When Coca Cola entered the Chinese market, they wanted to find Chinese characters for the phonetic equivalent of “Coca Cola”. So they chose Ke Kou Ke La, which translates literally into “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect. Similarly, in Taiwan, the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” was translated as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
These are just two of many anecdotes about intercultural communication gone horribly wrong. Especially when it comes to cultures (and languages) as different as Australia’s and China’s, there are significant challenges for those who wish to overcome the existing barriers. Lucky then that our Prime Minister is the only Mandarin-speaking premier outside of Beijing. Or not?
Human beings generally display a great desire to surround themselves with familiarity. That’s why people from the same background tend to stick together and rarely exit their particular comfort zone. It’s where we belong and where we feel understood. But the world has become a very small place and with international business links connecting the entire globe like a bowl of spaghetti it’s hard to escape the need to cross cultural boundaries.
China is THE emerging market of the future. This is particularly true for Australia, considering China is our most important two-way trading partner, taking about a quarter of our exports. Demand from China was one of the key factors that rescued Australia from global recession. But we will need to find a balance between being open and being vulnerable and relations have been strained recently by the Chinese expression of interest in buying key stakes in Australian resources and commodities firms.
If anyone still has doubts about the intense interdependency between the two countries, think about monetary policies. Governor Glenn Stevens announced that the RBA’s decision to leave Australia’s target cash rate where it is can be explained mainly because of the Chinese authorities’ efforts to reduce the degree of stimulus to their economy.
How does all this affect Australian businesses? Most of them engage with China on a trial-and-error base, wasting money and time on working out the basics. This is the outcome of a recent study by the Australian Business Foundation in co-operation with Australian Business International Trade Services, titled “Engaging China – The Realities for Australian Businesses”. The research was designed to explore the actual experiences of Australian enterprises which have had a substantive history of doing business in China, analysing the opportunities and problems addressed by them as they seek to enter, expand or maintain an competitive position in Chinese markets. Following a series of 25 business case studies based on interviews with senior executives of Australian businesses, the study points to three key issues in the business environment: culture, relationships, and government. All of them are at the heart of successful entry into the Chinese market and can decide over the yays and nays.
To read the full report at no cost, click here.
Stefanie Mueller – International Communications Strategist