The Chinese Market: globalisation and cultural adaptation

The Chinese market is a giant on the world stage, with continuous growth and a very promising future. Because of this, many companies are starting to internationalize toward the Asian giant. The possibilities are endless.

Nevertheless, the Chinese market has proved to be one of the most difficult to successfully internationalize into. It is the example that best shows that internationalization and cultural adaptation go hand-in-hand.

 

Don’t forget cultural differences when expanding crossborders

We’ve said it before: when it’s time to internationalize, even more important than the technical aspects of the process – logistics, tenders, budgets… – is the linguistic and cultural adaptation to the target market. You can have everything perfectly set out on paper and still fail spectacularly at reaching your potential customers because you haven’t localised your marketing strategy to the culture of the target market.

The Chinese market and culture are so tremendously different from what we can understand from a European point of view. This is a broad generalisation, which although not always a good idea, can help make things clearer – that even global brands must make cultural adaptations.

 

The importance of language in globalisation

McDonald’s isn’t spared, not even Coca-Cola. The language is, more than in any other large market, the cornerstone on which the entire business culture revolves. And, keeping in mind that Mandarin Chinese is a language that places the utmost importance on phonetics, you must be very careful with how your brand sounds.

A brand’s first impression is crucial. To do so, the feelings that it transmits must be good ones. Who knows, maybe the name of your brand pronounced in Chinese is horribly obscene? That is why we always put so much emphasis on the pairing of internationalization and cultural adaptation. And translation is an essential part of that adaptation, but what is the best way to adapt a brand to Mandarin Chinese?

 

Cultural and linguistic variety

Because the Mandarin Chinese writing system is based on symbols that represent concepts and not empty characters without significance, like in English, for example. You must choose if you want to maintain phonetic similarity with the original name of the brand.

However, as long as they don’t have negative connotations–, like in the case of Volvo —沃尔沃 (Wò’ērwò) —,  or Cola Cao —高乐高 (Gāo lègāo), meaning more or less “tall, happy, tall”, which brings to mind pleasant sensations

If you would prefer a translation that symbolises a meaning or concept related to the brand without maintaining the phonetic sound of the original, as is the case of Microsoft —微软 (Wei Ruan), which means literally “micro” and “soft”—, or if you want to start from scratch and give the brand a name that doesn’t have anything to do with the original, based, for example, on the logo.

Ralph Lauren opted for the last example —三脚马 (Sānjiǎo mǎ), which means “horse with three legs”—. Whatever option you choose, you must keep in mind that China is the third-largest country geographically.

Essentially, it is enormous. Because of its size, there are very distinct cultural and linguistic varieties even within the country. This makes it necessary to find the balance that gives your brand the status that it deserves throughout the country. Investment in cultural advisory services is key in this stage.

 

The cultural differences are gigantic

With all this, which is just one example, we have an idea of the huge cultural difference that exists between the Chinese markets and English markets.

The complexity of the internationalization process to this market is not just a question of logistics or bureaucracy, but lies in the most basic aspect of culture, the language. And, as you can see, not even the heavyweights of international business are exempt from changes to their most recognisable aspect, which is their brand.

Although, this doesn’t mean that you should throw in the towel, not by a long shot. China presents the perfect opportunity for companies that want to grow and expand. In order to reach this goal, it is essential to understand that globalisation and cultural adaptation go together: if you don’t keep that in mind, you had better book a round-trip ticket!

It must be clear that there is no process for successful internationalization in the Chinese market without investing in linguistic and cultural advisory services.

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