Language, Marketing & Branding



Communication is crucial to the success of any company, yet business is all too often lost through simple misunderstandings that could have been easily avoided. When working across different time zones, cultures and languages the chances for misunderstanding are multiplied considerably. It is therefore essential to ensure that you have an appropriate communications strategy for China.


In order to communicate effectively in China it is essential to communicate in Chinese. Your translator or interpreter is therefore one of your key assets and should be selected with care, as without them you are effectively deaf and dumb. The national language of China, Putonghua, is commonly known in the UK as Mandarin Chinese and the characters used to write it are known as Simplified Chinese. This was introduced by the government in the 1950s and is increasingly used by Chinese communities abroad, although traditional characters are still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.


If you are working in southern China, in the area between Guangzhou (formerly Canton) and Hong Kong, do not assume that the business language is Cantonese. This region has a vast population of immigrants from non-Cantonese speaking parts of China working at all levels. For the majority of contacts in southern China, Mandarin is the language of business. If in doubt, ask first. If you are going to Hong Kong, Cantonese is the preferred Chinese dialect, although Mandarin is increasingly spoken in business circles. English is also commonly used for business and remains an official language in Hong Kong.


While an increasing number of Chinese companies – particularly those with an international outlook – have English speakers on their staff, don’t assume that everyone in the company speaks English – especially decision makers. At the very least, get a Chinese name for your company and prepare a one-page company profile in Chinese for insertion into your company brochure and website. A Chinese translation of your brochure would be even better.


Business cards are essential, it is wise to have your business card translated into Chinese, and bring plenty with you.


Ensure that all your translation is done professionally. For names it is important to use characters which not only represent the word phonetically but also have a symbolic or auspicious meaning, it is worth talking through the choice for names with your translator. There are numerous translation and interpreting agencies which can carry out suitable translations of personal names as well as general translation work. Many of them will also be able to help you address the branding issues detailed below.


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The Chinese market is constantly changing but as income levels rise across China, there will be an increasing number of new consumers and first time buyers who will wish to purchase and experience new products and services. However, the Chinese market is evolving rapidly and to win these new consumers over you will need to continually reassess your marketing strategy.


Trade shows and exhibitions are ways of meeting potential customers, but you still need to persuade them to buy your product. You will need to ensure that your sales literature is effective in English and Chinese and decide what kind of advertising is appropriate.


You may need to adapt your product to meet Chinese preferences or requirements in order to be able to sell it. Ignoring local regulations, tastes and cultural preferences is a recipe for failure.


For example a lot of Chinese consumers attach much more importance to the functional aspect of many products than we do in the UK, so Chinese marketing campaigns may focus on these features rather than what the product says about you as an individual.


Also the concept of auspicious and inauspicious symbols, are emotionally important to many people in China. Many companies make use of positive symbols and avoid those with negative connotations in order to maximise the success of their products. For example the number 4 is regarded as unlucky, as the word “four” in Chinese sounds similar to the word for death, meanwhile 8 is regarded as lucky, as “eight” sounds similar to the words for prosperity and wealth.


We recommend that you involve a specialist consultancy that can develop a marketing strategy appropriate to your product and the areas of China where it will be sold.




Conventional marketing wisdom says that global brand consistency is important, but the Chinese language presents some very specific branding issues. In order to create a favourable impression of your company and your brand in China, it is essential to have a name that Chinese consumers can remember.


If a product name can’t be remembered, it is unlikely that many people will buy it. It is therefore vital to have suitable Chinese company and product names in order to sell your products. If your target market is Mainland China (as opposed to Hong Kong), it is not advisable to have a Cantonese translation of your company name, as this will not be readily understood outside Hong Kong.


The Chinese translation of Coca-Cola is an example of best practice and highlights the issues involved in creating a suitable name. Coca-Cola in Chinese is “Kekou- Kele” which not only sounds like the English but can also be translated as “Tasty and Joyful” thus creating a name that is easily memorable for Chinese speakers while retaining some degree of global consistency.


Another good example would be B&Q whose Chinese is name is pronounced “Bai An Ju” and can be approximately translated as “Hundred Peaceful Homes”.


A translation of a western company name that is perhaps not quite as good as it could be is the translation of Google into “Gu Ge”, which although sounding similar means “Song of Millet”! 

It’s advisable to spend some time on getting this right. The name is, after all, the first thing your potential customers will see. There is no right or wrong when translating into Chinese: the name you will ultimately end up with will be a combination of the translator’s recommendations and your own preferences.

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