As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, marketers have to treat China in a very different way to other countries. Where we’ve covered design or how to make the best of the explosion of e-commerce in the past, we also need to delve into the issues of language and socio-economic development to help you understand how to position your brand for China.
It's all about Mandarin in Beijing
Mandarin or Cantonese?
You’ve probably seen more Cantonese than Mandarin if you’re a Westerner who visits Chinese restaurants in your home country. But getting the local chop suey house owner to translate your material into Cantonese isn’t the way forward.
The language of Mainland China is Mandarin. There are, in a country of this size and with this many people, lots of regional dialects, but Mandarin is the standard language for all official announcements and media.
It is generally written in the ‘simplified’ form. There are still some examples and many writers of ‘traditional’ Mandarin Chinese (particularly in Taiwan) but the advent of keyboard communication is making this a more and more nostalgic study.
In Hong Kong, and in parts of Southern China, people are more likely to speak Cantonese. IT IS A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE. Do not try and cut corners by thinking because it looks a bit like Mandarin when it’s written down, they are the same. We use the same letters in European languages, but that doesn’t make them mutually intelligible, right?
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, and the language is different
Look at where you want to target, and have your translation done accordingly. And as we say in our guide, go to a translation agency or use a specialist to make sure it’s done properly.
Tier to tier
If you’re considering doing business in China, you’ll have heard people referring to tier one or tier two cities, and there are even tier three, four and five cities. The definition of these varies according to which politician, economist or business analyst you speak to, but broadly speaking, the lower the number; the higher up the chain they are.
So, in tier one you have the megacities of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. These all have populations of tens of millions, attract the most foreign investment and attention and are the intellectual powerhouses and industrial engine rooms of China’s economic boom. People who live in these cities generally have more money, a higher lever of education and more exposure to ‘newness’. These are the target cities for marketers of both the B2B and B2C disciplines in China.
Tier two is made up of provincial capitals and sub-provincial cities, and includes the likes of Chengdu, Dalian, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Urumqi. They are spread throughout the country, and have enjoyed an increasing amount of attention from foreigners as they still maintain significant populations (around 10m) but have lower rents and labour costs. Coupled with this is a rapidly increasing standard of living and changing consumer behavior. Where the political wind is favorable to foreign investment, they can also offer incentives to companies looking to set up their China operations.
In tier three and below, the definitions become murkier, and the pace of change means cities can move between categories in a period of just a few months. These places are unlikely to be the hub of operations of foreigners doing business in China, but they present an opportunity to build on once your brand is established in upper tier cities.