Case studies of brands successfully creating a Chinese-language version of their brand name, logo and/or strapline.
There are no available pre-compiled case studies featuring companies successfully expanding into China through localized rebranding. As such, information regarding three separate brands has been found and compiled here, each very successful in their own right. Those brands are LinkedIn, AirBnB, and BMW. While a Chinese rebranded name is not the only ingredient in their recipe for success, as detailed below, it is a large part of it. Also, included are a few examples of other companies that have seen success with Chinese rebranding. Some sources are older than the 2-year guideline on Wonder Standards, however, they are still pertinent and up to date for the purposes of this report.
The first step for LinkedIn’s expansion into China in 2014 was to hire a China-based branding company, Labbrand. After a thorough search, through hundreds of possible new brand names, and with the help of consumer surveys, they settled on a Chinese word that is pronounced Ling Ying. The English translation is “leader of elites.” According to experts, a Chinese rebranding should sound close to the original name, which Ling Ying definitely does, and should work in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese. This can be difficult, as none of the languages sound alike. It is also important to note that the Chinese perspectives when it comes to business can differ from the Western perspective. This means that any rebranding will need to be looked at from a completely different vantage point so that a new name will fit into the culture. For instance, it is important when rebranding is to ensure the new name isn’t too close to a negative term in any of the new languages.
According to the case study's findings, Ling Ying "received dominant acknowledgement and preference from Chinese consumers. Even though it is very different from LinkedIn's brand positioning of "connect everyone," the fact that China prefers "leading elite" provides valuable insight into the Chinese market. Rather than desiring a platform for connectin, Chinese "professionals sought a platform with international vision and authority." What's more is that the branding was proven successful as LinkedIn "experienced early and easy adoption among consumers in China, growing from 4 million users in February 2014 to 13 million users 18 months later – no small task, considering it is the first foreign internet brand to be successful in China."
Another boon to LinkedIn’s foray into China was the introduction of Chitu, a social networking application developed by LinkedIn China’s team. Where LinkedIn China is seen as having a “high-profiled and stern” atmosphere meant for international executives, Chitu is warmer and more fun, while still being just as professional.
In order to comply with China’s strict regulations on foreign businesses, AirBnB created a spinoff company just for the country. Calling their new company Aibiying, the company hopes to “establish itself above the fray” of local businesses that already have a foothold. Aibiying, which translates to “welcome each other with love,” is working hard to expand its workforce and its investments in China, partnering with Alipay to process payments, and with WeChat to foster sign-ups. While the company first entered China in 2016, their new name didn’t come until a year later. It seems to be working well for the company; since the induction of Aibiying outbound travel of Chinese citizens grew 142% in its first year, and has seen 1.6 million travelers from outside the country. More than 80% of the users from China are millennials, or under 35 years old. According to the company, this is a higher percentage than any other company they operate in.
AirBnb has recently launched a product called Trips, which helps its users to find ideas for attractions to visit while traveling. More than just pointing at the most popular “tourist traps,” Trips hopes to connect travelers with immersive experiences. The plan is to spark a muse in users through the cooperation of Aibiying and Trips that inspires.
Implemented in 2010, BMW changed its name within China to Bao Ma, and saw sales nearly double from 168,998 cars sold in 2010 to 327,341 in 2012. Bao Ma sounds similar enough to BMW, and uses the same Mandarin character for “horse” that is used in “motor,” making it a smooth entry into the local culture. Bao Ma, meaning “precious horse” is an aptly named rebrand for the luxury car company’s journey into China. Not only are horses seen as a symbol of power, as evidenced by the word “horsepower” in the English language, the Chinese zodiac shows horses to be symbols of grace and strength as well. Together these imply that “it runs fast and runs for a long time.”
In addition, the B and M in the Bao Ma name "retains sounds from the first two letters of 'BMW,' which is critical when attempting to associate a Chinese brand with the global brand. Moreover, in China the horse is considered lucky and prosperous, a connotation that can only mean positive association with the BMW brand.
OTHER SUCCESS STORIES
While the following companies do not possess case studies specifically targeting their Chinese rebranding, they have seen great success in doing so. For instance, Nike is called Nai Ke, meaning “enduring and persevering.” There is also Coca-Cola, or Ke Kou Ke Le, which means “tasty fun,” and Tide changing to Tai Zi, meaning “gets rid of dirt.” Tai Zi states that the characters used are the key to their successful rebrand, because the same sounds written in a different way would have meant “too purple.”
BMW, called Bao Ma in China, AirBnB, called Aibiying, and LinkedIn, or Ling Ying, have all seen success with their rebranding into the Chinese language.