Brand Localization Tips in China

Picture of GAB Team

GAB Team

Picture of GAB Team

GAB Team

Brand Localization Tips

If you’ve been following Gab China or stumbled across this page, then you’ll know that the Chinese market is a lucrative and promising market for foreign brands looking to expand their business to the most populated country in the world. If you’ve ever visited China, you’ve probably noticed that some of your favorite or iconic brands in your home country have already landed in China, but with some minor tweaks adjusted to the Chinese market through localization.



For example, you’ll find that global fast-food chains such as KFC and McDonalds offer its customers a multitude of traditional Chinese staples alongside its standard selection of food choices. If a Breakfast McMuffin isn’t what you’re after, you can order something more familiar to Chinese consumers like congee and fried dough sticks. This is one example of localization – making your brand/product more familiar, approachable, and palatable to your consumer.

Why Localization is Important

Before this article talks about why you should invest in brand localization in China, as well as providing tips on how you should best go about localizing your brand, it is important to preface by stating that not all brands must undergo an overhaul in localization. Remember, one of the biggest reasons that Chinese consumers are eager to purchase foreign products in the first place is for the sheer fact that they are not Chinese, and that they offer something different and hard to obtain domestically to the eyes of the consumer.

Powerhouse luxury brands like Gucci and Versace are attractive to Chinese consumers because of their unique brand aesthetic and designs, so localizing Gucci and Versace products completely with Chinese characteristics would defeat its selling point. That being said, these brands are considerate of the needs of Chinese consumers and localize in different ways that’s essential to prospering in this market long-term. Both Gucci and Versace have stores on China’s largest online e-commerce platforms, have Chinese versions of their websites fully translated, and offer exclusive CNY-themed products every year.

Now for the bigger and more iconic global brands, they can get away with partial localization (localizing only the essential elements of business operations to adapt to the Chinese market) as they’re already established a reputation and image outside of China. However, if you’re a smaller or an ‘unknown’ brand looking to penetrate the Chinese market with success, you will definitely benefit and require localization.

Given the sharp contrast in language and culture between China and the West, brands should prioritize localization on the top of their list when strategizing how to best maximize their entry into the Chinese market. Localization initiatives that brands should be cognizant of include (but are not limited to) translations of stores, programs, and websites; brand name and logo localization; and promotional campaigns that leverage Chinese social media, Chinese social media trends, and KOLs.

So How Can I Localize My Brand Effectively?

So you probably want to know the best, tried and tested way to localize your brand and business operations in China successfully and authentically. The answer we strongly recommend is very simple and time-efficient…

Hire a Chinese agency (such as Gab China) that specializes in localization! Now you might be thinking this is a cheap plug but it’s not. The reality is that if you have zero knowledge, experience, or understanding of Chinese culture and the Chinese language (which are intertwined), then it’s going to be extremely troublesome, time-wasting, and potentially catastrophic attempting to localize your business by yourself.

If you’re simply wanting to translate documents from Chinese to English or communicate with potential Chinese clients and business partners, then you might get away with using translation software that may not hurt you that much. If you are going to go through this route, we recommend using DeepL instead of Google Translate. DeepL uses advanced machine learning to translate texts in an authentic native voice that is much more accurate than Google Translate – plus it’s free to use!


However, for the sake of mitigating miscommunication and causing potentially costly errors to your business, we strongly recommend you hire a Chinese localization agency that will communicate and translate information for you.

Gab China’s team of native Chinese speakers are ready to service your localization needs. Contact us now for a free consultation.

Localization is an intricate and detailed process that should not be overlooked. This article will further demonstrate the importance of effective brand localization by drawing from some examples of successful brand localizations in China and not-so-successful brand localizations that you should avoid.


Be lazy localizing your brand name.

Transliterating your brand name to Chinese is easy, but it is important that your Chinese brand name has deeper meaning and does not connote a message that could adversely ruin your brand. Take American electronics retailer Best Buy for example, who failed to capture the Chinese market and closed its Chinese stores by 2011.

One of the reasons for its downfall was Best Buy’s poorly executed localized name, ‘百思买’ (Bǎisīmǎi). While Bǎisīmǎi phonetically sounds similar to Best Buy, and the meaning of the word name seems innocent at first glance (‘Bǎisī’ being a pure transliteration the word ‘best’ and ‘mǎi’ meaning ‘buy’ in Chinese), there was a problem with its underlying meaning that could not be detected by a non-native Chinese speaker.

