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Finding the right name for the Chinese market is not easy

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Staff Writer |
Chinese consumers
Brands   Mixing two cultures and languages

Bringing a product to the Chinese market can be a major hurdle for a burgeoning company looking to expand abroad.

But according to new research from a University of Illinois expert 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 - that is, conversant with both Eastern and Western cultures - 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.

"China is challenging for Western companies, and the name-translation issue is particularly challenging. But there is the potential to strategically decide whether you want to be seen as more of a Western brand, more of a Chinese brand, or seen as a brand seeking a happy medium," he said.

The study, which will be published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, examines how integrative responses to culture mixing, in the context of Western brand names translated into Chinese, can influence consumer evaluations of products.

"Specifically, we examine young, educated Chinese consumers' evaluations of three types of brand name translations: by sound, by meaning and by sound plus meaning," Torelli said.

Results show that younger, more educated and more cosmopolitan Chinese consumers tend to favor "phonosemantic" brand translations, which integrate both sound and meaning into a product's name.

"What we found is that if you're targeting young Chinese consumers, they tend to be more bicultural," he 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.


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