Do I Need A Mandarin Trade Mark?

This is a question many Kiwi business owners never thought they would be asking themselves.

However, China is expected to soon become New Zealand’s number one trading partner on an annual basis[1] and opportunities for inbound and outbound Chinese business continue to increase.

It’s easy to underestimate the power of a Mandarin brand. The majority of consumers in the huge Chinese marketplace read and speak Mandarin so it’s a great advantage if they can understand and remember your product or service name.

You can create goodwill by adding positive connotations, buzzwords and spiritual concepts. Chinese people like words that convey good health, prosperity, luck, happiness and longevity.  The visual symbolism of the characters can also affect the brand. Colours such as red and gold are considered lucky while black and white should be avoided.  The numbers 6, 8 (money) and 9 are lucky, while 4 will bring bad luck and 44 very bad luck.

Be aware that even if you are not officially trading in Chinese markets at the moment, due to the reputation and popularity of New Zealand in Asia, some local entrepreneur may be already creating (and registering) a Mandarin version of your brand, to sell back to you in the future.

So how do you go about creating and protecting the right Mandarin brand?

Consider the core concepts that you want to be associated with. Go back to your branding consultants and work through this again if necessary. Decide on the message you want to present to Chinese-speaking customers. You will need input from advisers familiar with the various Chinese-speaking markets and their features and differences. Develop a list of options (not too short as some may not prove viable). Establish how many Chinese characters you want (ideally reflecting your English brand’s phonetic structure).

Decide whether you want a sound-alike brand or one with a similar meaning. If you can get both you could be onto a winner. Fonterra’s Mandarin brand 恒天然 has a similar sound (“Héng Tiān Rán”) and positive meanings of “permanent” and “natural”. Karicare 可瑞康 (“Kě Ruì Kāng”) in Mandarin not only sounds like the English version, but also means “lucky” and “healthy”.

Carry out searches for conflicting trade mark registrations in the major Chinese-speaking territories, i.e.

  • People’s Republic of China (China)
  • Republic of China (Taiwan)
  • Hong Kong SAR (Hong Kong)
  • Republic of Singapore (Singapore)

Google to check if anyone is using similar brands unregistered in your target markets, as they could still cause you problems. Eliminate the more risky options, those which are commonplace (too difficult to legally protect), those which are protected already, and those which have any undesirable connotations. Market test the remainder on a confidential basis with a range of Chinese-speaking “mystery shoppers”, and narrow your list down to several preferred options.

Depending on the size of your business and the potential value of the brand, apply to register the remaining trial options in your major target markets, so you can start your public domain research one step ahead of the brand squatters. Faithful adherence to the above strategy should leave you with at least one or two viable options for a good protectable Mandarin brand.

You may feel that the above process is lengthy and complex, and may not be worth the effort and expense. However, put yourself in the shoes of a Kiwi cosmetics supplier whose products are popular in the Chinese grey market. There is a well-known Mandarin version of their brand which is registered to a Chinese company apparently having no connection to the New Zealand business.

Imagine what it might cost to sort that one out when the time comes, if indeed it can be done.[2] Then think about the potential value to your business of success in the Chinese-speaking markets. *


[1] http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/dairy/9450352/Exports-reach-new-heights-in-October

[2] http://news.alibaba.com/article/detail/knowledge/100899899-1-herm%25C3%25A8s%2527-china-trademark-case.-do.html

http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=5f768064-5fc7-4a61-a0ec-97847c743f51

http://www.ibtimes.com/tesla-motors-tsla-trademark-problem-china-what-multinational-companies-can-learn-tesla-about-1401973

[3] http://www.interbrand.com/en/best-global-brands/previous-years/2012/Nestle

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/30/us-china-autos-mercedes-idUSBRE97T02920130830

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2013/05/13/why-nikes-growth-will-outpace-the-sports-apparel-markets/

[6] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-16/nike-s-lost-year-in-china-serves-as-cautionary-tale.html

 

(From our Christmas Newsletter 2013)

 

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