Many companies/brands that are hoping to expand are now looking to China as a land of opportunity. More and more literature is flooding the internet about the high net worth earners and emerging middle class. Attempting to try and ‘break china’ is fast becoming the next rung on the ladder for many successful businesses. Ripe with opportunity and riddled with consumers, there is no question that if you are successful in bringing your brand to China you are looking to a bright future.
When a person moves to China one of the main worries discussed is ‘culture shock’. Don’t let this happen to your business. So your brand doesn’t get lost in translation there are some really critical points to consider. If your business is already successful enough to be looking to expand overseas you probably don’t need reminding. Many of these will apply to all international moves, however it will be central to your success whether or not you always keep in mind that China is unique, and as such your approach must be too.
1 – Will China want it?
It may seem an obvious first thought for every business aiming to seek a life abroad, but it is number one on the list for a reason. There is definitely something to be said for the trail-blazers that bring totally fresh markets to China. Wine and cheeses for example are fast becoming popular goods and are set to be huge business. However it’s imperative to understand that there are some things that just don’t translate, and therefore won’t sell.
There’s no point trying to become China’s largest Kiwi importer, they originate from China. On the other hand, having insider knowledge like China’s suspension of the 14 year ban on video games consoles earlier this year will help you make your move at the right time.
2 – The Legalities
The laws in China are different to the rest of the world. Make sure your business is legal in the country by consulting trusted Nationals and existing business’. People who are already in and have a competent of China are going to be your greatest allies.
The majority of companies moving to China are doing so as WFOE’s (Wholly Foreign Owned Entities). Understanding the rules and regulations that apply to this type of business within China will ensure the stability and legality of your business. For example, for the majority of countries (particularly in the west) legally opening a business does not require gaining direct Government approval. This is an absolute must in China. Without the appropriate Government approval your business will not be registered and you could end up in big trouble.
3 – Choosing a name
We’ve all seen the stories of people getting Chinese character tattoos thinking that they are telling the world something positive about them, when in actuality they are huge faux pas if not entire nonsense.
The same applies to businesses who don’t appreciate the necessity of choosing a China-friendly name. First and foremost you must understand that many words or phrases in English just will not translate. For example if you ask a Chinese national how to say sorry they may reply with duì bu qǐ the direct translation of which is ‘don’t get up’. This simple difference demonstrates one of the more subtle variances in language; don’t get caught out by a bigger one.
Take one of the globes best-known brands, Coca Cola. When first attempting to sell in China the obvious thing seemed to go with a name that closely resembled its English title. Unfortunately the direct translation ended up meaning something like ‘bite the wax tadpole’. Luckily it was noted that this name failed to encapsulate what they were hoping to convey and the name was changed to still closely resemble the English pronunciation whilst retaining their brand image but translating as ‘pleasurable to the mouth’.
4 – Marketing
In order to move into any new market a great deal of your time needs to be spent on your marketing strategy. The first place to start is recognising the huge difference in the mediums available to you in the East. Your new audience will be used to an entirely alternate marketing and sales pitch style and you may need to dramatically adapt your approach.
Make use of the wealth of options are out there. Don’t be phased by the fact that some of the mediums you will be used to using aren’t available and recognise the opportunity at your feet with the multiple platforms that Chinese people are using. SEO optimising for searches on Baidu, your audience are different.
WeChat (or its Chinese name WeXin) with over 300 million active users and commentators expecting those numbers to over-take Facebook, is not to be dismissed. It’s not alone, with huge numbers of Internet users in China also flocking to sites like Sina Weibo and QQ, good knowledge of the social media platforms your audience are using is imperative.
Independent digital marketing agencies like Digital Jungle are poised to support western businesses looking to enter the Chinese market. With in depth knowledge of the digital landscape in China alongside roots in the western world, agencies like this will be able to help you to spark the interest of your Chinese audience whilst retaining you brands ethos and identity.
5 – Local Knowledge
China really is a vast country. The audience you have will vary dramatically even from region to region within the country, let alone overseas. The first and basic consideration is that Chinese is not a language. The two most common languages in China are Mandarin and Cantonese. It is estimated that 70% of the population speak Mandarin, however the multiple dialects often have Chinese people speaking the same language struggling to understand each other.
In a country with several minority languages including Cantonese and Hokkien, where different regions will have different accents, pronunciations and even words, connecting your business with someone (or an organisation) with local knowledge will drastically help with the preceding four points. These are the people who are going to know what works in China. How to make sure you’re conscious of the ‘red-tape’, retain your brand integrity within a drastically different framework and perhaps most importantly, what is going to be effective in creating Eastern interest in your brand.
Hopefully this guide will offer you a useful starting point of how to bring your brand to China. Of course this is not a comprehensive guide and there are going to be numerous considerations to make before making the bold move of expanding to China. China can bring fortune to those companies that do make the move, and furthermore make it successfully.
Mathew McDougall, CEO and founder, Digital Jungle