China Web Localization: Most Challenging Tasks

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Localization is an integral part of the marketing efforts regardless of the company’s size. Whether it’s an established enterprise or a small startup business, in pursuit of taking a new direction to overseas markets like China, localizing a website to Chinese (Simplified or Mandarin) is one of the most effective ways to get high conversion rates.

Our work experience in translation and localization has given us knowledge and understanding on how China Internet works and how foreign companies use web marketing techniques in their websites (which, of course, don’t work in China).

With numerous projects on website localization, we have always encountered these challenging tasks. Although we work with various niches, these two (that include sub-elements) never fail to challenge us and squeeze our creative juices.

Translation of Brands and Slogans

Some companies are too ethnocentric even to consider non–English-speaking markets to be worth pursuing. However, in China’s economy, who can afford to be arrogant enough to turn down these potential customers, especially now that China is known as the world’s largest e-commerce sector in 2013?

An intentional pursuit of online presence will eventually capture one’s target audience attention. That’s where translation and localization of a Chinese website come in the scene.

There’s a difference between these two processes. Translation covers the linguistic side of the process. On the other hand, proper web localization will convert the existing content and communication tools into a message that will be more appropriate to the target region while maintaining the integrity of your company’s brand.

That’s where the challenge comes in because it is more of cultural rather than linguistic and because translating slogans and brands of different companies in various industries is a difficult task. Even the most popular brands like Pepsi and KFC have had their issues.

Pepsi’s slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” is literally translated in Chinese as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” Now, who wants to promote a beverage that brings the dead back to life?

How about KFC? Well, its famous slogan says, “Finger-Lickin’ Good.” When translated literally in Chinese, it becomes “Eat Your Fingers Off.” Okay, so now the company is promoting cannibalism instead of a delicious chicken.

With all these marketing slogans, trademarks, and advertisements, it encourages customers to identify a specific brand of its particular product or service. There’s nothing wrong with verbal playfulness and provoking sales pitch that may add freshness to the advertisement, but their extended meanings make it nearly impossible to translate it into Chinese.

That’s how important translation and localization is when it comes to promoting a product or service in China. It’s quite challenging because most foreign companies use phrases, idioms, and slangs, and if they are not professionally translated and localized, potential customers get scandalized.

Cultural Adaptation of Colors, Design, and Layout

Cultural localization is one of the best practices in Chinese web localization. The worst thing that could happen to a company is to lose its branding itself due to poor translation and localization. The brand (which includes the name, color, design, logo, and layout) creates an identity for the company.

On that note, the branding has its elements such as colors, design, logo, and layout. Interestingly, colors play a significant role in the Chinese culture because Chinese are sensitive to the meanings and implications.

Some color preferences are related to psychology and web copywriting techniques. However, while these may work in a Western market, culturally adapting them to the Chinese market is also a challenging task.

Several colors and their connotations differ in various cultures. While red in China means happiness and prosperity, in the US, it means danger. So what do we do? With the best of our abilities, we make sure that we not only maintain the brand’s integrity but also implement some minor changes when necessary, especially if deemed offensive to the Chinese audience.

Another challenging task is copying a web advertisement form left-to-right writing style because the Chinese language uses a right-to-left writing style. Professional translators don’t just localize the text but include the graphics, and they must be sensitive to the reading direction of Chinese readers and customers.

The worst-case scenario for poor localization: Muslims in Bangladesh ransacked Thom McAnn Stores when they mistook the company’s logo on some sandals for the Arabic letters for Allah. The incident killed one individual and injured 50 people.

Our advice: before venturing to China market, make sure you consult an expert before publication.