Sorry, what was your brand name again?

Chinese brand names

This article was written by Yana Drouga, our strategy intern.

For the last couple of weeks I have been struggling with the decision of buying a new smartphone. In the pursuit of the ideal smartphone that suits my needs, the brand issue inevitably came up. Even though the obvious choice would be a brand like Apple, Samsung or Sony, which would make me feel safe and comfortable, I have started to look into more affordable options and asking tech-savvy friends for suggestions. And quite unexpectedly, Chinese brands started to pop up.

Chinese technology brands, like many other Asian brands, have had not positive quality connotations in the past, having been considered the cheaper and inferior option to the Western ones. However, today we see that as they become more ambitious, they continue to evolve: their design and quality are improving to the point of competing with the global established brands. Owing a great deal to their competitive prices, they have gradually started to gain global consumer acceptance and bigger market share.

During the effort to appeal to a global audience and build powerful global brands, one of the most common brand-related issues Chinese brands face is their actual name – which may very well relate to the Chinese consumer, but not so much to the global consumer as they are very difficult to pronounce, let alone to remember. And a memorable brand name is crucial for brands like Xiaomi that count on word of mouth for raising brand awareness.

The question is whether Chinese brands are as powerful and appealing to the global consumer as much as they are to the Chinese audience – and even more importantly – what is the impact of a Chinese brand name on international brand perceptions and connotations. From this point of view, the dilemma of brand renaming could not be more relevant.

It seems that the country of origin is an issue that cannot be easily ignored. Low quality perceptions and how memorable the brand name is are two major parameters to be considered when launching a brand globally. Lenovo is a representative successful example of brand renaming - turning from the generic brand name “Legend” (accompanied by a Chinese logo) to “Lenovo” (and a sleek Western feeling logo) in their ambition to go global. Lenovo adopted a distinctive, yet Western sounding name that helped leaving behind the misconceptions associated with their country of origin and enabled the brand to start fresh and make the very best of acquiring the IBM PC division. Lenovo invested in quality and design and grew far above the expectations someone could have had of a Chinese technology brand and created a success story for the Chinese brands to live up to.

Rebranding with a globally appealing name can engage a much wider, multicultural audience, and enable Chinese brands to build powerful and credible global brands. By avoiding directly connecting the brand name with the country of origin, Chinese brands can minimise the low quality connotations they face today and focus on what really matters - design and technology. Now, more than ever, Chinese brands cannot afford to ignore their brand perceptions. Renaming a brand to resonate with global consumers would let the product shine and enhance the brand’s credibility.

If a Chinese brand doesn’t have the ambition to expand globally, then a Chinese name that relates mainly to the Chinese audience would make sense. But which technology brand wouldn’t want to be globally acknowledged and successful – especially when it comes to brands from fast growing markets like China? Lenovo has built a powerful global brand, LG did it, and I don’t see why Huawei and Xiaomi cannot put a little bit of a effort into building a well-crafted brand strategy that builds on what the company stands for and truly differentiates them, and that is expressed in a way that is appealing internationally and resonates also to non-Chinese speakers. By no means does this mean copying the look and feel of their global colossal competitors, but instead being true to their spirit and origins, while bearing in mind that their name at large and brand communication needs to appeal to diverse audiences.

Until that happens, I would like to own brands that have proved to be worthy of my trust and money – brands I can relate to and whose names I can pronounce. The price might be tempting, but if the brand is not right for me, well that’s a deal breaker. Better safe than sorry.