Chinese Business Cards

A short while ago, a friend that I hardly ever get a chance to see nowadays, Rand Fishkin, of the SEOmoz fame, sent me an email. He's going on the China Search Marketing Tour this spring, and being the excellent marketer that he is, wondered about business cards, language and so forth.

Apparently my response was helpful, so (with his permission) I'm reprinting it here:

Hi Rand,

You will be in the PRC, so the best type of Chinese characters to use are simplified.

For spoken language, it gets a lot more complicated - In general, they speak Mandarin in the north (Beijing) and Cantonese in the south (Hong Kong and Xiamen).

They are totally different. For example, the simple act of saying "hello":

Written: 你好
Mandarin: ni hao
Cantonese: ho ma

And thank you:

Written: 谢谢
Mandarin: xie xie
Cantonese: dol jare

Of the 2 languages, Mandarin is probably the best to learn. It's the most widely known, the official language of business and government, and it considered to be the more sophisticated of the two in terms of how it sounds. Most business people you meet in the south will be at least conversant in Mandarin (and often English).

Even if you only come with a little bit of the language, they really appreciate you trying, so I do recommend at least knowing a few phrases. I also have a phrase book loaded on my PDA that I found very useful a few times ("where is the bathroom?", for example).

When hiring a tutor, try to get one that is actually from Beijing if available, otherwise you may end up learning a southern accent by accident. It's bad enough you'll have an American accent, don't make it worse by adding a southern Chinese one as well! The northern "Beijing" accent is considered the purest form of Mandarin. Even those from Shanghai tend to have a Shanghaianese accent when speaking Mandarin. People in Beijing can be real snobs about accents at times.

Some guidelines for your business cards:

1. Don't try to take a Chinese name. I know it's common for Chinese to take a name like "Tom" or "Bob" to make it easier on westerners, but unless you are fluent in Chinese and actually live there, having a Chinese name just seems like you are trying too hard.

2. However, it's perfectly OK to have your name spelled in Chinese characters phonetically, so they can pronounce it more easily. I do this myself on my card. Make sure you have a Mandarin speaker choose it for you, since the same characters may sound very different in Cantonese. Also, they will be able to tell if the characters that you use are appropriate. This is important, since when Coca Cola originally translated it's name, it ending up spelling out "bite the wax tadpole". Now, they have characters that sound pretty close, but they mean something like "makes mouth happy". Big difference. Let a native choose the characters - it's not just about the sound - it's also the meaning.

3. Hierarchy is very important to the Chinese. The whole "just call me Rand" thing doesn't go over well, and neither do cards with uncertain titles on them. CEO's talk to CEO's, Marketing Managers talk to marketing managers, etc. If they don't know what your rank is, they won't know who should be talking to you, and may decide to politely not talk to you at all, in some cases. Make sure your title is clear and "normal": Director, CEO, President, etc. Also, education is very important - if you have degrees, add them. If you have more than one company, it's OK to put them on the card (some Chinese have upwards of 10 companies they are directors of listed on their cards - it's normal).

4. The luckiest colors for cards are red, yellow and gold. Try to avoid pure black and white if you can. Mine are blue and white, and that's ok - I kept it for branding purposes. Just so you know, "8" is a very lucky number for business (it sounds like "profit") and "4" is a very unlucky number (sounds similar to "death"). If you have a contact number that has at least one 8 in it, that's a good thing. If you have lots of fours in your phone number, maybe just put down your email address ;)

5. Usually, you put English on one side and Chinese on the other. Remember that if you mix the two (for example, in a logo or something) then the Chinese characters should be more predominant than English for the Chinese side.

6. One good idea is to go down to your local ChinaTown and go see a printer there. That way, they will probably help you set up your card in Chinese for free or cheap, just as part of the print order. Just make sure you specify Simplified text, Mandarin pronunciation. Bring lots of cards to China - at least 50.

If you want to read a book that could help you, I recommend:

One Billion Customers - James McGregor
China Now - N. Mark Lam and John L. Graham

There are tons others, but these two are really good and current.



Ian McAnerin Business Card for Chinese Search Marketing

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