SHANGHAI: A great Chinese brand name should never be 'the icing on the cake', but is instead key to an international brand's Chinese success, an industry figure has cautioned.

A brand's local name is the first impression local consumers will have, so it is essential to make the first encounter count, says Jerry Clode, Head of Strategy and Insights at Resonance China.

But choosing a Chinese brand name is often an afterthought for multinationals in China. (For more, including practical advice on cultural considerations, character selection and other challenges of Chinese brand names, read his Warc paper: Five tips to avoid brand name blunders in China.

Clode observes that international brands often fall into similar traps when localising their brands for China, particularly when it comes to choosing a Chinese brand name.

Placing this vital task last on the 'branding to-do list' has often lead to local names that become liabilities, or worse, a laughing stock.

Taking the original brand name and finding the closest Chinese equivalent seems intuitive, but can be a death blow, he warns. Creating a Chinese name that simply sounds similar to the original brand name creates the possibility of unwanted connotations.

A cautionary example is multinational electronics brand Best Buy's choice of the Chinese name baisimai.

The pronunciation in Mandarin is a close approximation to the original. However, the when the three characters are read together, the meaning is "think it over a hundred times before buying" – the last thing a brand wants consumers in an electronics store to have in the back of their minds.

Another common pitfall is failing to ensure a brand name works across China's multiple dialects. A brand name that sounds great in Shanghai could match a local swear word in another dialect. And a name that projects the brand's values across multiple languages is critical to success.

Data sourced from Warc