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Entering targeted market requires bridging cultural divide

Author  :  Jiang Shiping     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-06-28

The development of brands is a crucial aspect of a country’s economic and cultural progress, and branding has become an important factor affecting economic development. According to the OECD, there are a total of 85,000 brands across the globe, with famous brands accounting for no more than 3 percent of the total number but claiming 40 percent of the market share and famous-brand products accounting for half of the global sales volume. 

Furthermore, brands symbolize a country’s business cards. A driving force of China’s economic development, brands also act as a medium of the country’s cultural communication around the world.

However, the number of internationally well-known Chinese proprietary brands is not that satisfactory. Only 37 Chinese brands have been listed into the 2017 the World’s 500 Most Influential Brands released by the World Brand Lab. 

To remedy the situation, the paramount issue is to “go global” so as to expand the influence of the brands. With the deepening of the “B&R” initiative, China’s friend circle along the “B&R” route continues to expand while the refined brands of many other countries are coming in, winning the preference of Chinese consumers. At the same time, the proprietary brands of “Made in China” will embrace more opportunities for development.

In addition to constantly innovating products technologically, Chinese brands should strive to improve themselves from a cultural perspective. What is the story of Chinese brands and how to recount it? This involves two major issues of the study of Chinese brands’ international communication. One is finding a way to integrate Chinese brands into the Chinese story. The other is for Chinese brands—as the conveyors of the Chinese story—to decide the right approach to international communication. 

There is a type of time-honored Chinese brands that were handed down through generations. Embodying the distinct cultural traditions of the Chinese nation, they have gained extensive social recognition with good credibility among the public. These brands include Tongrentang Chinese Medicine, founded in 1669; Wangzhihe Gourmet Food, established in 1669; Ruifuxiang Silk, established in 1862, and Quanjude Peking Roast Duck, established in 1864.

These time-honored brands are left with historical marks that symbolize the changes of Chinese culture. Covering a variety of fields, including cuisine, medicine, daily necessities and crafts, they also bear certain humanistic idea, such as the spirit of craftsmanship. 

The newly emerged brands in recent years include leading high-end brands that are technology intensive or innovative, such as Chinese high-speed rail, the IT company Huawei and Alibaba. Some other mid-range brands—though superb in quality—are at a disadvantage in market competition due to weak brand consciousness and insufficiently systematic brand management.

It is also a difficult issue to introduce these brands that embody distinct Chinese culture to other parts of the world, which involves translation, the accuracy of which will directly affect the cross-boader promotion of the brands. 

In the initial stages of reform and opening up, brand translation was relatively casual, mainly adopting transliteration—either converting the characters into Chinese phonetic alphabets or literally translating them into corresponding targeted languages. For example, China’s first television brand directly adopted its alphabetic name Jinxing in “going global,” which led to failure in exploiting its international market due to insufficient understanding of the language of the targeted group, because “jinx” in English means something or someone that is considered to be unlucky or to bring bad luck.

It is even more vital to understand the culture of the targeted countries, including the native people’s religious belief, historical background and cultural tradition. The Chinese “white elephant” (Baixiang) battery product, as early as the World War II, became a best seller in South Asia because “while elephant” represents the God of Rain, which symbolizes life and harvest in South Asia. However, despite its reliable quality and good credibility, the battery product suffered poor sales when it entered the markets of Europe and America. The English phrase “white elephant” means unwanted things that are expensive but completely useless or possessions that are difficult to dispose of. Therefore, the design of a trademark should fully take the cultural differences into consideration and avoid taboos. 

In addition, apart from the translation of brand name, spokesperson, public relation, advertisement and sponsorship are also factors involved in the process of international communication. For each channel of brand communication, the basic principle is localization. By grafting onto and integrating into the local culture, the aim is to bridge the cultural divide in a way that is accessible and acceptable to overseas buyers.

 

Jiang Shiping is from the School of Humanities at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.

 

(Edited and translated by BAI LE )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor: Yu Hui

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