choosing chinese dialect

Localization and choosing the right Chinese dialect is the key to acing your marketing strategy for Chinese markets. Given the fact that China is the second biggest economy in the world, it is clear why the Chinese market is attractive for companies that aim to go global. As per 2018 figures from the Chinese government, more than 800 million people in China are active internet users. More interestingly, 98 percent of internet users are also smartphone users.

A striking feature of the Chinese market is that there are 662 cities categorized into provincial level, county level, and prefectural level cities. There are 34 provincial level divisions further classified into 23 provinces, two special administrative regions, four municipalities, and five autonomous regions. Cities are also broken down into tiers based on their population.

Each of these categories is huge markets in themselves. While competition among brands is fierce, those who focus on targeted messaging and an effective positioning strategy are the best-performing ones.

Challenges of dialects

Even as the massive market offers immense business opportunities, some challenges are unique to China. The key challenge relates to the extensive number of dialects spoken in China. Mandarin and Cantonese are the official and well-known languages but technically are believed to be dialects of Putonghua or Guoya (modern Standard Mandarin or Standard Mandarin).  While Mandarin is deemed to be the native language of two-thirds of the population, which makes it the dominant dialect, Cantonese is spoken by 55 million people in China. Apart from these, there are many more dialects to consider.

The other significant dialects of spoken Chinese are Yue (including Cantonese), Wu, Min, and Hakka that cover 200 individual dialects. Some of these dialects are spoken in only very small areas, while others are spoken across the country. While most Cantonese speakers reside in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, there are variations in the dialects in these areas as well. The Cantonese dialect spoken in Hong Kong is typically taken as a reference point for the dialect by most English speakers.

Wu Chinese is predominantly spoken in China’s eastern regions and has six main subgroups, based on geographic locations while it is also divided into 14 different variants. These variants include Shanghainese, Wuxi, Huzhou, Ningbo, Changzhou, Suzhou, Jiaxing, Hangzhou, Xuanzhou, Shaoxing among others. Fuzhou is one of the major regional languages spoken predominantly in Fujian province.

While the extent of diversity in languages and dialects is mind-boggling, the only way to conquer these markets is through localization. Some considerations guide your company’s localization strategy including:

Who are my customers?

While it can be disastrous to categorize all of the consumers as one category, companies need to look closely at which markets they are aiming to reach and what the needs of this segment are. Depending on which geographical area or areas your brand intends to target, a list of the most commonly spoken dialects need to be made.

While it can be disastrous to categorize all of the consumers as one category, companies need to look closely at which markets they are aiming to reach and what the needs of this segment are. Depending on which geographical area or areas your brand intends to target, a list of the most commonly spoken dialects need to be made.

Being consistent with messages

Heineken’s zero-Alcohol beer was introduced in 2017 in line with China’s anti-drinking campaign. But the product was not well received precisely, Heineken had established its brand in China over the past few years with a message of “opening your world to live life to the fullest.”  The zero alcohol beer’s messaging was in direct conflict with the earlier message for the Chinese consumer. Keeping the messaging authentic and consistent is key to capturing the markets.

Where to Start

Choosing the right dialect depends on which of the areas you are trying to capture. Apart from the dialect, the style and tone of the message also need to match the relevant market.A case in point is how the Intercontinental Hotels Group that opened 300 hotels in different regions in China focused on right messaging for their potential consumers in various areas. While family bonding was the focus in Beijing, creative and international elements were woven into the content for Shanghai. In the old city of Guangzhou Cantonese is the first language for close to 50 percent of the population while in Shenzhen Mandarin is the common language given the extent of the migrant population.

Localize with Us

Localizing for China can be a complex task that goes beyond translation. At Localize we have the right systems and experts to aid in quickly and efficiently boost your brand’s presence in this part of the world. Reach out to us today to see how we can help!