Bringing a product to the Chinese market can be a major hurdle for a burgeoning company looking to expand abroad. But according to a new research in consumer behavior and global marketing, for a Western brand to crack the Chinese market, the name's the thing.
Young, educated Chinese consumers who are highly bicultural tend to more favorably evaluate brand translations that keep both the sound and the meaning of the original name, says Carlos J. Torelli, a professor of business administration at Illinois.
The study examines how integrative responses to culture mixing, in the context of Western brand names translated into Chinese, can influence consumer evaluations of products.
"What we found is that if you're targeting young Chinese consumers, they tend to be more bicultural," Torelli said. "The established view of Chinese consumers is that they are conservative in the sense that they value tradition and conformity, whereas Westerners tend to be more open to new experiences or are individualistic in the sense that they emphasize new things like autonomy and pursuing one's own goals."
Younger Chinese consumers, however, were born after the one-child policy and have much more exposure to the West than previous generations.
"When they are the target, since they are much more westernized in their values, they have a more bicultural mindset. So young Chinese consumers fall somewhere in the middle, modulating between those two poles of valuing tradition and embracing what's new."
Because of that, the researchers hypothesized that young Chinese consumers would respond much more favorably to cultural mixing.
"It's a foreign brand that's making an effort, and is respecting and valuing the culture, thereby integrating the Western values of self-expression and autonomy while also paying tribute to traditional Chinese value of conservatism," he said.
For marketers, the benefit is if you're an American or Western European company trying to break into the Chinese market, "you might want to think carefully about adopting a phonosemantic translation for your product," he said.
"That might be the best approach, especially if you're targeting this young, affluent, cosmopolitan market."