What’s your feeling on that?
Nowadays, we observed more and more Brands when they start to enter the market, they get them prepared with the Chinese name. I think that is really smart because we get an official Chinese name in all the places that, the brand have presence, you can have it presented with the English name.
So to have like creating a visual expression that this brand is officially entering — it’s prepared to the market, especially when — unless the brand is taking almost like a testing stage at the market. Otherwise, I think having a Chinese name is always helpful in this market.
And so what are some examples of Chinese names that you love of foreign brands that you think really work very well?
I’d like to name some of the Chinese brand names that when we discuss it comes to our mind before the English names. So I would say that that’s a way that we would consider that name is really successful. Yeah, some classic examples would be La Mer’s Chinese name 海蓝之谜 hai lan zhi mi. So, it adds a level of meanings to it. In Chinese it actually means the mystery of the Blue Sea. So it’s connected to how the brand is presented to the Chinese consumers and it’s had the depth of the luxury skincare brand. At the same time, the expression is poetic. It’s beautiful. But at the same time it’s very easy It’s very readable. Everyone can quickly get it.
A similar example would be Clé de Peau like it actually has a nickname is CPB Clé de Peau Beauté. And it’s official Chinese name is 肌肤之钥 jifu zhi yao. So it is the key to skin, to beautiful skin. So it’s reflected the meanings in this French name. At the same time, it’s expressed in this like direct yet poetic way.
Those two Chinese words are consistent in a similar way that capture the essence of Chinese names at the same time, if reflected the meanings that want to be expressed in the English language, they’re all four character names from the semantic and contextual mixing approaches from those two names.
The other names that we constantly see — remember, is 欧舒丹 Ou Shu Dan L’Occitane. That’s also a great name and Skinceuticals is called 修丽可 Xiu Li Ke. Those names — it’s more phonetically connected in English names. But at the same time it has different meanings. The characters carry different meanings into it.
For example L’Occitane is called 欧舒丹 Ou Shu Dan , so, 欧 Ou means “Europe” so, it kind of express the origin of the brand, but in a broader ways and it has this relaxing — soothing, this kind of meanings behind those characters. 修丽可 Xiu Li Ke (Skinceuticals) just feels like it’s the brand that regenerates your skin. It’s very effective in it’s beauty efficacy and it’s all like implications from those Chinese characters and that reflect perfectly in how the brand, the product stands out in the market.
It’s so important when you can get that balance between the personality and the meaning of the brand across through those characters. And also it’s interesting the ones that can pull it off with phonetic as well. Like having that phonetic link. It’s not — it’s definitely not always the case as with La Mer. It’s not the case. But yes that helps in a way a little bit for consumers. If they can have some sort of phonetic link, I think.
It’s like naming is a process of creation. So there’s no one way answer to why those names work. But they turned out to be great names that fit the brand and its original English names. They are connected very well. Those names that I just mentioned have enriching meanings into those words, but there are also some names that take a more like a direct approach. Also works really well because each namings that the topic itself English name is different. So they we need to find ways that is the best fit for the topics that we want to — the names that we want to give. For example, Aesop. Like Aesop’s from Aesop’s Fables is the same word and Chinese name is 伊索 Yi Suo. So it’s exactly Aesop’s fables — Aesop’s Chinese name. Exactly those two characters, it works well it’s perfect. Sometimes the easiest, the most direct easiest route is the best one. It works perfectly. And another name that we noticed is from a young clean Beauty Brand called First Aid beauty is called t 急救美人 Jijiu meiren, and that’s also a great name. So it’s it fits the brand image and it reflects perfectly to its English meaning, it’s very well connected. So it’s a cohesive creation of Chinese and we found all those names are just so readable and you get it and remember them.
It’s definitely an art putting together these names. I’ve seen you guys do it, it’s not easy. As we’ve said, I think it’s something that is very important for Brands as they’re entering the market to really consider. So I guess on the final note are there some trends that you’ve seen around naming or in general that you wanted to share?
Well, first of all, I noticed more and more bold approach this year because like in the past like when we introduced brand — Western Brands, like imported Brands, it’s always like at first sight, you know, it’s imported. It’s a foreign brand because it has a very exotic feeling. Like Tom you translate as 汤姆 Tang mu, Tom Ford is actually, it’s Chinese name is 汤姆 福特 Tang mu fu te. But nowadays, like you see more and more foreign brands with a universal name, it stands in Chinese too. So at first sight, you don’t even notice it’s a foreign brand and its poetic in Chinese. I think this is a great sign of the, the level of marketing, has improved over the years. This is something I noticed.
I really agree with what Linda just said. I think on the side note. I would like to mention actually some of the brand China, the local brands that are growing. They also have beautiful Chinese names. They have an English name attached to it, but it’s Chinese name is very powerful. So, the trend, that foreign Brands, they kind of have Universal names. Also, shown that the consumers are open to different brand from different background. And there we are paying more attention to the stories that want to be expressed by the brand in those names. That’s why I think how exotic the name itself feels is not the most important considerations that we put in naming them. It’s all about it’s a concise reflection of the Brand Story when we create the names. We also go deeper into the language to see whether there are different ways that it could come out and makes the brand more appealing in the market. In a market including foreign brands and local.
Yeah, and I think that’s a really important point. And it links to the general Trend in the market of the power of local Brands, the consumers changing sentiment. They’re moving not away from foreign Brands, still wanting foreign Brands. But not only foreign Brands or not just foreign Brands, because they’re foreign, right? It’s much more about wanting a brand, because it’s great, and the product’s fantastic. It happens to be foreign or it happens to be Chinese. It’s sort of choosing what’s best and so that distinction of needing to be obviously foreign from your name is completely unnecessary now and as I think, you know, as you said, the most important thing is the meaning of the brand coming through so people can really understand what your brand is about because in such a crowded Market, where marketing is more and more expensive every time every time we talk, it’s something that you know, if you can get across your core values as part of your core values through a name. you’re already got a long way there.
Well, thank you both so much. What a great discussion and I hope it’s going to help some Brands decide that naming is one of the things that you should do as you go into China and not as an afterthought. It’s very important.
So, Linda, Ching. Thank you so much.
Happy — happy to chat.
Thank you. It’s a great discussion. Thank you.