Chinese language focus group

Anytime we work with a client that’s introducing something new to the Chinese market – be it a product, service, or in this case, a brand name – it’s essential that we validate our assumptions by getting feedback from our client’s target audience.  Focus groups are a great tool in this regard.

While what people say and what they actually do is not always the same, at the very least focus groups allow us to quickly identify ideas that are likely to flop, as well as gain actionable insight into how our target audience thinks.

We visited Shanghai earlier this month to conduct a focus group for a European furniture company looking to create a Chinese brand name that would appeal to upper-class consumers in first-tier cities.  Even with a predominately Chinese team, we still found it immensely beneficial to meet their target audience face-to-face.  Below are some of our key takeways.

Separate the Winners from the Losers

Before going to Shanghai our team created a list of four brand names we felt would really resonate with our client’s target audience.  After conducting two focus groups, we were able to reduce that list to two names, with both groups arriving at a majority vote for which name they liked best.

Had we not conducted the focus group, we would have mistakenly assumed that our client’s target audience would prefer names with subtle linguistic and cultural details about the brand.  We realized that even highly-educated people were not able to pick up on our clever plays on words, causing some of the names to fall flat.  The target audience overwhelmingly preferred names that were elegant, but easy enough to follow without prior knowledge of the brand.

There was one name in particular that our team liked, but contained a character that we weren’t sure how people would react to:

Chinese character

 末 is a character with multiple meanings, but in this case was paired with the Chinese character for wood, 木, to create a more elegant way of describing the materials, something we thought would appeal to a more refined audience.  But many people felt that 末 has a slightly negative connotation, tantamount to reaching the end of the road.  We realized that while people liked the name once we explained some of the subtle details behind it, first impressions were too important to ignore.

Identify what elements of your product are most important

A lot can be gained from studying your target audience’s first impression of your products.  We hosted the focus group at our client’s show room in Shanghai, which gave people the opportunity to actually see the products firsthand.  One thing we noticed is that they cared more about the quality of the wood than the craftsmanship of the furniture.  As a result, they preferred brand names with characters that emphasized materials rather than design.

Deeper meaning of Chinese characters

Brand names containing the character 艺, which means ‘art’ in Chinese, were seen as less fitting than names with characters describing the materials, like 橡 and 柚 (oak and teak).  This insight is not only useful for picking a brand name, but also for marketing the product.  Knowing this, our client’s marketing campaign should emphasize the quality of the materials rather than the craftsmanship of their furniture.

See your target audience face-to-face.

Chinese language focus group

Seeing your target audience face-to-face allows you to pick up intangibles you wouldn’t be able to extrapolate from surveys.  Once they’re comfortable with the group dynamic, most people are more than willing to open up.  For the last 20-30 minutes we spent time free chatting with participants about the names and products in general

One thing we found was that even our client’s target audience represents a more educated, affluent part of the population, they’re still highly pragmatic people.  While conspicuous consumption is common among upper-class Chinese, they won’t approach purchases that few people will see (e.g. their furniture) with the same mentality as their car, hand bag, or cell phone.  Purchases for the home are based on practical needs (e.g. durability) rather than projecting status, and both the brand name and marketing strategy need to reflect that in.  Again, this explains the preference for brand names that emphasized materials rather than design.

Wrapping Up

Picking the perfect Chinese brand name is well within reach, if you do your homework.  Even as an agency with a predominately Chinese team, we still found last week’s focus group indispensable in helping our client pick the right brand name.  And the beauty of focus groups is that they can be applied to a whole host of other things, including product and service testing, design, packaging, and more.

Bottom line – take some time to talk to your target audience.  You’ll thank yourself later when you’ve found a killer product or service while your competition wastes time and money trying to sell stuff no one wants.

Will you use focus groups before entering or expanding your presence in the Chinese market?  Why?  Let us know in the comments.

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