May 08, 2013

PR in China: Does Your Brand Translate?

Click to access our free white paper on media in China.

Click to access our free white paper on the media environment in China.

It’s surprising that so many companies use English when communicating within China, even though the official spoken language of China is Mandarin, and the official written language is Simplified Chinese.  It’s not hard to imagine the negative effect this language disconnect has on campaign results,  and the reason is simple – most Chinese journalists and consumers use internet search as their primary research tool, and they are searching in their own language, even if they speak English.  Any communication not in local language will not be seen.  Think of it this way – if you are searching for a computer do you type in “Lenovo” in Google or Bing, or do you type in 联想?  The same logic applies to users and consumers within China.

Don’t forget the SEO angle

Another point to consider is your target audience will most likely be using search terms that have to do either with a problem or a solution.  To be included in results, your keywords will need to address at least one.   If you have key words or phrases in your release or documents in English instead of Simplified Chinese, your communication will not show up in organic search results.

Just as your keywords are carefully thought out and researched, the translations should be researched just as thoroughly.  In most Asian languages, the keyword itself differs from the rest of the world.  Your product names and technical terminology should be in widely used characters – creating your own “Chinglish” term may be catchy, but unless you’re a name brand with a large advertising budget you will not get the results you wish.

Branding in Chinese

Lenovo's Chinese homepage displays the brand in both Chinese and English.

Lenovo’s Chinese homepage displays the brand in both Chinese and English.

Even your company name should be in Chinese.  Decide upon the proper characters you will use during your branding process.   If you have a local PR, branding agency, or local marketing support, put this into their hands, and listen carefully to their suggestions.  Once you decide upon the characters for your company name, stick to them going forward.  If you change them for any reason, it will require a full re-branding.  Lenovo’s Chinese home page is a very good example.  The English brand is there, along with the characters they chose for local branding.

Where to get help!

There are several agencies and consulting services outside of China that will do all the research and character creation for you.  These services can be pricey, but if you are serious about successful communication in China, they are an excellent investment, and will give you the best ROI.

If you do not have the resources for a branding consultant or agency, find a good translation service that you can trust to accurately translate your company terms.  The best ones will give you several suggestions for you to choose from, and perhaps even do some research for you.  If you do not know of any services, PR Newswire will be happy to give you some recommendations.  Next, you’ll need to check trends on each of the suggestions and pick the one that matches your needs best.   There is a free keyword index on index.baidu.com that you can use to check trends on specific keywords, but the Baidu paid keyword tool is the one I prefer.   I find the results to be more accurate due to the wider search results.

Once you have your product, technology and company names in Chinese characters, then you can start working on your marketing and communication materials.   That doesn’t mean you can’t still use your English brand names and technology terms – it is acceptable to use both the English and the Chinese characters for company name and keywords on your website and your printed and online marketing material.   For press releases that will be posted on third party news sites, as well as paid advertorials, use Chinese only for best ROI results.

Following these steps will help you increase your visibility and return on your brand’s investment in the important Chinese market.   Whether your audience is B2B or communicating in-language will dramatically increase your online visibility.

学一门语言,就是多一个观察世界的窗户。To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.

Author Colleen Pizarev is PR Newswire’s vice president of communication strategies and works with our clients on crafting global communications campaigns.

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