Lindsay Hong
Aug 29, 2018

A handbag by any other name is not the same in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

A piece of text may translate perfectly from a dictionary perspective, but that’s not to say that the correct dialects have been used or that it’s keyword-rich enough for marketing.

A handbag by any other name is not the same in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that the Greater China region presents significant opportunities for ambitious brands. You may also be aware that when creating content in Chinese, one size does not fit all, as there are significant variations in the language across the region.









Hong Kong








Even regions that share the same written form of Chinese may use entirely different vocabulary or syntax. For example, people in Taiwan predominantly use the word “手提袋” when searching for “handbag” online, but in Hong Kong customers use the shorter character combination “手袋”. This kind of basic insight can be gleaned by speaking to an experienced translator.

On the other hand, an experienced marketer must understand the need to go beyond mere translation, and place importance on engaging, creative, keyword-rich content to ensure the success of marketing campaigns. Unlike post-purchase content, new marketing messages are consumed in a nanosecond, meaning that brands have to fight to be heard.

Some marketers may hear the word “translation” and shudder at the difficulty of quality assurance, not to mention the potential expense of it. In a bid to economise and keep things simple, you may be asking questions like “everyone in Hong Kong is bilingual, so why can’t we use English?” and “how much do language variations by territory really matter?”.

Let’s answer those questions from what marketing data tells us, rather than from (the usual) subjective anecdotal evidence.

Question: “Everyone in Hong Kong is bilingual, so why can’t we use English?”

After running a number of A/B tests over a six-month period across different industry verticals, we identified that pay-per-click (PPC) ads written in Hong Kong's Traditional-Chinese style deliver an average clickthrough rate (CTR) 32% higher than English ads.

The conversion ratio (CVR) after Hong Kong users clicked on these Traditional-Chinese ads is about 7% higher than English ads.

Question: “How much do language variations by territory really matter?”

When testing ads for Hong Kong consumers, not only can we see an uplift from localising ads to Traditional Chinese, but also from strictly localising ads into Hong Kong's unique style of Traditional Chinese. This is the true local language for this demographic. Compared with just repurposing Taiwan-style Traditional-Chinese ads for the Hong Kong market, being specific linguistically demonstrated a noticeable effect in results, increasing CTR by 5%.

These indicate that attention to territorial differences when translating content has a significant impact on marketing performance. 

Ending subjectivity in translations

By this point, you may have a greater understanding of why investing in tailored translations for each of the Greater China territories is worthwhile. But how can you make sure that territorial nuances are indeed being implemented while avoiding endless subjective arguments over what the right word is?

A new breed of translators is emerging to respond to these concerns by embedding marketing data into their translation processes. Rather than relying on a dictionary or an individual’s viewpoint on what the 'correct' terms are for a region, this new breed seeks the consensus of the consumer by analysing search data and applying the findings to their work. In this way, they can create content that speaks to the consumer in the consumer’s own words, building intimacy, trust and conversion. 

Lindsay Hong is COO of Locaria, a digital language-services provider.

Campaign China

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