There is a Chinese idiom that goes ‘百思不得其解’ (meaning ‘no matter how hard you think, you will never think it out’) and as you can see, the first two characters of this idiom make up two thirds of Best Buy’s Chinese name. The idiom’s meaning of caution combined with the word ‘buy’ is not what you want your customers to be thinking before investing money in your service.

Remember, each Chinese character has several meanings, and so combining certain characters strategically to form a positive meaning can send a powerful underlying message about your brand.

Lose the essence of your brand.

As mentioned at the start of this article, localizing your brand name and products is essential to a degree, especially if you are a relatively unknown brand and want Chinese consumers to understand your brand right away. However, that doesn’t mean you should completely redesign your brand aesthetic and products to the point where your localized brand is now unrecognizable and has effectively lost the personality and essence of what you were initially trying to convey to Chinese consumers.

In a bid to satisfy and capture the Chinese market, Norwegian Cruise Line thought it would be effective to launch a bespoke ship to Chinese consumers, named Joy, which conspicuously incorporated many Chinese characteristics and interior design aesthetics. While seemingly ticking all the boxes, the ship was decommissioned after less than two years – but why?

To put it simply, the cruise giant was a bit too enthusiastic with their localization, and failed to realize that Chinese consumers were attracted to their service because it offered a Western, non-Chinese cruise experience. Chinese consumers aren’t going to pay for a service and experience that they can get locally.

Underestimate the intricacy of localization

Brand localization for the Chinese market is as easy as translating words from English to Chinese and slapping them on your products, right?

Wrong. The Chinese language is very poetic. Characters and phrases have underlying cultural meanings beyond the understanding of a non-native speaker. So while Italian luxury menswear brand Zegna thought it would be a good idea to embroider the Chinese character ‘寿’ (meaning ‘longevity’) on their Chinese collection, they did not realize that the character is embroidered on funeral clothes. This is obviously not a good omen to be wearing, and so the collection was expectedly short-lived.


Put in research to create a strong localized brand name.

A thoughtful Chinese brand name with a positive underlying meaning and message can set your brand off to the right start. While many notable brands make localization look easy, executing this requires plenty of market research and adept knowledge of the Chinese language.

Swedish furniture retailer IKEA exemplifies how to localize a brand name that’s simple but effective. IKEA’s Chinese name ‘宜家’ (Yíjiā) combines two Chinese characters that not only phonetically sounds like ‘IKEA’ but also works together to form an appropriate meaning. The character ‘宜’ means ‘suitable’ or ‘fitting’, and the character ‘家’ means ‘family’ or ‘household’. As you can see, combining these two characters implicitly conveys a comfortable and warm home which, as a furniture retailer, you want your customers to be feeling when interpreting your brand.



Follow IKEA’s example and create a brand name that’s uncomplicated but conveys a message or emotion that is conducive to your brand.

Leverage popular Chinese online platforms

As a foreign brand, you must realize that Chinese consumers shop and discuss on completely different online platforms to the rest of the world. Forget about Amazon and Instagram, and say hello to Tmall, JD, and WeChat. In order to make your brand known to Chinese consumers, you’ll need to place your brands on the most popular e-commerce and social media platforms in China. Otherwise, how can you expect to increase brand awareness and sales?

Strive to leverage Chinese platforms like Dior. The French luxury fashion house currently holds many accolades for its brave initiatives in embracing new trends in Chinese social media. In 2015, Dior was the first luxury brand to promote its products on WeChat Moments. Following this, in 2018 Dior opened the first luxury livestream on WeChat and was the first luxury brand to launch an online WeChat store for a handbag.



In the same year, Dior also became the first luxury brand to experiment with Douyin (or TikTok to the rest of the world) by opening an official account and has since entered into other popular spaces typically consumed by millennials and Gen Zers such as Bilibili (China’s trending video sharing platform).

These are just some of the many initiatives that Dior has launched to succeed in the Chinese market, and have undoubtedly contributed to its annual revenue growth.


To sum up this article succinctly, don’t be lazy when it comes to localization! Find and work with an adept localization agency that has a proven track record of localizing brands in China with ease and finesse. This will save you time, reduce stress, and avoid the common blunders that many foreign brands have encountered.

To get started on localizing your brand, book a free consultation with Gab China.

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