When Kentucky Fried Chicken first came to China in the late 1980s, its "Finger lickin' good!" slogan was mistranslated as "Eat your fingers off."
Since then, KFC has gotten very good at serving the Chinese market. Today, the company has more than 4,000 restaurants in China.
The restaurants are clean, brightly lit, and feature the fried chicken they're known for. However, there's also a breakfast menu that features rice porridge with pork and pickles. For lunch, there's an egg drop soup. And for desert, my favorite -- egg tarts.
The company plans to add 500 more restaurants next year.
There's plenty of room for growth; China has around 160 cities with populations of more than a million. The US, by comparison, has just nine. And Yum Brands, KFC's parent company, plans to expand to smaller cities as well.
But KFC's success in China isn't just about making sure that translations are accurate, or about adapting the menu. China poses a unique set of challenges to foreign brands looking to enter its markets.
These challenges do include language -- China is home to a number of different languages, mutually unintelligible dialects of those languages, and writing systems. In Shanghai, for example, it's common to see Arabic script on restaurants featuring cuisine from western parts of China. And Chinese characters themselves can either be written in traditional or simplified styles.
Then there's logistics. Western restaurants and supermarket groups often have to set up their own distribution networks in China from scratch, due to a shortage of transportation companies offering end-to-end refrigeration.
And it's not just food-related industries.
For example, China is the only country where Amazon delivers all of its products on its own -- more than 20 million items this year, with the majority of buyers paying on delivery.
Then there's the presence of strong, fast, hungry competitors, cultural barriers, and regulatory and political hurdles. For example, both Fiat and Dior ran into problems in China when their celebrity spokespeople -- Richard Gere and Sharon Stone -- endorsed Tibetan independence.
The Internet can dramatically magnify these kinds of cultural or political missteps. The Richard Gere commercial, for example, never even aired it China, but spread virally through social media.
All these challenges add up, and even strong international brands can fail in China. For example, China is one of the few places in the world where Google doesn't dominate online search. Best Buy and Home Depot shut down their China stores in 2011.
Walmart has met stiff local competition too, and has scaled back its expansion. It recently announced that it will open 100 new stores in the next three years, down from its previous pace of around 50 or 60 new stores a year.
Software companies also have to deal with interface challenges and piracy. For example, computers and phones in China used to rely on transliterations of Chinese words into the English alphabet. When combined with accent marks, this is called "pinyin," and isn't the best possible approach.
Many Chinese characters are pronounced differently in different regions, and characters can share the same pronunciation while having different meanings.
But technology is finally starting to catch up. With touch screen phones and tablets, Chinese users are finally able to enter characters the way they normally write them.
In addition, iPhone 5's Siri speaks and understands Chinese, which helped Apple sell two million units in China during the first three days of release, breaking previous records. Apparently, the starting price of around $850 for the basic 16 gigabyte model didn't deter shoppers.
All in all, it's much harder for American companies to do business in China than the other way around. Chinese companies looking for US distribution have access to distributors and retailers well versed in working in China, and a population of young employees who grew up with mandatory English classes and American TV shows and movies in every local DVD den.
A company looking to enter China for the first time needs to have trustworthy local partners. But many of these market-entry experts are new to the business, and while they may claim to have connections, they might not have a lot of solid experience.
China is a giant, fast-growing market, but don't expect immediate results. Invest the time and resources in doing the preliminary research, and finding the right team. They need to have the ability -- and the authority -- to adapt to local requirements and experiment with different strategies.
— Maria Korolov is president of Trombly International, an editorial services company that provides coverage of emerging technologies and markets. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution