Naming and Logo Creation for your U.S. Brand

inQbrands Blog   •   June 2, 2017

In our business, it is likely that we are communicating across cultures daily. We often run into instances where we work with people who speak a different language, are a member of a different religion, or, who had a much different cultural experience growing up. As we communicate back and forth across cultures, it requires a great deal of understanding from each party. It can also call for our patience and a need to be mindful of the fact that ‘different’ is not ‘inferior’.

Trying to understand and engage with an entire group of consumers who speak a language different than your own, have different political and socio-economic ideas, a different expectation of the purchasing experience, a different aesthetic and a different idea of what ‘quality’ means, can be an overwhelming undertaking.

When a Chinese manufacturer decides to enter the U.S. market to sell their products directly to the U.S. consumer one of the first things they may need is a ‘brand’ name and/or a ‘logo’ to identify and market their products. The naming of the brand can be difficult because the target audience for your products will have a much different perspective on what a name means, the cultural resonance of the image it projects, etc. The needs of your end consumer can be quite different than your own. It is easy to make mistakes. For example, in China, there is a distinction around words and numbers, some are ‘lucky’ (like the number 8), some are considered ‘unlucky’ (like the number 4). In the US, the only generally accepted unlucky number is 13 and even that is somewhat of a joke that people don’t take very seriously. Creating a logo that incorporates the number 8 may seem like a great idea to you but it isn’t going to make any sense at all to your customer.

Colors also hold cultural significance. For example, the color White in China is used as a color of mourning and can signify death. In the United States, we use it to represent purity and it is the favored dress color for brides. This is only one example, but the list goes on and on. How then do you go about choosing a color appropriate for your brand image when color carries so much weight and you may be unaware of what your potential customers will think when they look at your brand identity?

The idea of a brand ‘logo’ is also quite different across cultures. Here is a little snapshot of how we think of logos and branding images in the US. We often say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

There are 7 basic characteristics of and effective logo. The logo should be:

  • Simple

  • Distinct

  • Versatile

  • Appropriate

  • Recognizable

  • Memorable

  • Timeless

The function of a logo is to IDENTIFY. In a fraction of a second, a customer must connect a logo with the brand it represents.

The architecture of a logo has a direct impact on memory, recognition and distinctiveness. There are three basic structures or typography to a logo. They are:




There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these types of logos.

With the ICON – SYMBOL, the advantages are that it is more distinctive, more versatile, it can stand out on its own and it is best for long, difficult to remember or unspecific names.

The disadvantages to using this type of logo can be prohibitive. First, it is better for well known, established brands. If you are just starting a brand it is very difficult to use this type of logo because there is no established attachment to a brand name. In order for this type of logo to work, the consumer must immediately identify the logo with the brand name/company. This type of logo requires a strong investment. You need to put a lot of marketing dollars behind making the symbol synonymous with your brand name. It needs to be continuously put in front of the consumers so the connection becomes automatic. There is also a long brand build-up time. It can take years to establish this connection. An example of these types of logos are:

The next major classification of a logo is what we call a WORDMARK. The advantages of a wordmark are that it works well with very distinct brand names, think Google, Harley Davidson, Coca-Cola. It is easy to recognize, and the best choice for start-ups. This is because your customer will read and get to know the name of your brand. They will be able to easily identify your brand by name and this is something you really want them to be able to do. Another big advantage of this type of logo for a start-up brand is that it has a much shorter brand build-up time than the icon-symbol type of logo. This is a major advantage when you are eager to get your name out there.

There are also some disadvantages or more correctly, challenges, with the wordmark logo. The name you choose needs to be distinctive! Coming up with this name can be daunting, especially working cross culturally. The word needs to be easy to read , easy to remember and versatile. Some examples of this type of wordmark logo are:

The last type of logo we are going to talk about is what we call a COMBINATION MARK. The advantages to this type of logo are that it is very versatile. This versatility means it can be used and recognized easily across many platforms. Like with the wordmark logo, there is a very short brand build-up time.

There are also some disadvantages with the combination mark. It can be difficult to match a name with a distinctive symbol. The distinctiveness of the symbol is important . The name and symbol combination needs to avoid clichés, for example, a house icon for a real estate brand. In earlier stages, the amount of brand build up time is similar to the workmark. I can take a little longer for the consumer to associate the symbol with the brand when not shown together .

Examples of this type of combination mark are these.

So now let’s talk about the differences in the way logos are thought of in the US and China. There is an important distinction and there are things to be aware of when creating your brand. In the United States we commonly create brand names and logos based on the company’s name. This typically doesn’t work well if you are a Chinese company, with a Chinese company name, trying to sell your products into the US. For example, the name you decided on when you started your company could have an auspicious and lucky name. There is a Feng Shui to a business name. There can be a belief that in naming something, you will manifest that energy. Good names have good qi-energy. The problem comes in when your customer makes no such distinctions and doesn’t have the same associations with the words that you may have in your culture. What sounds great to you, may just sound silly to them. You need to be aware of this when creating your brand name and always keep in mind that you are not selling to yourself. You are trying to reach a distant consumer and you want them to get to know and remember your brand.

There was an article in the New York Times by Michael Wines, and the headline was ‘Picking Brand Names in China is a Business Itself’. Here is a quote from that article, “BEIJING — After a hard day’s labor, your average upscale Beijinger likes nothing more than to shuck his dress shoes for a pair of Enduring and Persevering, rev up his Precious Horse and head to the pub for a tall, frosty glass of Happiness Power. Or, if he’s a teetotaler, a bottle of Tasty Fun.
To Westerners, that’s Nike, BMW, Heineken and Coca-Cola, respectively. And those who wish to snicker should feel free: the companies behind these names are laughing too — all the way to the bank.”

To our western ears, the Chinese brand names sound ridiculous. Herein lies the problem. I know for a fact that our brand names make no sense to the Chinese. A Chinese company must be careful not to infuse their own ideas of naming or branding onto their US product line unless they are very familiar with the culture and expectations.

Another thing to consider is the fact that in the U.S. we often use a wide variety of fonts to express the uniqueness of our brand name. Just look back at the different fonts used by Google, Coca-Cola etc. The color and font are an integral part of the brand identity. The name IS the logo. In China, there is one font. Therefore, the symbol or icon becomes the sole distinguishing mark.

This is the reason Chinese companies will often insist that the logo for their US brand be a symbol, when, in fact, they are hurting their brands chances of success with this misunderstanding of how branding and logos work in the US. However, if they were building a Chinese brand, to sell in China, this would make perfect sense.

At inQbrands we specialize in developing brands for the U.S. consumer. We are the one company you can turn to for brand naming and logos, product development, marketing, trend research and sales.