American Brand Names and Chinese Consumers: a Relationship Model

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Chinese is the only official language in China and very few consumers are fluent in English. When American products arrive in China with only the original brand names on the package, it is very difficult for local consumers to recognize the brand name or comprehend the intended meaning. Translating the American brand name into Chinese characters is the first step of communicating with Chinese consumers.



Citation:

Lily Chunlian Dong and Scott B. Droege (2002) ,"American Brand Names and Chinese Consumers: a Relationship Model", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 219-220.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 219-220

AMERICAN BRAND NAMES AND CHINESE CONSUMERS: A RELATIONSHIP MODEL

Lily Chunlian Dong, University of Kentucky, U.S.A.

Scott B. Droege, University of Kentucky, U.S.A.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Chinese is the only official language in China and very few consumers are fluent in English. When American products arrive in China with only the original brand names on the package, it is very difficult for local consumers to recognize the brand name or comprehend the intended meaning. Translating the American brand name into Chinese characters is the first step of communicating with Chinese consumers.

Chinese is different from other languages in that while other languages use letters as components of words, Chinese language uses characters to make up words. Each character has its own pronunciation and meaning. When introducing a Western brand into Chinese market, there is no way for the brand manager to simply convert the original brand name into Chinese. Instead, the brand manager must choose from various combinations of Chinese characters that may bear similar sounds but widely different meanings compared to the original brand.

The new meaning communicated by the translated brand name transforms the identity of the American brand in the Chinese market. Drawing on various streams of research including brand management, consumer-brand relationship, movement o cultural meanings in consumer products, and signaling theory, the authors present a framework of how the transformed identity of an American brand name influences its relationship with Chinese consumers and, ultimately, the brand performance in the Chinese market.

Transformation of Brand Identity

The transformed brand identity in the Chinese market refers to the translated brand names in Chinese which have been embedded with new meanings during the process of translation, which in turn implicitly but strongly represent an image of the brand with respect to its personality, origin or nationality, and cultural orientation. During the translation process, cultural meanings move from the external environmentCthe Chinese marketCto the brands (McCracken 1986). Brand managers decide, via their choice of translated name, how much or how little the brand names will adopt the cultural meanings from Chinese society and how much original Western or American flavor the brand names should retain.

Brand’s Relationship Position

Following from signaling theory (Spence 1973), the type of meanings carried by translated brand names may suggest attributes not previously present in the American brand name. Since the majority of Chinese consumers do not understand English, by adopting a translated brand name with popular meanings such as happiness, longevity, or peace, a brand name may signal a positive relationship with Chinese consumers, making it easy for consumers to understand the brand name, thereby actively cultivating a relationship with local consumers. On the other hand, companies that adopt a completely foreign sounding name demonstrate a passive attitude toward consumers, making it difficult for Chinese consumers to understand the brand’s meaning, and demonstrating indifference toward the target market’s perceptions.

P1: An American brand’s transformed identity in the Chinese market signals the brand’s intent in building a positive relationship with consumers.

Brands’ Relationship with Chinese Consumers

Fournier (1998) has found support for a relationship between consumers and their brands; consumers and brands often influence each other and are interdependent. Here the type of relationship a translated brand name intends to build with the local Chinese consumers will influence the response of consumers (e.g., happiness, love, intimacy, or confusion and distance) and, therefore, the actual relationship the brand forms with Chinese consumers.

P2: The translation of an American brand name is directly related to the relationships developed between brands and Chinese consumers.

Brand Performance in the Chinese Market

Brand performance as defined here has two components including (1) the degree of loyalty the brand has achieved and (2) the efficiency of the brand’s marketing activities in enhancing sales, market share, and profits. If an American brand has a strong favorable relationship with Chinese consumers, the relationship leads to favorable responses from consumers such as brand loyalty and commitment, which can result in increased sales of the brand.

P3: A translated brand’s relationship with Chinese consumers mediates the relationship between the transformed brand identity and the brand’s performance.

The appeal of brand names also can play a critical role in the performance of a brand, especially when few other brand associations exist in memory (Keller 1993). Because Chinese consumers place more emphasis on the meaning a brand name carries than do American consumers due to cultural and traditional influences, a translated brand name in Chinese should assert more influence on consumer responses than in the U.S. market.

P4: The transformed American brand identity is directly related to brand performance in the Chinese market.

CONCLUSIONS

The current framework has both practical and theoretical implications. Practically, it provides a guideline for using transformed brand identities to build relationships with consumers in an international market such as China. This can be especially important to guide American brand managers when entering the Chinese market.

Theoretically, we develop a new construct of "transformed brand identity" to represent the new meaning and image that a translated brand name carries. By demonstrating that a brand name can show an attitude and position toward building relationships with local consumers, this article extends the notion of brand names as active relationship partners to the international marketing area.

REFERENCES

Fournier, Susan (1998), "Consumers and their brands: developing relationship theory in consumer research," Journal of Consumer Research, v24 (March), p343-73

Keller, Kevin Lane (1993), "Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Managing Customer-based Brand Equity," Journal of Marketing, vol.57 (January), p1-22

McCracken, Grant (1986), "Culture and Consumption: A theoretical Account of the Structure and Movement of the Cultural Meaning of Consumer Goods," Journal of Consumer Research, v13 (June), p71-84

Spence, Michael (1973), "Job Market Signaling," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 87 (August), 355-74

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Authors

Lily Chunlian Dong, University of Kentucky, U.S.A.
Scott B. Droege, University of Kentucky, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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