Language is an obvious barrier for foreign companies trying to tap into the Chinese Internet market. Many foreign entrants have underestimated its impact and the distinct market characteristics it has resulted in. To name two: language has contributed to the autonomous character of the Chinese web and as lots of netizens are not familiar with the commonly used Pinyin input system they prefer to click instead of type.
In some cases also the name of a company entering China can be a problem. In this respect Facebook is not very lucky with its name: some people say that in Pinyin it sounds like ‘fei si bu ke’ which means ‘doomed to die’. Also Google has not proven to be a good name. Zhang Tao, International Sales Manager at Baidu, expressed: “I believe that around 15 percent of the Chinese people cannot spell Google.” To cope with this – to make it easier for Chinese netizens to remember – Google has acquired the domain name G.cn back in 2007.
Back in 2006 Google was looking into adopting a Chinese name. Eventually it was decided the official Chinese name was to become Guge (谷歌), which means ‘Harvesting Song’ and sounds very much like Google in Mandarin. Google’s officials said it expresses “the sense of a fruitful and productive search experience in a poetic Chinese way.” Alternative sound-likes opted by Chinese netizens that filled in an online poll at news portal Sina.com were: NoGuge, Gougou (dog dog), Goule (enough), Gugu (auntie), Gugou (ancient dog) and Gege (elder brother).
Interestingly some of these crowdsourced alternative domains made up in 2006 are nowadays used to profit from the the fact that their name sounds like Google. Sometimes even their logo looks like Google’s, probably to make visitors believe it is the real thing?
Now everybody knows that it can’t harm to pick out a catchy name, but in the Chinese online search market it is more important compared to more mature markets. Of course claiming top-of-mind is always good, but in China it’s more important as most inexperienced Chinese netizens will not be able to determine what search engine is actually showing better results. Basically for inexperienced netizens the margins are too small. Result: they will very likely stick with their first choice, which is either the market leading Baidu or Google.