Peak Translations

Brands – What to consider when entering a foreign market

What makes a brand? It’s so much more than the name of a product or organisation. It’s the logo, the slogan or strapline, the font and graphics. It’s what makes your product memorable and what differentiates it from others. Consider the sports brand Nike. Certainly its ‘swoosh’ logo and to some extent its ‘Just do it’ trademark statement are as memorable as its name.

Here are five points to consider when taking your brand to a new overseas market:

1. Brand name

Does your brand name translate into a word or phrase that counters what you stand for? The Vauxhall Corsa car was previously known as the Vauxhall Nova. Unfortunately, ‘no va’ translates into Spanish as ‘doesn’t go’. Perhaps not the best indication of reliability…

Negative connotations can also arise where other entities or people are known by the same name. One particularly memorable problem we uncovered at Peak Translations was identifying that a product being considered for launch in the Czech Republic was also the name of a well-known national porn star!

Pronunciation also plays its part. It may well be tempting to stick with your UK brand name because it is cost effective on packaging. Or because you want to create a brand familiarity to appeal to audiences that travel beyond their own borders. But what happens when your brand name is difficult to pronounce? Since its launch in the Sixties, the cleaning product Cif has been known in some countries as Jif, including in the Middle East; probably to avoid the confusion caused by the letter ‘c’ being pronounced as either an ‘s’ or a ‘k’ in Arabic.

Letters of the modern English alphabet which are hard to pronounce will change depending on the language: for example, there’s no ‘th’ sound in French, no ‘w’ in German and ‘v’ is pronounced as ‘b’ in Spanish.

2. Slogan

Slogans too can be a minefield. Pepsi’s Sixties strapline ‘Come alive!’ may well have been perceived as an energy boost in the US but it was mistranslated in China as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’. 

Wider global context is also important. KFC’s iconic ‘finger lickin’ good’ slogan has served it well since the Fifties. It has, however, been paused in recent months owing to concerns about people licking their fingers during a pandemic.

3. Logos and images
A brand logo which includes the soles of feet may seem fitting for a podiatry business in the Western world but soles of feet or shoes can cause great offence in Asia and the Middle East.

The imagery you use to promote your brand might also need attention, particularly if your target foreign audience is different. In the UK, for example, horse feed is typically bought by riding schools so images of fresh-faced riders at gymkhanas and adorned with rosettes are entirely suitable. In the US, horse riding is as much a working way of life as it is a leisure activity. The imagery, as a result, may need to depict more working ranch shots and cowboys.

4. Colours

A significant part of how a brand is perceived is its colour. In China, yellow can be problematic since, when referring to a communication channel, the connotation is that it is pornographic. So ‘yellow website’ means a website displaying pornographic content, ‘yellow book’ a pornographic book.

 5. Cultural sensitivities

Some cultures may have a degree of sensitivity about particular products – for example, those relating to sex, pregnancy or childbirth. Whilst TV or billboard advertising may be a suitable channel in the UK, a different advertising medium such as a closed Facebook group may be suitable in such instances.

Peak Translations’ brand name research will offer peace of mind that your brand – its name, slogans and imagery – is not going to cause you any unnecessary embarrassment nor unwittingly cause offence to your target audience. Of course if there’s any potential for it to do so, you have the opportunity to trade under a different brand name before any reputational damage is done.

We’d love to help you launch or consolidate your brand position in overseas markets. For an informal chat, contact a member of the Peak Translations team on E: or T: 01663 732 074.

For more tips on entering a new overseas market, why not take a look at the other blogs in our Market Entry series, Technology and its role in reaching overseas markets and Protection – how to safeguard your brand and product in overseas territories.




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